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!
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
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems disgarded
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1-1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the package. Drain well.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it!
- Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat, add the Gruyère, Cheddar, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the panko crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.