Baked white mac and cheese is a delicious dish of tender macaroni elbows, cheesy bechamel sauce, and garlic herb Panko breadcrumbs. Homemade creamy bechamel sauce with lots of cheese pull compliments the crunchy, flavorful Panko topping. This homemade macaroni pasta recipe only takes 30 minutes to make.
Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. The best homemade mac and cheese has a great cheese sauce. I prefer making mac and cheese with cheese béchamel sauce rather than using heavy cream.
What I Love About This Recipe
This white cheddar mac and cheese can be a great side dish or main dish. Creamy mac and cheese is a pretty heavy meal. I like that this easy recipe has just enough cheese sauce without going overboard. Oh, the gooey white sauce is phenomenal! Half the sauce almost didn't make it into the casserole dish because I kept licking the spoon. Sorry, not sorry!
- Macaroni noodles: Use classic elbow macaroni.
- Sharp white cheddar cheese: Use salty cheese like cheddar or Parmesan cheese. My favorite is sharp white cheddar cheese. You can shred a block of cheese or buy pre-shredded cheese. It will melt into the bechamel sauce just fine.
- Mozzarella cheese: Use a cheese that melts well to get that cheese pull for the sauce. Also, I like to use a little lighter cheese to compliment the salty cheese. Other types of cheeses you can use are provolone, gruyere cheese (another one of my favorites!), and Monterrey Jack.
- Milk: I prefer reduced-fat milk, but you can also use whole milk.
- Flour and butter: Use all purpose flour and butter to make the roux for the bechamel sauce. I liked salted butter, but you can use unsalted butter.
- Panko breadcrumbs: The best breadcrumbs for mac and cheese.
- Crushed garlic: Mashed garlic and crushed garlic (using a garlic press) are like a paste that disperses evenly into food. This ingredient is perfect for the herb and butter Panko topping. If you don't have any fresh garlic cloves on hand, substitute a pinch of dried garlic powder.
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How To Make Baked Mac and Cheese
Heat the oven to 425 ℉ (220 ℃).
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water per the package instructions (about 6 to 7 minutes for elbow pasta) or until al dente. Drain and drizzle the cooked pasta with olive oil.
Mix the panko breadcrumbs, salt, dried Italian herbs, melted butter, and crushed (or mashed) garlic in a small bowl.
Melt butter in a large saucepan on medium-high to high heat. Add the flour, whisking for about 30 seconds.
Add the milk and whisk until the sauce thickens (about 2 to 3 minutes). Remove the bechamel sauce from the stovetop once it can coat the back of a spoon.
Add the shredded mozzarella, shredded white cheddar, and salt to taste.
Look at that cheese pull!
Add the cooked macaroni elbows.
Mix the bechamel cheese sauce and macaroni.
Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish. Top it with the panko breadcrumbs.
Put the mac and cheese on the top rack of a 425 ℉ (220 ℃) oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the panko crust is golden brown. Don't cook too long, or the mac and cheese will dry out!
Tips and Tricks
- Don't over-bake! The delicious gooey cheese sauce dries up in the oven if you keep it in there too long. For the best results, toast the garlic herb Panko breadcrumb topping for just a few minutes.
- Crush the fresh garlic. The garlic herb bread crumb topping is best with fresh garlic that's pressed or mashed into a paste. Use a garlic press or mortar and pestle to mash the peeled garlic cloves.
Variations and Substitutions
- Skip the Panko topping, and don't bake! Turn this meal into stovetop mac and cheese by skipping the breadcrumb topping and baking steps.
- Use garlic powder instead of mashed garlic.
- Substitute different cheeses for the homemade cheese sauce.
- Large stovetop pot to boil the macaroni pasta
- Strainer to strain the pasta
- A 9" x 13" casserole dish to bake the mac n cheese
- A second stovetop pot to prepare the creamy cheese sauce
- A small bowl to mix the panko
- A garlic press or mortar and pestle to mash the garlic
Mac and cheese does not reheat well because the pasta absorbs the liquid from the bechamel sauce in the fridge. You end up with dry mac and cheese! There are a few ways to get around this issue:
- Only prepare what will be eaten that day.
- Make extra cheesy bechamel sauce. When you reheat the mac and cheese, add some extra cheese sauce.
- Reduce the pasta.
Store this recipe in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
The base of mac and cheese sauce is a homemade bechamel sauce. Then add shredded cheese for the ultimate creamy sauce.
Traditionally, mac and cheese sauce has some type of cheddar. However, the cheese sauce is versatile, and any type of shredded cheese can be used. Try gruyere cheese, provolone, mozzarella, parmesan, or Monterey jack.
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Baked White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb macaroni elbows
- 5 cups milk reduced fat
- 1 and ¼ cups white cheddar shredded
- 1 and ¼ cups mozzarella shredded
- 4 tablespoons 58 grams of butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 5 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- salt to taste
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter
- 2 garlic cloves mashed
- 1 teaspoon of dried Italian herbs
- pinch salt
- Heat the oven to 425 ℉ (220 ℃).
- Boil the macaroni elbows in a large pot of boiling water. Cook as per the package instructions (about 6 to 7 minutes) or until the macaroni noodles are tender. Drain the pasta. Drizzle a tad bit of olive oil to coat the cooked macaroni. Set it aside.
- Mix the panko breadcrumbs, salt, dried Italian herbs, melted butter, and crushed (or mashed) garlic in a separate bowl. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan on medium-high to high heat. Add the flour, whisking for about 30 seconds. Add the milk and whisk until the sauce thickens (about 2 to 3 minutes). Remove the bechamel sauce from the stovetop once it can coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the shredded mozzarella, shredded white cheddar, and salt to taste.
- Mix the bechamel cheese sauce with the macaroni elbows. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish. Top it with the panko breadcrumbs. Put the mac and cheese on the top rack of a 425 ℉ (220 ℃) oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Don't cook too long, or the mac and cheese will dry out!
- Use any type of shredded cheese for the cheese sauce. I recommend pairing a salty cheese (cheddar or parmesan) with a cheese that melts well (Monterrey jack, gruyere, provolone, or mozzarella).