Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations

Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1082 Calories
85g Fat
37g Carbs
42g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 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. Gather the ingredients.

    Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    pasta in a colander

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. 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.

    butter and flour in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. 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.

    milk, flour and butter in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    cheese sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    seasoned cheese sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    macaroni and cheese in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    cheese on top of the macaroni and cheese in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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.