Be prepared to have your socks knocked off by this creamy mac and cheese recipe. Four cheeses including the creamiest cheese of all: cream cheese, plus sour cream and irresistible spicing make this macaroni and cheese recipe a family favorite!
I hope your family enjoys this creamy, comforting, cheesy pasta dish as much as mine does.
Not Diet Food. Comfort Food.
Friends, if you’ve come here today looking for salads or even low fat desserts, I suggest you keep on moving. Or try this summer salad with roasted apple vinaigrette.
Today, I’m here to share with you pure comfort food. All the fats, all the carbs, all the creamy deliciousness you could ever want.
I’m not advocating for eating this way every day or even every week, but as an occasional indulgence, you really can’t do better than this, the best creamy mac and cheese recipe ever.
Hyperbole? I think not.
What Makes the Best Creamy Mac and Cheese?
When I want mac and cheese, I want to taste the cheese.
I want it to be deeply flavorful and gooey and creamy and perfect.
This recipe is an updated version of the macaroni and cheese recipe I made one Thanksgiving. The only difference is that I upped the cheese-to-noodle goo ratio so it wouldn’t dry out, and I left off the crushed Goldfish topping.
I’ll give you the ingredients for the topping though, in case you’re feeling Goldfishy.
Three types of “shredding cheese” plus cream cheese and sour cream all whisked into a luxurious white sauce equals one luscious, rich mornay sauce.
What Pasta Shape is Best for Macaroni and Cheese?
I much prefer short shapes with plenty of texture to hold onto the rich sauce. Some of my favorites (with links to purchase) are:
- Cavatappi (my favorite and what I used here)
- Medium shells
Many of these shapes have choices between regular smooth pasta and rigate, meaning it has ridges.
Always choose a ridged pasta or at least a pasta shape extruded through brass dies because they will hold onto sauce better.
What Kind of Cheese Is the Best for Macaroni and Cheese?
You can use any cheese or combination of cheese that you like as long as they melt nicely. Yes, you can even use some Velveeta, because let’s face it:
No other cheese has a melting game quite as smooth and creamy as Velveeta.
But since we’re starting with a roux and then stirring in cheese, your sauce should stay nice and creamy with “regular grating cheese” as well.
Here are some contenders for excellent cheeses for macaroni and cheese:
For my taste, the predominant cheese should be
- Sharp or extra sharp cheddar: No two ways about it, mac and cheese is a very fatty dish, so sharpness will help to cut through some of that fattiness to keep it from feeling too heavy.
After that, here are some other cheese choices that will work nicely and melt beautifully into your cheesy sauce:
- Soft goat cheese
- Jack cheese, or pepper jack or even a chipotle jack if you want to go the spicy/smoky route
How To Make a Creamy Cheese Sauce for Mac and Cheese
Aside from ensuring you have a nice creamy bechamel to start, the best way I have found to make my mac and cheese super creamy is to add cream cheese and sour cream to the mix.
Cream cheese doesn’t bring a ton of flavor, but it does bring a lovely, smooth decadence to your sauce.
And sour cream also adds a touch of tang that can balance out the rich sauce.
What Kind of Milk Should I Use to Make My Bechamel Sauce?
I tend to make my bechamel sauce (that will become mornay with the addition of cheese) with whole milk since I’m going to be adding so much cheese, but you can make yours with half and half or even cream if you really want to gild the lily (and serve your super rich mac & cheese in tiny, tiny servings).
You can even use 2% milk for your bechamel. Cooking it down some will help to thicken it up as will adding all the cheese.
I don’t recommend using skim milk, though. It is way too watery and doesn’t bring any additional creaminess to the recipe.
How To Reheat Creamy Mac and Cheese
This mac and cheese is basically stovetop mac and cheese that I bake just for a few minutes to get the top a bit crunchy.
You can serve it straight from the pot, though.
Regardless, macaroni and cheese tends to get dry in the refrigerator and congeal into a solid mass of noodle and cheese.
This makes it hard to reheat and retain (or regain) the creaminess of the hot-off-the-stove or out of the oven recipes.
