Creamy homemade mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort dish. This cheesy side dish with a crunchy panko topping is outrageously good and will please everyone!
If you’re like me, when you think about comfort food, mac and cheese is always high on the list of options. Some other comfort food options I adore is my Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup, Easy Classic Meatloaf, and Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup.
There’s just something about pasta baked with a super creamy cheese sauce. It’s absolutely the perfect side dish, potluck bring along, or add chicken to make a full meal. I also love a mac and cheese with a great cheese to pasta ratio, and I believe I’ve accomplished it right here.
How To Make Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Boil your pasta al dente, about 1 minute less than package directions. The pasta will cook more while baking.
- In a large sauce pan make your roux with equal parts butter and flour.
- Add the milk and half & half to your roux and cook until it begins to thicken up.
- Add the cheese and seasonings to the mixture and stir until melted and creamy.
- Stir the pasta into the cheese sauce.
- Add half the pasta mixture to your baker. Top with more cheese, then top with the remaining pasta.
- Mix the panko bread crumbs, melted butter, garlic, and smoked paprika. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese.
- Bake until heated through and bubbly.
Tips To Make The Best Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
- Always shred your own cheese from a block of cheese rather than purchasing per-shredded. Pre-shredded cheese contains a potato like starch to keep it from clumping when packaged. This starch will also keep it from having that gooey and melty texture we’re looking for.
- Boil your pasta al dente, which is about 1 minute shy than package directions. It will continue to cook while it’s baking and won’t become mushy.
- Any combination of cheese will work, and it’s fine to play around with different flavors. While this recipe is fantastic in itself, you can try you favorite cheeses and create your own flavors.
Mac and Cheese Add-Ins
This mac and cheese is delicious as is, however there are times when I’ll add some extra ingredients to create more of a full meal. This also works great with leftovers you might have.
- Ham – you can use leftover ham from a previous meal, especially Easter or Christmas dinner
- Ground beef – you can create an entirely new version by adding ground beef, tomatoes, and even some diced red peppers
- Chicken – one of my favorite add-ins! I’ve used breaded chicken fingers, leftover rotisserie chicken, and grilled chicken breast
- Bacon – simply put, bacon makes everything better!
Can You Make Mac and Cheese Ahead Of Time?
A huge plus to this recipe is the option to make it ahead of time!
- Follow directions but leave out the bread crumb topping and do not bake
- Cover your baking dish and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days
- Remove from refrigerator and allow to sit for 25-30 minutes (don’t put the cold dish into a preheated oven)
- Top with the Panko bread crumbs and bake
This mac and cheese has become a family favorite comfort dish! Check out some of our other favorite comfort recipes you’ll enjoy:
Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese
Mac & Cheese
- 12 ounces elbow pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk (not skim)
- 1 cup half and half
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 4 cups cheddar cheese, grated & divided
- 1 can cheddar cheese soup
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 4-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minutes so that the pasta is al dente. It'll cook more while it bakes. Drain and toss with a bit of olive oil. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 1 minute while continuing to whisk. Slowly add the milk and half & half and continue to wihsk until combined.
- Continue heating over medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper, dry mustard, 3 cups of the cheddar cheese, and cheddar cheese soup. Stir until completely melted and smooth.
- If your saucepan is large enough, add the pasta to the cheese sauce, otherwise you can combine both in a large mixing bowl. Stir to fully combine.
- Pour half the pasta into your prepared baker. Top with the remaining cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese. Top the cheese with the remaining pasta.
- In a small bowl, coombine the Panko bread crumbs, smoked paprika, and garlic powder. Pour the melted butter into the bread crumbs and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the Panko mixture over the macaroni and spread evenly.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through.