Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese is a staple recipe that is enjoyed in many households at pretty much any time of the year. It’s the one recipe that every cook should have, is perfect for serving at any gathering, and is the quintessential southern comfort food.
Macaroni and cheese recipes can become the topic of “healthy” discussion when speaking on its preparation. It seems there are a lot of versions out there that we’ve all grown to know and love; hence there are multiple ways to make it.
Some prefer to make it on the stovetop while others bake it. The cheese you’ll use will also vary as well as the technique — and the technique is where the real difference lies.
The mac & cheese I grew up on is very different than the mac and cheese I now make for my family. Growing up, a baked mixture of cooked macaroni, milk (whole, evaporated, heavy cream, or half-and-half), cheddar cheese, and sometimes eggs was always the foundation. This is what I call traditional southern baked macaroni and cheese AKA Soul Food mac and cheese.
My version uses a Béchamel sauce (technically a Mornay sauce) which gives my recipe a distinct creaminess and results in very rich mac and cheese. However, I still bake it, so it still has some of those traditional components.
You know I wasn’t going to toot my own horn here, but this is some of the best baked mac and cheese I have ever made.
Which cheeses should I use?
I chose to go with four different kinds of cheeses. I think this is a great combination for this easy mac and cheese recipe:
Sharp or medium cheddar is a tangy cheese with more complex and deeper flavors. Because this cheese is aged longer, it has a more sharp and pronounced cheddar flavor.
White cheddar is a New York-style Cheddar that has a sharp and buttery flavor as well but tends to be milder than the sharp cheddar above.
Gouda is characterized by its rich, nutty, and caramel-like flavor paired with its smooth and creamy texture. It’s a household favorite that I use in many recipes.
Mozzarella has a distinct but mild, somewhat salty flavor and does a great job picking up flavors from other ingredients. I can eat mozzarella on anything you can put cheese over.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the mac and cheese ingredients:
The most popular pasta to use is elbow or macaroni pasta if you make mac and cheese. I prefer the large shells as the narrow tubes are larger and can carry a little more of that creamy cheese sauce.
I discussed in detail a little earlier about the cheese. I chose cheddar cheese, gouda, white cheddar cheese, and mozzarella.
I use low-sodium chicken stock to make my cheese sauce. It adds the flavor needed without oversalting the dish by adding a lot of salt directly.
The two ingredients to make my roux are butter and all-purpose flour, and to create the béchamel, I add heavy whipping cream.
For my seasonings and herbs, I added garlic, oregano, thyme, and Himalayan salt.
How to make baked macaroni and cheese:
Begin by cooking your macaroni pasta as instructed, draining, and adding the pasta to a large bowl.
Next, let’s work on the sauce while the pasta is cooking. You will begin by adding the butter, garlic, and flour into your cooking pan, stirring these ingredients together until the butter has melted.
Add the chicken stock and heavy whipping cream to the pan and stir until it begins to bind. Follow this up by sprinkling all the seasonings evenly over the top of the sauce.
Add the shredded sharp cheddar cheese, shredded Gouda cheese, and shredded white cheddar cheese to the pan. Stir ingredients until it is well blended, creamy, and smooth.
Chop your mozzarella cheese block into chunks and set to the side.
Over the cooked pasta, pour the sauce, and add the cheese blocks. Now fold everything together.
Pour all ingredients into a casserole dish(paid link) then top off with the shredded medium cheddar cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, remove from the oven, and it’s ready to go!
Baked Mac & Cheese FAQs:
So what is a béchamel or mornay sauce?
There are five core sauces used in most French cuisine (AKA “the five mother French sauces”), and they are hollandaise, velouté, tomato, espagnole, and of course, béchamel. Béchamel is basically a white sauce made from a roux (flour and butter) plus milk. It can add an amazingly creamy and rich texture to almost any dish and becomes the base for many other sauces, like Mornay. Mornay is created when you take béchamel sauce and add cheese to it like Gruyère, Parmesan, or cheddar.
How much mac and cheese does this recipe make?
Perfect for the holidays, this recipe prepares a large casserole for a small gathering of 8-10. Feel free to cut the recipe in half if only needed for a smaller gathering of 4.
Can I store this mac and cheese?
What I love about this recipe is it is great days after making it. It’s almost as if the cheese melts all over again. And that’s because of the base béchamel/mornay sauce. You can place any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
This crowd-pleasing creamy mac and cheese recipe is one that your family will love any day of the week and any time of the year. If you want to make a great impression, give this recipe a try, and you will not regret it. It’s a good one!
Made with four cheeses this baked mac and cheese recipe gets its creaminess and cheesiness from homemade mornay sauce (made from béchamel).
5 cups Large Macaroni Pasta, dry/uncooked
16 oz. Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
8 oz. Gouda Cheese, shredded
8 oz. White Cheddar Cheese, shredded
16 oz. Mozzarella Cheese, cubed
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
3 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
3 tbsp. Butter
2 tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
3 tbsp. Garlic, minced
2 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Ground Thyme
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp. Himalayan Salt
Cook macaroni pasta as instructed, drain (do not rinse), add to a large bowl once complete.
While your pasta is cooking, add butter and garlic to the cooking pan on medium-low heat. Once butter melts, add flour. Stir consistently until combined. Pour chicken stock and heavy whipping into the pan and stir until mixture is well blended.
Add seasonings, half (8 oz.) sharp cheddar, gouda, and white cheddar cheese into the sauce and stir until smooth and creamy. (Using a whisk(paid link) may help with this step).
Pour sauce over the cooked macaroni. Cut the mozzarella cheese block into chunks add to the same bowl. Fold ingredients together.
Pour ingredients into a casserole dish(paid link) and top off with remaining sharp cheddar cheese. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool then serve.