I love all the macaroni and cheese.This baked mac and cheese is rich and with 2 types of cheddar cheese and a crispy, cheesy, panko topping.

The crispy topping adds a nice crunchy textural contrast to the creamy pasta. It is pretty magnificent!

If you prefer a stove top mac and cheese, I can help you there, too!

green ramekin of baked mac and cheese on a white plate

What Makes a Good Baked Mac and Cheese?

I grew up thinking I did not like macaroni and cheese, and specifically baked mac and cheese. Once I left home, I tried a lot of different macaroni and cheese recipes, and I realized that I really like it. I just didn’t like my mom’s version.

Sorry, Mom.

For me, perfect baked macaroni and cheese needs to be

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  • sharp and rich with a lot of cheese
  • creamy on the inside
  • crunchy on the outside.

Pro Tip

Using more than one cheese in your mac and cheese is always a bonusu002du002dadding complexity and richness is as easy as grating several kinds of cheese.

How to Keep Baked Mac and Cheese Smooth and Creamy

Baked mac and cheese can often seem a bit curdled, which was my issue with my mom’s version.

This is because either people add too many eggs or they bake it at too high a temperature.

Macaroni and cheese with egg is actually a cheesy custard that happens to have pasta in it, so there is a risk of curdling.

You can help keep your mac and cheese creamy by:

  • making sure there is enough liquid in your recipe
  • controlling the baking temperature

What Can I Add to My Baked Mac & Cheese?

overhead shot of baked macaroni and cheese in a green ramekin on a white plate

You are really only limited by your imagination. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Add chopped green onion and crumbled bacon
  • Add lean protein such as shredded cooked chicken, pork, or tuna
  • Make a spicy mac & cheese by mixing in chopped pickled jalapenos and/or chipotle
  • Add caramelized onions and strips of cooked beef for a play on French onion soup
  • Substitute some butternut squash or pumpkin puree for a portion of the dairy and cheese
  • Add diced tomatoes or a tomato/chile combo such as Ro-Tel (drain first)
  • Switch up the topping by using crushed Goldfish or other cheese crackers

What To Bake Macaroni and Cheese In

You really have two choices.

  • Bake in a casserole dish and then spoon or cut portions
  • bake in individual ramekins.

There is no right way. If you like crunchy edges, you will probably prefer baking in ramekins.

If you prefer the creamy goodness of mac and cheese, bake in a large casserole dish.

Your mac and cheese will be creamier if you bake in a round rather than a rectangular baker, so it’s totally up to you.

Can You Freeze Cheesy Pasta?

Yes. It freezes well for up to a couple of months.

I would freeze it in portions unless you’re making it way ahead for a gathering or something.

Let it cool and then portion out (or wrap well and freeze whole). You can reheat it, covered, from frozen, but allow it to temper on the counter for an hour or so before putting it in the oven.

Reheat, covered with foil, at 350F for an hour (for a whole casserole) or about 20 minutes (for portions). Remove the foil for the last 5-10 minutes to crisp up the topping, or broil for 2-3 minutes right before serving.

Side Dishes as Main Courses

Macaroni and cheese is a great side dish, although I often eat it as my main course. Because pasta is the best!

I also can make a whole meal out of Mexican pasta salad, mom-style macaroni salad (especially dangerous), or potato salad.

My no mayo potato salad is great to take for cookouts because it can be served at room temp or even warm, and nothing bad will happen.

What side dishes can you make a main meal from? Tell me in the comments!

I really hope you love this mac and cheese recipe, you guys! If you make it, please share a photo with me, either in the PCO Facebook Group or on instagram by tagging @onlinepastrychef and using hashtag #pcorecipe. Thanks, and enjoy!

If you prefer stovetop mac and cheese, try my Best Creamy Mac & Cheese recipe.

two images of baked mac and cheese

Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Jennifer Field
This baked mac and cheese is rich with cheddar cheese and topped with crunchy, cheesy, seasoned panko.
4.75 from 4 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 593 kcal

Ingredients

For the Macaroni and Cheese

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • cup 3 oz sweet onion, small dice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt , divided use
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 3 cups 24 oz half and half
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6 oz Alpine Cheddar from Cabot* or similar
  • 6 oz White Oak Cheddar from Cabot* or similar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 oz penne , cooked to al dente according to package directions.

