Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Make this mac and cheese with a cheese or bread crumb topping. Diana Rattray
Ratings (15)
  • Total: 45 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 35 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
1082 Calories
85g Fat
37g Carbs
42g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: Serves 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1082
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 85g 109%
Saturated Fat 49g 247%
Cholesterol 246mg 82%
Sodium 1676mg 73%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 14%
Dietary Fiber 4g 15%
Protein 42g
Calcium 1220mg 94%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Every cook needs a basic macaroni and cheese recipe and this one won't disappoint. The cheese sauce is made with both milk and half-and-half, which gives the dish rich flavor and texture. This recipe calls for sprinkling additional cheese over the top before it's baked, but you can add breadcrumbs if you prefer a crunchy topping. There are also many different ingredients you can add to turn this into a complete meal or make into a decadent side dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half or light cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

  2. Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water following the package directions; drain well and set aside.

  3. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Blend in flour, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

  4. Gradually add the milk and then the half-and-half. Continue cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble, stirring constantly.

  5. Remove from the heat and add paprika, black pepper, and 2 cups of the cheese; stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.

  6. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, adding salt, as needed.

  7. Combine the cheese sauce with the macaroni and transfer to the prepared casserole dish.

  8. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot the pieces over the casserole.

  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Variations

Anyone who has looked at a restaurant menu lately knows that there are many delicious versions of this quintessential comfort food, from recipes featuring bacon to lobster to truffles. The most basic alteration is to add a breadcrumb topping. Omit the extra 1/2 cup of cheese in this recipe and toss 1 cup of fine soft bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole before it goes into the oven.

To make a mac-n-cheese with bacon, stir about 1/4 cup of diced cooked bacon into the sauce along with the cheese and macaroni. For a main dish option, add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked diced ham to the macaroni and cheese mixture. Or brown about 1/2 pound of ground beef or pork sausage along with 1/2 cup of chopped onion. Drain thoroughly and add to the sauce. 

For some Tex-Mex color and flavor, add about 1/4 cup of sliced ripe olives, a small can of chopped mild green chile peppers, and 1/2 cup of diced red bell pepper. Use part or all pepper jack cheese in place of the cheddar. For heat, add some finely chopped jalapeno pepper.

For a simple change of texture and appearance, replace the elbow macaroni with mini penne or small or medium shell pasta.