Once upon a time, there was a girl who just wanted creamy, cheesy mac and cheese. Not full of spices or fancy things, just plain ol’ gooey mac and cheese.
So I developed this recipe and now I share it with you, friends. Because you all deserve this bit of comforting yum in your life.
You are so welcome.
This one is the one I make to go along with Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders or Hammy Sammies or Beef Roast Sandwiches. How about Loaded Roast Beef and Bleu Sliders? You should probably check them out! Heck, this would make a PBJ look great. We love to add chunks of ham and make it a full meal. Add some bacon or crab if it floats your boat! Pulled pork with onions and barbecue sauce? Oh good heavens!
The possibilities are endless.
Our favorite combinations are a Havarti (2 c.) – Cheddar (4 c.) blend with bacon, or smoked Gouda/Cheddar with ham. Also, we’ve grown quite fond of next-day-leftovers* pressed flat and fried in refined (no coconut flavor) coconut oil. Crispy on the outside and hot and gooey on the inside. How can you resist?
[This recipe has gone viral since I first posted it. If you’re visiting from Pinterest, please take a minutes and check my recipe index for hundreds of other great recipes!]
And it’s EASY. The only bummer is the tired hand you’ll have from grating all of that cheese.
Boil your choice of pasta (it doesn’t matter the shape, just choose one that holds all the cheesy goodness) in water salted with a teaspoon or so of kosher salt until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, melt 1/2 c. (1 stick) of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in 1/2 c. flour, and whisk together for 2-3 minutes to let it cook.
Add in 1/2 T. (Tablespoon) Kosher or Himalayan sea salt and 1/2 T. (Tablespoon) pepper.
(Originally, the recipe called for 1 T. each of Kosher salt and pepper, but since most readers were using table salt, the result was too salty. Please note that I have changed the numbers to reflect what works well as a general rule. Start less and add more as needed to taste. You can add it in, but you can’t take it out!)
Slowly pour in 4 cups of whole milk (don’t skimp here–in fact you can even use some cream) whisking as you go until smooth. Keep whisking until the sauce comes just to a very low boil — it will take several minutes. This is where it will thicken considerably. If you stop heating it too soon, it will not thicken correctly so whisk and heat until thickened just like in the picture at right. Remove from heat.
Grease a 9×13″ dish with butter and add the cooked pasta to the dish.
Over the top of the pasta sprinkle 6 cups freshly shredded Cheddar (I use white or sharp), or any mix of cheese you prefer. Just please skip bagged cheese. Because of additives, it melts differently. You will get the best result if you grate a block of cheese!
Pour the beautiful cream sauce over the top of the cheese and pasta and let it sit a couple minutes to begin to melt the cheese. Then, stir the whole beautiful cheesy goodness together and make the topping. In a small skillet, melt 2 T. butter over medium heat. Add in 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs. Stir constantly until golden brown. Sprinkle over the pasta and cheese.
Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
Hot, cheesy perfection.
Serves 6-8 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side.
*I have received many questions regarding preparing THE Mac ahead of time. It is my recommendation to make this fresh before serving. Many people LOVE this cheesy goodness reheated, and love the leftovers as much as fresh out of the oven, But because it is a cheese sauce, it can tend to separate and does not lead to optimal results if you are making it for a get together. Of course, it is possible to make this ahead, put it in the fridge and then just add some time to your bake time, and it does taste AMAZING, but for optimal results, make it, bake it, and eat it. :o)
For Crock Pot tips, see the very bottom of this post!
- 1 lb. pasta of your choice
- ½ c. butter
- ½ c. flour
- 4 c. milk
- 6 c. freshly shredded sharp or white Cheddar
- ½ T. Kosher or sea salt
- ½ T. pepper
- 2 T. butter
- ½ c. panko bread crumbs
- Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions.
- Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk and cook 2-3 minutes. Add in salt and pepper.
- Slowly pour in 4 c. milk whisking until smooth and heating to a low boil until thickened. Do not stop whisking and cooking until thick. Remove from heat.
- Grease a 9x13" baking dish and add the hot pasta to the dish. Over the top sprinkle 6 c. of freshly shredded cheese.
- Pour the thickened cream sauce over the hot pasta and cheese and let it sit until the cheese melts. Stir everything together.
- Melt 2 T. butter over medium heat. Add in panko bread crumbs, stirring constantly 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese.
- Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 12-15 minutes.
Crock Pot results:
I have tested THE Mac in the crock pot and I got some decent results! For those of you who need to buy a couple hours if you’re bringing THE Mac to an event without an oven, I found a way to work it! Make all of the elements of THE Mac — make the pasta, grate the cheese, make the cream sauce and stir it all together. Also, make the panko topping, but set this aside to add to the top before serving.
Keep this in your crock pot on low for about two hours. After that, stir it, set the temp to warm and be prepared to serve it as soon as possible since the longer it sits on warm, the more the sauce bakes in and you lose the creaminess that makes this spectacular. It still tastes delicious, but the texture definitely changes to be more like a traditional baked mac and cheese.
Please note that all crock pots are different and one that has a bit of a higher temp may dry this recipe out quicker! Keep an eye on it and be prepared to turn it down or off if needed. Again, fresh is best, but I hope this provides you an alternative if you need it!