For the Topping

  • ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese finely grated (a mix of the cheeses used in the custard)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter

Instructions
 

For the Macaroni and Cheese

  • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
  • When the butter is sizzling, add the diced onion, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
  • Cook, stirring to keep the onions moving, until they are translucent and just starting to color, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the flour and cook another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Pour in the half and half all at once, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  • Once the dairy mixture has reached a boil, stir in the mustard powder, sweet paprika and garlic powder. Reduce the heat to medium-low to low and maintain a low simmer for 5 minutes to thicken the sauce, stirring frequently to keep the sauce from sticking.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the two cheddar cheeses, a bit at a time, until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, to taste.
  • Allow the sauce to cool while you cook and drain the pasta.
  • Whisk the two eggs into the somewhat cooled sauce until well-combined.
  • Thoroughly fold the pasta into the sauce. Distribute the pasta among 6-8 large (1 to 1 1/2 cup capacity) ramekins.
  • Evenly divide the panko topping on top of each portion, and press down gently. (See Below)
  • Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 350F in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until bubbling.
  • Broil for 1-2 minutes until the topping is of your desired deep golden brown.

For the Topping

  • Stir together the panko, three cheeses, salt and pepper.
  • Evenly drizzle in the melted butter and work it in until all the panko is moistened.

Did You Make Any Changes?

Notes

Feel free to substitute your favorite mixture of cheeses for a total of 12 oz or 3/4 pounds. Here are some excellent choices:
  • all types of cheddar
  • pepper jack or Monterey jack
  • gruyere
  • brie
  • Parmesan 
  • cream cheese 
  • blue cheese
  • goat cheese
NOTE: Nutritional information is calculated for 1/8 recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 593kcalCarbohydrates: 44gProtein: 24gSaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 144mgSodium: 1557mgFiber: 2gSugar: 2g
Keyword mac and cheese
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!

And there you have it friends: baked mac and cheese, including all manner of variations.

Do you have a favorite mac and cheese variation? Let me know about it in the comments!

Thanks for spending some time with me today. Have a lovely day.

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19 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    came home from a lousy day, craving mac and cheese. Opened the refrig and found all the cheeses I needed to make this goodness. YUM, YUM, YUM – for the 20th time I have made this – there’s just never enough left

    1. Aw, Ruth Ann! I’m so sorry you had a sucky day. Glad I was able to make your day a little bit better with this recipe. Can’t have too many delicious mac & cheese recipes!

  2. I just did a quick Google Image search to see if any other bloggers had attempted pumpkin kugel, and there are a few variations out there. I think you should go totally Southern and make yours a sweet potato kugel. (Very autumnal!)

  3. Oooo, Jenni, your comment just set my heart racing — kugel! Every time I’ve had kugel, I’ve thought “I love everything about this concept, noodles and custard, but somehow the taste just misses…”

    I bet you could come up with an improvement on kugel (with either noodles or matzoh) that fulfilled my dreams.

    All appeldages crossed for you in this contest! I’ve never been a mac ‘n cheese person either, but your description of these cheeses made me want a bite.

    1. I’ve never made even a basic kugel, but it is definitely on my list of stuff I want to play with. I wonder if I can do a pumpkin version…? And the cheese is really good. At room temp with wine, it’s way more than good, Maggie!

  4. 5 stars
    In our house, growing up, macaroni and cheese was sweet, unless it came from the blue box. That’s how my mother’s mother’s family had made and eaten it for all eternity. Why?? Why?? I cannot tell you but it was made with American cheese and milk and sugar. It looked like something warm and cheesy and sticky, all nicely browned on top, until the first bite and just, no. The adults loved it though and it was a must at every Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

    Your mac and cheese has all the hallmarks of greatness, Jenni! Wonderful salty cheddars, mustard powder and, of course, the crunchy top with even more cheese. Also, I love the name! Legacy from your mom and legacy from the cheese! How can this one not win?

    1. Oh, Stacy, I’m horrified! Horrified!! Why, indeed, would they do that to poor unsuspecting mac&cheese? Was it their idea of a kugel or something?! Shudder. I’m very sorry that happened to you. 🙁

      I hope my mac&cheese does well–lots of delicious-looking entries, Stacy! Fingers crossed! <3

      1. It was an old family recipe. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with it at all! My mom said that my father didn’t like it at first but that he grew to love it. I keep meaning to confirm that. Of course, that man will eat anything. It’s one of the things I love the most about him. 🙂 I’m crossing all my available parts for you, Jenni!

      2. I would love to know the history of your family’s recipe–I’m all interested now. In an I-don’t-want-to-eat-it-I-just-want-to-know kind of way! I appreciate all the Crossings! xoxo

  5. What a champion mac and cheese recipe. It looks like a winner to me. I really like the addition of the egg. This is one of my favorite dishes. It pleases me that it and variations of it has made a visible comeback. I can’t wait to try this version.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol! I bet you’d really like the book Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. Tons of amazing variations in that book–lots of inspiration!

4.75 from 4 votes (1 rating without comment)

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