This classic baked mac and cheese with a crunchy, buttery breadcrumb crust is absolutely delicious and comfort food at its best! Easy to make, with just 7 ingredients, this baked macaroni and cheese casserole is sure to satisfy!
I am finally sharing a family classic recipe with you today.
First though, I must admit, I love how quick my easy stovetop mac and cheese is that I shared earlier this month. Such a quick fix for dinner on a busy night. And of course, crock pot mac and cheese is a great option for a hands-off version.
But when I have time for it, I do so long for that crusty, crunchy baked-in topping that comes with a baked macaroni and cheese recipe.
You know, where everyone fights for a corner piece because it has ALL the golden brown deliciousness? Ah, so good…
Here’s a few of the fun baked varieties I’ve shared so far:
- Pumpkin baked mac and cheese with bacon
- Healthy chicken broccoli mac and cheese
- Kale and butternut squash mac and cheese
- Baked taco mac and cheese casserole
Today we’re keeping it simple and keeping it classic.
Today it’s my classic baked mac and cheese, which has tender pasta pieces coated in a deliciously creamy, cheesy sauce and topped with a buttery breadcrumb crust.
And it’s got TWO types of cheese — Gruyere and cheddar — for some extra flavor, richness and plain ole yummy added in.
Utter comfort food delight right here! You’ll be eagerly diving in for bite after bite of this.
Oh, but read on if you want to use all cheddar or substitute a different cheese combo for this recipe. Totally do-able.
This easy baked macaroni and cheese recipe is perfect for the cooler weather finally coming our way and a great addition to your Thanksgiving, Christmas or general holiday table.
Cause who can resist some warm, bubbly homemade mac and cheese?!
Not my family, I’ll tell you that. We devour this! My kiddos especially.
(You might also want to check out my easy chicken and dumplings for another comfort food classic the whole family will love!)
(They’ve been subjected to so many of my veggie-filled mac and cheese recipes that they always eye this cautiously asking if it’s just regular mac and cheese. 😂 It sure is, kids, it sure is. )
Bonus, it’s easy to make too! Cook your pasta, make the cheese sauce, toss those together and put it in the casserole dish. Add your extra cheese and breadcrumbs mixture on top and bake it off!
Plus, it’s just 7 ingredients too (or 6 if you use all cheddar cheese) so it’s a simple one to make anytime!
Now, I’ve got some notes, tips and FAQs coming up below on how to make baked macaroni and cheese. Just tryin’ to be helpful.
(I’ve made a lot of mac and cheese in my day, so I have lots of tips and ideas to share.)
If you want to jump on down to the recipe, simply scroll right on through the rest of the text. The recipe card is near the bottom of the page, above the comments section.
Notes on baked mac and cheese:
- I used a medium shell pasta for this recipe, but you can substitute other pasta types. (See more on that below.)
- The recipe calls for half Gruyere cheese and half sharp cheddar cheese for the cheese. However, I’ve made this before with all cheddar and it was still delicious, so that’s fine if it’s all you have on hand.
- I use 2% or skim milk for this recipe since that’s what we always have in the fridge, but it would work great with whole milk as well.
- As I mention in the recipe card, it helps to let the baked mac and cheese casserole sit for 5 minutes or so after it comes out of the oven. That’ll help it set up all the way before you scoop it out and serve it.
Also, I should note this makes a lot! You could definitely halve the recipe and bake it in a one-quart baking dish or an 8x8 pan.
Though I have notes below on storing leftovers if you’d like to have some on hand for another night.
OK, now for a few commonly asked questions….
What pasta should I use for macaroni and cheese?
- You can use a small elbow pasta, a medium shell pasta, orecchiette or another small shaped pasta. (Here’s a cool list of all the different pasta shapes for a visual guide with a quick description for each one.)
- Feel free to choose a whole wheat or whole grain pasta, regular pasta or even a gluten-free pasta.
- I used a whole grain medium shell pasta here.
- Be sure to follow the cooking instructions and make sure to stop cooking and drain the pasta when it’s just al dente. (It’ll cook a little more in the oven.) So if the package says to cook for 9-11 minutes, stop at 9 minutes.
What cheese should I use for macaroni and cheese?
- A sharp cheddar is classic for mac and cheese. However, a combination of cheeses can be delicious as well.
- Gruyere is a great cheese for mac and cheese. I make this recipe with half gruyere (melted into the cheese sauce) and half cheddar (sprinkled over top of the casserole before it bakes).
- Cheddar and Monterey Jack are another good combo for making mac and cheese.
- American cheese is another favorite for how melty it gets.
And of course I have to share some topping ideas with you! I mean, you know how I feel about toppings. (Hint: That they make everything better.)
Here’s a few suggestions if you want to dress up and finish off this homemade baked mac and cheese recipe.
Macaroni and cheese toppings:
- Extra cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, etc.)
