Creamy, cheesy, and utterly delicious, this recipe for Mac and Cheese is the ultimate in comfort food. Made with a gooey, buttery homemade cheese sauce, this stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe is one of the best mac and cheese you will ever make. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take things a step further by baking it into a delicious casserole with a crispy, crunchy breadcrumb topping. YUM!
About Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Macaroni and cheese is known around the world as a classic, quick meal for kids. However, this is not the powdered cheese version you will find at the store.
Instead, this recipe is made entirely from scratch to produce the creamiest, cheesiest pasta around. The whole family is sure to love it!
Making homemade mac and cheese is actually quite easy once you know how to prepare the perfect cheese sauce.
It’s not difficult, but you do need to keep a few tips in mind to get a creamy, cheesy, and smooth sauce.
Now that we’ve discovered the secrets (which we’ll share below!), this macaroni and cheese meal ranks right up there with other popular American recipes.
How to make Mac and Cheese
This easy recipe for macaroni and cheese from scratch can either be made solely on the stovetop, or it can be taken one step further and baked to crispy, melty perfection.
Either option is delightful, so do what you have the time and patience for.
Cook Macaroni Pasta
1. Measure out 1 cup macaroni (a.k.a. elbow pasta), (100 grams or 3.5 ounces).
2. Boil the pasta in salted water per package instructions. I used 4 cups water, plus ½ teaspoon salt.
3. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, meaning just cooked with still a bit of a bite. You don’t want it to get too soft or mushy.
4. Drain the pasta using a colander or strainer.
Make Breadcrumb Topping (Optional, Use If Baking)
Making the breadcrumb topping is only necessary if you plan on baking the mac and cheese. Skip the following steps if you do not plan to bake the macaroni and cheese.
5. While the pasta is cooking, grease a baking pan with some softened butter.
6. Then in a microwave safe bowl, melt 1 teaspoon butter.
7. Now add ⅓ cup breadcrumbs to the melted butter.
Pro Tip: If you do not have store-bought breadcrumbs, you can easily make your own. Simply take 3 to 4 slices of bread that are 2 to 3 days old, tear them apart and grind them in a dry grinder or mixer.
8. With a spoon, mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter very well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Feel free to add herbs or minced garlic here if you prefer.
Make Cheese Sauce
9. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan over a low flame.
10. The butter should be well heated, with a frothy, bubbly surface.
11. Then add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
12. Whisk the flour into the butter as soon as you add it. Act quickly here!
13. Keep on stirring so that lumps do not form.
14. The frequent stirring helps the flour to cook evenly.
15. You will see the flour frothing and bubbling up while stirring.
16. Sauté the flour until you get a nice, nutty aroma from it and the mixture is a pale golden color. Don’t over-brown the roux here, or you’ll risk it tasting bitter.
17. Keep the heat to the lowest setting. While continuously whisking, pour the milk in a gentle stream.
The milk has to be chilled/cold so that lumps do not form. If you use hot, warm, or room temperature milk, then lumps may form.
18. Stir frequently while the milk warms and heats up.
19. The sauce will begin to thicken, so continue to stir often.
20. When the sauce has thickened well, turn off the heat. A test is that the sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
Fun Fact: You just made béchamel, one of the French mother sauces! This can be eaten as is in other recipes (e.g. as a topping for crepes or a layer in lasagna), or you can add cheese to make a mornay for the mac and cheese!
21. Remove the saucepan from the heat and wait for a minute. Then add 150 grams (5.3 ounces) of your favorite shredded cheese.
I used a mix of cheddar, gouda and mozzarella. You can also use your own favorite blend of melty cheeses.
Just note that the flavor and taste of the dish depends largely on the kind of cheese you use. Be sure to shred your own cheese and do not buy packaged shredded cheese.
22. Again mix and stir so that the cheese melts.
23. The cheese needs to melt well in the hot white sauce (bechamel sauce). This is what will turn your white sauce into a smooth, creamy cheese sauce known as mornay.
24. Add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper and a pinch or two of grated nutmeg or nutmeg powder.
25. Add salt to taste.
Remember: Cheese already has salt in it, so add accordingly. I recommend about 2 to 3 pinches or about ⅛ teaspoon. You can taste the sauce first, then season to your liking.
26. Stir again.
Assembly Part I: Simply Mix
27. Now add the pasta to the cheese sauce.
28. With a spoon, mix thoroughly. The sauce should coat all of the macaroni very well.
29. Feel free to stop here! The macaroni and cheese is done and ready to serve. However, if you’d like to bake it before serving, proceed to the next step.
Assembly Part II: Bake Mac and Cheese
30. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into the greased pan.
31. Top evenly with the breadcrumbs and melted butter mixture.
32. Now sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the remaining shredded cheese on top.
33. Sprinkle some crushed black pepper on top of the cheese.
34. Bake in a preheated oven at 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese melts and the mac and cheese is bubbly and hot. Be sure to check while baking as oven temperatures vary.
Pro Tip: If your topping is browning too quickly, use a piece of aluminum foil to tent over it. This will halt the browning process! Just be sure to leave it vented or the breadcrumbs will steam and become soggy.
35. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Then serve baked mac and cheese hot.
- Cook the sauce on a low heat from start to finish. Béchamel has a tendency to scorch and burn, so acting gently is in your best interest.
- Use a thick bottomed and heavy pan to help prevent scorching.
- Using chilled or cold milk does not lead to the formation of lumps when you’re making the béchamel.
- Be sure to stir the sauce frequently with a wired or balloon whisk.
- If the sauce becomes too thick, add a drizzle of hot milk to thin it out before you add the cheese.
- When adding shredded cheese, keep the pan on your workplace and not on the stove top or burner. Be sure to add a trivet or folded kitchen towel to protect your surfaces if necessary.
