Prepare yourselves for the ultimate Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese! This recipe is a star both as a side with some roasted turkey and also on its own.
Table of Contents
Why I Love This Recipe
This one is a new addition to my Thanksgiving menu! But I feel like Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese is just the right thing to do. It's an EXCELLENT vegetarian option if you have guests coming that don't like turkey. And kids and adults will love every aspects of this mac and cheese. There's endless possibilities when it comes to things you can add- peas and pancetta taste perfect in the spring mac and cheese or skip the oven and make it a stovetop mac and cheese. Check out the FAQs for more ideas!
The cheese sauce is uber cheesy and creamy. The buttered panko topping gives it that extra crunch you're looking for. The thyme bring it up another level so you can feel a tiny bit fancy. The cheeses used are easily found at any market so you don't have to search for any kinds of fancy cheese. And it makes for incredible leftovers if you are lucky enough to wind up with any! All in all, you're looking at the best Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese to grace your table. In fact, I'd make it now so you can eat it in peace because come Thanksgiving, it's gonna go fast.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Elbow macaroni or cavatappi
- Unsalted butter, divided
- All-purpose flour
- Grated Gruyère cheese
- Grated extra-sharp Cheddar
- Fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Panko bread crumbs, more if desired
*For a full list of ingredients and instructions please see recipe card below
How do you make Baked Mac and Cheese?
Step 1: Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain well.
Step 2: Heat the milk in a small saucepan until just simmering.
Step 3: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour to make a roux.
Step 4: Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown.
Step 5: Carefully stream in the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until the milk starts to thicken.
Step 6: Remove from heat, add the shredded cheeses, thyme leaves, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and nutmeg.
Step 7: Add the cooked macaroni and stir well.
Step 8: Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the panko into the skillet and toss to combine.
Step 9: Pour the mac and cheese into a 3-4 quart baking dish and sprinkle the panko on top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
How to Store Mac and Cheese
Once the mac and cheese is cooled to room temperature, store leftovers in an airtight container or tightly wrapped for up to 3 days. To reheat, place it in an oven safe container and add some milk to prevent it from drying. Cover with a foil and heat till the macaroni is warmed through. You can take the foil off and heat for a few more minutes to get a crispy top! You can also microwave to reheat, just make sure you add a little milk!
How to Freeze Mac and Cheese
You can also freeze mac and cheese in freezer bags or an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the fridge for half a day, and use the same instructions to reheat as with refrigeration.
Tips & Tricks
- Cook the pasta until al dente. You don't want to over-cook it because it's going to cook a little bit more in the oven and absorb some of that cheese sauce.
- Make the roux and then turn it into a cheese sauce. A roux is a butter and flour mixture (similar to the one we made for homemade turkey gravy).
What can I add to Mac and Cheese to make it even better?
1. Crispy pancetta
2. A large spoonful or two of pesto
3. A few handfuls of chopped spinach
4. Roasted butternut squash
5. Caramelized onions and/or leeks
6. Steamed broccoli florets
7. cooked lobster or crab
8. the possibilities are endless!
What cheese do I use for Mac and Cheese?
The only key here is to use cheese that melt really easily. You can change up the flavor profile quite easily by using any combination of: Parmesan, Cheddar, Pepperjack, Gouda, Fontina, Gruyere, Goat Cheese, or Brie. I always find it's best to use 2-3 different kinds of cheese to really give it a great deep flavor.
Do I have to bake this Mac and Cheese?
If you want to skip the panko topping and just serve this as a stovetop mac and cheese.... be my guest! It's still delicious!
If you tried this recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the 📝 comments below. Thanks for visiting today!
Creamy Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
- 1 quart milk
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar
- 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
- Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs, more if desired
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain well.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan until just simmering!
- Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour to make a roux. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Carefully stream in the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until the milk starts to thicken. Remove from heat, add the shredded cheeses, thyme leaves, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-4 quart baking dish.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the panko into the skillet and toss to combine, then sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.