- Cooked, crumbled bacon 🥓
- Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
- Chopped chives or green onions
- Hot sauce or sriracha for some heat 🌶
- Pickled jalapeños
- Pico de gallo
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Sliced avocado or a dollop of guac
And now that we’re all done with our pasta dish, let’s round out the rest of the meal!
What should I serve with baked mac and cheese?
- We love this with a big green salad for something fresh and light. 🥗
- It’s also great with steamed asparagus or broccoli, roasted or sautéed Brussels sprouts or green beans for a veggie side dish.
- Want a protein main to go with this? Grilled or baked chicken or pork would be great here. Try my balsamic pork tenderloin with thyme or spice-rubbed pork chops. 15-minute paprika chicken or easy crunchy baked chicken would be great too.
- Or make a grilled or seared steak to go with this.
Can I make prep baked macaroni and cheese ahead?
Yes! You can cook the pasta, make the sauce, combine them and put it into the casserole ahead of time. Add the shredded cheese on top.
Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.
Bring the casserole out of the fridge as the oven preheats, to help it come to room temperature.
Make the buttery breadcrumb mixture, spread it over the casserole and bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes (a little longer to help everything get nice and hot).
OK, and now let’s discuss any leftovers you may have and what to do with them.
Can I reheat baked mac and cheese?
You definitely can and I have many times before.
The crunchy bits on top will be softer, but it’s still delicious when it’s all hot and bubbly again.
You can reheat single servings easily in the microwave, starting with about 45 seconds to a minute, then stirring and adding additional time until it’s nice and hot. This keeps everything moist as well.
You can also transfer leftovers to a smaller casserole dish and warm it in the oven. I usually cover it with aluminum foil and bake at 325 for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake 5-10 more minutes until it’s heated through. (Be sure to check it. Sometimes mine needs longer to get all the way warmed through in the middle.)
Just be careful not to dry out the dish with the oven method. Honestly, I prefer the microwave because it’s faster and gets the dish nice and piping hot again.
Let’s also discuss long-term storage…
Can I freeze leftover mac and cheese?
Absolutely! Freezing leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste, especially when a dish like this makes a lot. You’ll have dinner ready to go another night!
Simple let the leftovers cool down, then transfer to a freezer-safe plastic bag or container, label it, and keep in the freezer for 4-5 months.
Defrost it overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave or in a small casserole dish (details above).
The crunchy breadcrumb topping will lose its crunchy, but it’s still delicious.
OK, you are armed with ALL the info now.
You are ready to go forth and make some seriously delicious, delightful and downright delectable baked macaroni and cheese.
Do it. Soon.
P.S. You probably think I can’t possibly bring you any more macaroni and cheese goodness, but you would be wrong! I have more coming your way, so stay tuned!
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- 1 (1 lb.) box macaroni or medium shell pasta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk of choice (see notes)
- 1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere cheese (see notes)
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¾ cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of salt and add pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions, to the lowest cook time suggested. (For instance, if it says 9-11 minutes, cook for only 9 minutes.) Remove and drain pasta and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook for one to two minutes, whisking constantly.
- Slowly add in 2 cups milk, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth.
- Add the Gruyere cheese and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper and stir again. Remove from heat and add cooked pasta. Stir well to coat all of the pasta and get everything combined.
- Transfer the pasta and sauce to a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Top with the shredded cheddar cheese.
- In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs with the 3 tablespoons of melted butter and stir to combine.
- Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of the casserole. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Let sit for 4-5 minutes before serving.
Milk: I use 2% or skim milk for this recipe since that’s what we always have on hand, but it would work great with whole milk as well.
I’ve also made this with soy milk before (because my daughter used to have a cow’s milk allergy) and that worked fine too. You can substitute a dairy-free butter and cheese and have this be a dairy-free or vegan version.
Cheese: I used a sharp white cheddar cheese and Gruyere cheese for the cheeses in this recipe. You can use all cheddar (regular or white are fine) if you'd prefer.
Make-ahead notes: You can cook the pasta, make the sauce, combine them and put it into the casserole ahead of time. Add the shredded cheese on top. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.
Bring the casserole out of the fridge as the oven preheats, to help it come to room temperature. Make the buttery breadcrumb mixture, spread it over the casserole and bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes (a little longer to help everything get nice and hot).
Reheating: You can reheat leftover single servings easily in the microwave, starting with about 45 seconds to a minute, then stirring and adding additional time until it’s nice and hot. The crunchy bits on top will be softer, but it’s still delicious. You can also reheat in a casserole dish in the oven but it takes longer to get really warmed through.
Freezing leftovers: Extras freeze great! Simply let the leftovers cool down, then transfer to a freezer safe plastic bag or container, label it, and keep in the freezer for 4-5 months. Defrost it overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave or in a small casserole dish (details above). The crunchy breadcrumb topping will lose its crunchy, but it’s still delicious.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 390Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 76mgSodium: 618mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 17g