Reheating Macaroni and Cheese in the Microwave
To reheat it in the microwave, I put a portion in a microwave safe bowl, splash in a bit of half and half, and heat until hot.
Then I stir it to incorporate the half and half. This results in a nice, creamy reheated mac and cheese.
Reheating Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove
To reheat it on the stovetop, I put it in a pan with a splash of half and half and reheat on medium low heat, stirring frequently but gently so I don’t break up the pasta.
I don’t recommend reheating in the oven, because it will just dry out even more than it has in the fridge.
More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
This recipe is really creamy and decadent, but here are a few other macaroni and cheese recipes you might enjoy.
- Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese with Goat Cheese and Fontina
- Macaroni and Cheese with Shaved Truffle
- Southern Mac and Cheese (Pimento Cheese Pasta)
- Baked Mac and Cheese
Printable Holiday Recipe Card for Creamy Mac and Cheese
Don’t forget your holiday printable! Click on the photo to download the pdf!
I have made this twice now at the NC Coast for beach gatherings with neighbors and NOW this is my requested dish when we are there. This is the PERFECT mac & cheese recipe…Thank you and also for this treasured recipe! –Reader Tami
I found this Mac and cheese recipe is probably the best I ever made. My 8 year old grandson loved it and surprisingly my son and daughter in law liked it as well My husband also likes it. As I do too. Although I have to control how much I eat….I guess u have figured it out this recipe is a family delight…… –Reader Dottie
Best Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe
If you are digging the sound of this recipe, please rate and/or comment. I love hearing from you! And if you make this (and you really should), please tag me on Instagram @onlinepastrychef using hashtag #pcorecipe or share it in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook group. I can’t wait to see your version!
- 1 pound of your favorite short noodle shapes, , preferably rigate (with ridges) I used my favorite: cavatappi
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, (plus more to taste)
- several grindings of fresh black pepper, , to taste
- 1 Tablespoon dry mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons turmeric, (optional, but it gives it a lovely golden color, plus it's good for you)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika or sweet smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
- 2 oz (1/4 block) cream cheese
- 1/2 cup full fat sour cream
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, , grated
- 8 oz Colby Jack cheese, , grated
- 4 oz Parmesan cheese, , finely grated (not from the green can)
- freshly ground black pepper and paprika or ground chipotle for topping
For the optional Goldfish topping
- 1 cup Goldfish crackers or other cheese crackers
- 1/2 cup panko
- 2 Tablespoons butter, , melted and cooled
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle powder, , or to taste (optional if you don't like it spicy)
- Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed 4-5 quart sauce pan or Dutch oven,melt the butter. When it starts to sizzle, add the salt, pepper, mustard powder, optional turmeric, paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. Let sizzle about 45 seconds, stirring.
- Dump in the flour and stir until all the butter is absorbed. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Add the milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken just slightly.
- By this time, your water should have come to a boil. Salt your water and dump in the pasta. Cook for 5-6 minutes until just shy of al dente. The bite should be very firm.
- While the pasta is cooking, take the cheese sauce off the heat and whisk in the cream cheese and sour cream until melted.
- Whisk in the cheeses, a big handful at a time, until all melted and smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pot of cheese sauce. Stir well to evenly coat and then dump into a buttered 9"x13" casserole or into individual serving vessels of some sort. If using individuals, place them all on a sheet pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle on a bit of black pepper and paprika or ground chipotle, or add the Goldfish topping.
- Bake the finished pasta for 12 minutes.
- Let set up for about 10 minutes for individuals and 15-20 for one whole casserole before serving.
For the optional Goidfish topping
- Crush crackers either in a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Either in a bowl or right in the bag, add the panko, butter and spice. Mix well (or squish the bag around well) to incorporate.
Nutrionals calculated for 8 servings, including the Goldfish topping.
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Nutrition InformationYield 8
Amount Per Serving Calories 846 Saturated Fat 24g Cholesterol 122mg Sodium 1254mg Carbohydrates 75g Fiber 3g Sugar 8g Protein 34g