Prepare yourselves for the ultimate Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese!
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.
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.
How do you make Baked Mac and Cheese?
Okay here are the KEY steps to making the best mac and cheese.
- 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) Once you’ve got the roux, you’re going to add the milk to the mixture. It’ll be a little bit thick and at that point, add in the grated cheese and stir to combine
- All that’s left is to do is combine the cooked pasta and cheese sauce and transfer into a baking dish. Add the panko topping and bake until bubbly.
What can I add to Mac and Cheese to make it even better?
- Crispy pancetta
- A large spoonful or two of pesto
- A few handfuls of chopped spinach
- Roasted butternut squash
- Caramelized onions and/or leeks
- Steamed broccoli florets
- cooked lobster or crab
- 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
Creamy Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
- 1 quart milk
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar
- 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems disgarded
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 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.
Photo by Matt Armendariz / Food Styling by Adam Pearson / Prop Styling by Stephanie Hanes
Doubled this recipe, we are a mac and cheese family. The roux was perfect! Layered with extra cheese, why not!? Christmas 2019 was delish, thanks Gaby!
Help! I only found smoked Gruyere at the store. Will this completely change the taste?
will still be delish!
Made for Easter – since we’re in lockdown #quarantine – I halved the recipe. It was DELICIOUS!!!! Gaby killing it again 🙂
Has anyone tried adding broccoli to this? Attempting this for dinners & wanted to add some veggies
easy and delicious!
I know this will be controversial- but this is the Best Mac and cheese I’ve ever had.
Have you ever tried to make this up until the final baking and then freeze it? I am wondering how it would do if then the people who are receiving it for a meal train could just take it out of the freezer, thaw and bake.
Can this be made the day before Thanksgiving, then cooked on Thanksgiving? I am afraid it will be dry.
prep schedule is here https://whatsgabycooking.com/thanksgiving-menu-2/
Wow wow WOW!!!! This is THE most delicious Mac and Cheese recipe I have ever tasted! While I was making it I used more pots than I like to and I said to myself “this better be worth the clean up” and oh man it IS!!! This will be on repeat. THANK YOU!
Can you make this with oat milk to cut down on the dairy? (Obvi still has dairy, but less). Thoughts?
never tried it! but I would assume it would work
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!
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.
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!!
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)!
Could I use rosemary instead of thyme?
Hi! I have about 15 people for the day. Can I make this and freeze it and then bake the day before Thanksgiving?
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!
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!!!!!
I’m not a thyme person. Can I just skip the fresh herbs?
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?
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!