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Easy Cheesy Baked Mac ‘n Cheese

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Treat yourself tonight to the BEST easy cheesy baked mac ‘n cheese. Made with sharp cheddar cheese and an array of seasonings, you won’t be able to get enough of this comfort dish!

A large serving spoon is lifting a portion of mac 'n cheese out of the baking pan.

When you ask someone what their favorite comfort food is, chances are, they’ll say mac ‘n cheese! Why? I mean, who doesn’t love tender noodles coated in melted cheese…?

Of all the homemade mac ‘n cheese recipes in the world, this one really might be the best. And one of the easiest!

While it might not be quite as simple as the store bought mac ‘n cheeses, it’s a whole lot more delicious and has more flavor than the grainy boxed stuff!

Baking the mac ‘n cheese really elevates everything by creating a crunchy coat of panko breadcrumbs on top.

Between the crunch of the breadcrumbs and the cheesy, tender macaroni itself, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this easy recipe.

A scoop of mac 'n cheese is missing from a white baking pan.

Ingredients for easy cheesy baked mac ‘n cheese:

  • Elbow macaroni
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Ground mustard powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Milk
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Panko breadcrumbs

Is your mac ‘n cheese not as vibrant in color as mine? That’s okay, allow me to let you in on a little color hack!

Anytime you’d like the color yellow to be more bright and vibrant, just add a teaspoon or so of turmeric. The taste won’t be noticeable since it’s a small amount, and the color will be way more bold.

Two servings of mac 'n cheese are presented on white plates with two forks.

Can I use another type of cheese?

For best results, use sharp cheddar cheese or even extra sharp! I’ve tried this recipe using other cheeses, and quite honestly, they’re just not the same. Using sharp cheddar cheese just creates the best classic mac ‘n cheese flavor.

Along with flavor, sharp cheddar cheese also gives the dish it’s perfect golden yellow color. However, you can use white cheddar cheese if you’d rather the macaroni be white.

As long as the white cheddar cheese is just as sharp as the yellow, the flavor should still be the same.

I also like using smoked gouda sometimes.  You can even do a mix of different types of cheeses. Try it with aged white cheddar, parmesan, asiago, or gruyere.

A fork is lifting a bite of mac 'n cheese off of a plate.

Can I make this ahead of time?

Yes. You can make it up to 3 days ahead of time.  Just keep it covered in the fridge until ready to bake.

Can I freeze it?

This is a great recipe for the freezer! Make ahead mac ‘n cheese is always a good idea – that way, you get to look forward to having it in the future!

Assemble as per the recipe, allowing it to cool completely. 

Do not bake. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for 3 to 6 months.  When ready to bake, just thaw completely in the fridge and bake according to directions.

All ovens are a bit different. So while some ovens might have ready to eat mac ‘n cheese at 45 minutes, others might have to wait the full hour.

A close up shot shows the creamy yellow cheese and breadcrumbs coating the macaroni noodles.

Cozy up with a few more comfort dishes:

One-Pot Creamy Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

Chicken Noodle Soup

Creamy Cajun Alfredo Pasta

One Pot Chili Mac and Cheese

Easy Cheesy Baked Mac ‘n Cheese

Treat yourself tonight to the BEST easy cheesy baked mac 'n cheese! You won't be able to get enough of this comfort dish!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Julie Chiou
Servings: 8

Servings are adjustable but please note that results, timing, and cookware may vary when adjusting servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided (3 tablespoons & 1 tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided (4 cups & 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain.
  • In a medium to large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in 3 tablespoons flour, the mustard powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
  • Slowly whisk in milk, making sure there are no lumps. Stir constantly until the mixture has thickened and started to bubble. Cook an additional two minutes and then remove from heat.
  • Slowly whisk in the cheddar cheese until it is melted completely.
  • Stir in the cooked elbow macaroni and toss to coat completely.
  • Pour into a greased 9×13 oven-safe casserole dish.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining half cup of shredded cheddar.
  • Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and mix it with the panko bread crumbs to coat them. Sprinkle evenly over the mac and cheese.
  • Bake, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and top has started to brown.

Notes

This is a tried and true recipe, I have made dozens of times over the years. Sometimes my breadcrumbs will brown, and sometimes they won’t, in which case I just toss it under the broiler for a minute or two.

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