- Shred your own cheese. Packaged shredded cheese is coated in anti-caking agents that prevents it from melting well. If you’re in a rush, consider using your food processor and the grating attachment.
- Feel free to eat the mac and cheese straight from the stovetop without baking. It will still be miles ahead of the boxed version in terms of flavor and consistency!
- Baked: Baking macaroni and cheese is optional, but the extra step is well worth the effort. Be sure to coat the top with a layer of herbed bread crumbs for the ultimate satisfying crunch.
- Extra Seasonings: Feel free to add seasonings, herbs and spices of your choice. I keep it simple with crushed black pepper and a bit of ground nutmeg. A dash of mustard powder also perks up the flavor.
- With Veggies: To add some fiber and extra nutrition to your creamy pasta dish, simply mix in some steamed veggies. Green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, or sautéed spinach are among my favorites.
That’s all a matter of personal preference! I happen to love a mix of cheddar, gouda, and mozzarella.
However, there are a lot of options to choose from: pepper jack, monterey jack, colby, havarti, brie, parmesan, and even blue cheeses are all delightful in their own right. Any melty cheese will work! Mix and match to your heart’s content.
Absolutely! You can always prepare it (and the breadcrumbs) up to the point of baking (if you so choose), keep in a sealed container/box and tuck it in the fridge for up to 3 days before baking. If you’re planning to bake it, keep the breadcrumbs wrapped separately.
To reheat, defrost, top with breadcrumbs (if baking) and either bake according to the recipe directions above, or use the stovetop or microwave to reheat it, adding a bit of milk as needed to loosen the sauce.
Please be sure to rate the recipe in the recipe card or leave a comment below if you have made it. For more vegetarian inspirations, Sign Up for my emails or follow me on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
Mac and Cheese (Stovetop & Baked)
For cooking macaroni
- 1 cup elbow macaroni or shell pasta – 100 grams
- 4 cups water or about 1 litre
- ½ teaspoon salt
For cheese sauce
- 3 tablespoons Butter – unsalted
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk – cold or chilled
- ½ teaspoon crushed black pepper or as required
- 1 to 2 pinch grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg powder
- 1.25 cups cheese – shredded, mix of cheddar, mozzarella and gouda cheese or any cheese or 150 grams
- ⅛ teaspoon salt or as required
For breadcrumb mixture
- 1 teaspoon Butter – melted, unsalted
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper or as required
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cheese – shredded, mix of cheddar, mozzarella and gouda cheese
- Cook the elbow pasta as per the instructions on the package till they are al dente. I first heated the water and salt to a vigorous boil and then added the pasta.
- Cook them till they are al dente or just cooked. They should not get too soft or mushy or break.
- Drain them in a colander or strainer.
- Now grease a baking pan with some softened butter. Skip this step if you do not plan to bake the mac n cheese.
Making breadcrumbs topping
- In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter or you can melt the butter in a small pan. Then add the breadcrumbs.
- With a spoon mix the breadrcumbs with the melted butter very well. Keep aside.
Making cheese sauce
- Heat butter in a thick bottomed sauce pan on a low flame. Also preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (390 degrees Fahrenheit).
- The butter should heat up well. Then add the all purpose flour.
- Using a wired whisk stir the flour quickly as soon as you add it.
- Keep on stirring so that no lumps are formed.
- The frequent stirring helps the flour to cook evenly.
- You will see the flour frothing and bubbling up while stirring.
- Saute the flour till you get a nice cooked aroma from the flour and a pale golden color. Don’t brown the flour.
- Keep the flame to the lowest and then pour the milk in a gentle stream. Pour the milk with one hand and stir the sauce mixture with the other. The milk has to be chilled, so that lumps are not formed. If you use hot or warm milk or milk at room temperature, lumps can be formed.
- Do stir frequently while the milk warms and heats up. The sauce would begin to thicken, so do stir often.
- When the sauce has thickened well and coats the back of a spoon, switch off the flame.
- Keep the saucepan down and wait for a minute. Then add the shredded cheese. I used an equal mix of cheddar, gouda and mozzarella cheese. You can also use just cheddar cheese or processed cheese or your favorite cheese.
- Again mix and stir so that the cheese melts.
- The cheese has to melt well in the hot bechamel sauce or white sauce. So now what you have is a cheese sauce.
- Add the crushed black pepper and a pinch or two of grated nutmeg or nutmeg powder. You can also add a bit of mustard powder.
- Add very little salt. About 2 to 3 pinches. Stir again.
- Now add the pasta in the cheese sauce.
- With a spoon stir and mix very well.
- The mac and cheese is done. If you want you can serve it at this step or proceed further to bake it.
- Pour the macaroni and cheese in the prepared baking pan.
- Top evenly with the breadcrumb and the melted butter mixture.
- Now sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.
- Sprinkle some crushed black pepper.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius (390 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 to 20 or till cheese melts. Do keep a check while baking as oven temperatures vary.
- Wait for 5 minutes and then serve baked mac and cheese hot.
- Firstly cook the entire sauce right from the beginning on a low flame.
- Make the cheese sauce in a thick bottomed pan, so that the flour or milk does not scorch or burn.
- Use chilled milk or cold milk for making the sauce so that lumps are not formed.
- Be sure to stir the sauce mixture often with a wired whisk or balloon whisk.
- If the sauce becomes too thick, then drizzle some hot milk into it to thin it down.
- When adding shredded cheese, keep the pan on your workplace and not on the stove top or burner.
- Shred your cheese and do not use packaged shredded cheese as they have additional starch on them which can make the sauce gluey or clumpy.
Nutrition Info (Approximate Values)
This Mac and Cheese recipe from the archives first published in April 2015 has been republished and updated on May 2023.