Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese

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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.

A baking dish with baked mac and cheese with a little bowl of salt and a plate with mac and cheese in the corner.


 

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

mise-en-place with all the ingredients required to make baked mac and cheese.
  • Elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • Milk
  • 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
  • Nutmeg
  • 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?

A strainer with boiled macaroni resting in a pot.

Step 1: Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Drain well.

A small saucepan with milk.

Step 2: Heat the milk in a small saucepan until just simmering.

A  blue dutch oven with melted butter and flour to make roux.

Step 3: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour to make a roux.

A blue dutch oven with roux made out of butter and flour with a whisk.

Step 4: Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown.

A blue dutch oven with a white sauce, comprising roux and milk with a spoon to mix.

Step 5: Carefully stream in the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until the milk starts to thicken.

A blue dutch oven with white sauce topped with cheese, thyme and seasoning.

Step 6: Remove from heat, add the shredded cheeses, thyme leaves, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and nutmeg.

A blue dutch oven with macaroni being stirred into cheese sauce.

Step 7: Add the cooked macaroni and stir well.

A small saucepan with butter and panko breadcrumbs.

Step 8: Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the panko into the skillet and toss to combine.

A large white baking dish with baked mac and cheese with panko breadcrumbs on top.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

FAQs

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!

PS – are you thinking of putting this on your Thanksgiving menu? Check out the full What’s Gaby Cooking menu here along with the master prep schedule to keep things organized and on track!

And if you need more Thanksgiving Ideas check out this roundup of 80+ Thanksgiving Recipes and Ideas.

Similar Recipes

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 Baked Mac and Cheese from www.whatsgabycooking.com (@whatsgabycookin)

Creamy Mac and Cheese

Author: Gaby Dalkin
5 from 29 votes
Super creamy mac and cheese with 2 kinds of cheese will be the most decadent mac and cheese you've ever had.... plus there's a crispy topping! Inspired by the queen.... Ina
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 people

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

Prep ahead instructions: I'll be honest with you, making mac and cheese ahead of time can be a risk. But I think I've mastered it. For this recipe, you can make the pasta and the cheese sauce and combine them. Then cover and leave it in the fridge. 
Day of serving, add a few tablespoons of milk into the mixture and stir to combine before baking in the oven with the topping! That will loosen up the cheese sauce and still yield beautiful melty mac and cheese 

Nutrition Information

Calories: 814kcal | Carbohydrates: 58g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 28g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 145mg | Sodium: 734mg | Potassium: 403mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1475IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 1038mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this Recipe? Tag me Today!Mention @WhatsGabyCookin or tag #whatsgabycooking!

Photo by Matt Armendariz / Food Styling by Adam Pearson / Prop Styling by Stephanie Hanes 

114 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Best macaroni and cheese EVER! I’ve made this recipe twice now. The first time was for a pre-Thanksgiving family dinner, and the second was for a football gathering with friends. Both times it was delicious and I received lots of compliments. I made the recipe up until the baking portion each time, let it sit for an hour or so and then popped it in the oven for 30 min closer to dinner time. Made it easy to enjoy myself and the mac & cheese was still very creamy. This will be my go-to moving forward!

  2. 5 stars
    Yummy creamy mac n cheese. I cut it in half for two people and it came perfect. I also used half regular panko and half sriracha panko and it gave it a great kick to it. This will be my go to mac n cheese from now on.

  3. This recipe is epic!! I subbed some of the cheddar for Irish cheddar just because I made it for St Paddy’s day, and a girl like a theme, but other than that, made it as-is. Perfection! I can always count on Gaby’s recipes to get me compliments. Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    I really want to make this for Christmas as a main for my vegetarian daughter and a side for my omnivore guest. Can I make this gluten free? What would you substitute for the flour?

  5. 5 stars
    Oh my gosh this is the best mac and cheese recipe! I did not add any of the suggestions (spinach, pancetta, etc.). Just made it "plain". So creamy and delicious. I used gruyere, sharp cheddar and gouda. Great combo! Gaby does it AGAIN!!!!!

  6. Hi! I have about 15 people for the day. Can I make this and freeze it and then bake the day before Thanksgiving?

    1. yes you can!! It just might need a splash of milk and a stir before you pop it back into the oven and bake day of!

  7. 5 stars
    This Mac n cheese is fantastic! Creamy cheese sauce and the Panko topping adds such great texture. I added spinach and chopped red bell pepper. For the cheese I used Gaby’s recommendation of Gruyère and used a spicy Mexican cheese (cheddar). Yum! Easy to make and if you double your recipe you can freeze some for next time. (That is if you even have any extra)!

  8. 5 stars
    This was a truly epic Mac and cheese that baked up wonderfully. This dish is by far the best homemade Mac I’ve ever made and it was a show stopper are the family party I made it for! Thanks so much Gaby for having such reliable great recipes. I know I can always come to you site and find something that will turn out wonderfully!!

  9. 5 stars
    We have used the recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 3 years and it never fails. It even won me best-dish-at-dinner bragging rights.

  10. 5 stars
    Best mac & cheese EVER!!! Made it for Friendsgiving and going to make it for Thanksgiving! Such a hit and we were told it was the best dish at Friendsgiving 🙂 thank you, Gaby!

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