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!
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.
For me, perfect baked macaroni and cheese needs to be
- sharp and rich with a lot of cheese
- creamy on the inside
- crunchy on the outside.
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?
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!
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.
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
For the Macaroni and Cheese
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅔ 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
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?
- all types of cheddar
- pepper jack or Monterey jack
- cream cheese
- blue cheese
- goat cheese
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.