If there’s one dish that makes its way across countless dinner tables and sparks nostalgia from the first bite, it’s the classic baked mac and cheese. Whether you’re cuddling up on a winter night or just need that food hug after a long day, this gooey cheesy delight is almost always the answer.
Now, I’ve been in two minds about sharing my personal recipe with the world because, let’s face it, the universe isn’t exactly short of mac and cheese versions. But, every family has its secret twist, and today, I’m letting y’all in on mine!
The Ultimate Homemade Mac and Cheese
For those diving into homemade mac for the first time: It can be intimidating, like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans. But hang tight, because I’m about to make this as easy as pie (or should I say… cheese?).
- Start by boiling and draining your pasta.
- For the cheese sauce: Melt butter, add flour, and whisk in your milk.
- Cook this sauce until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Stir in your choice of shredded cheese.
- Mix the sauce with your pasta and layer it in a baking dish, ensuring a generous sprinkle of cheese in between and on top.
- Bake and prepare for a trip to cheese heaven!
My Trusty Tips for the Best Baked Mac:
- Pasta Perfect: Boil your pasta just a tad less than usual. For elbow pasta, 4 to 5 minutes does the trick. Remember, it’ll cook further in the oven!
- The Liquid Gold: Room temp milk and cream blend better and faster. Set ’em out while you’re waiting for the pasta water to boil.
- Cheese Choices: This is where you can play! Though cheddar and gruyere are close to my heart, feel free to venture out. Mozzarella, gouda, colby – the cheese world is your oyster!
- Fresh Shred: Those pre-shredded cheese packs? Convenient, yes. Ideal? Nope. Freshly shredded cheese melts into velvety perfection.
Jazzing it Up:
- Bacon Bits: Add crispy bacon crumbles, either as a topping or mixed right in.
- Stovetop Version: Not in a baking mood? Keep it stovetop. Cook your pasta al dente and mix it with the sauce. No fuss!
- Topping Varieties: I love a golden cheese crust, but panko breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers with melted butter make for a delightful crunch.
- Adjustable Baking: While I recommend a specific temp and time, feel free to adjust based on your oven and preference. Want a crispier top? Try broiling for a few minutes.
Planning Ahead & Storage:
This dish can be prepped in advance. Just follow the steps but hold off on baking. Cover and refrigerate. When you’re ready, bake it to perfection. But remember, straight-from-the-stove mac and cheese is unbeatable in creaminess!
Storing is simple. Cover leftovers tightly and refrigerate. They taste as dreamy for up to 3-4 days. When reheating, a splash of milk and frequent stirring ensure creamy goodness.
Alright, folks! I hope you try and love this recipe as much as my family and I do. Mac and cheese might have countless versions, but there’s always room for one more when it’s made with love and cheese.
- 1 lb. elbow pasta, just like mama used to have
- 1/2 cup of good ol’ unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk, the creamier the better
- 2 1/2 cups half and half
- 4 cups of medium sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (and don’t you go buyin’ it pre-shredded)
- 2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded (again, shred it yerself, darlin’)
- A pinch of salt, about 1/2 Tbsp.
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper, for that kick
- 1/4 tsp. paprika, for a lil’ color and flair
Let’s get cookin’:
- Preheat that oven of yours to 325 degrees F. Grab a 9×13″ baking dish and give it a good greasin’.
- Now, fill a big ol’ pot with water and a sprinkle of salt. Get it boilin’, then throw in the pasta. Cook it a minute less than what that there package tells ya for al dente. Drain it, and give it a splash of olive oil to keep it from gettin’ all clingy-like.
- While you’re waitin’ on that water, get to shreddin’ yer cheeses. Mix ’em together and divide ’em into three piles. About 3 cups for the sauce, 1 1/2 cups to layer in the middle, and 1 1/2 cups for the golden top.
- Melt yer butter in a big saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the flour and give it a good whiskin’. It’ll look a bit like wet sand from the creek bed. Let it cook for a minute, keepin’ that whisk movin’. Gradually pour in the half and half, keep whiskin’. Once it’s smooth, add the milk. Keep on whiskin’ ’til it’s thicker than a cowboy’s accent.
- Take it off the heat and mix in yer spices and 1 1/2 cups of the cheeses. Give it a good stir ’til it’s smooth as a prairie sunset. Add another 1 1/2 cups of cheese and stir until it’s as smooth as a country ballad.
- In a big mixin’ bowl, mix that drained pasta with your creamy cheese sauce. Pour half of it into your greased baking dish. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of cheese over the top, then add the rest of the pasta mixture on top.
- Top it all off with the last 1 1/2 cups of cheese, then bake it for ’bout 15 minutes. When it’s all bubbly and lightly golden, you’ll know it’s done to perfection.