This is my all-time favorite baked macaroni and cheese recipe. I’ve been making it for years (I originally published this recipe in 2012 and very little has changed).
Why do I love this recipe so much?
- It’s simple. The “craziest” ingredients you’ll find here are cayenne and pepper jack cheese.
- It’s easy. From start to finish you could make this dish in under an hour.
- This is a classic! No eggs. No evaporated milk. Just a basic recipe that’s truly delicious.
- Small batch. This isn’t a giant casserole made to feed 50. You can bake this in an 8×8 pan.
There are a few things that really elevate this baked macaroni and cheese recipe. Make your own breadcrumbs! It’s worth it, it really is. And you can use up old bread or get fancy by using something special like sourdough or rye.
And second, I use both cayenne and pepper jack cheese, so this baked macaroni and cheese is a little spicy. It’s not overly spicy. But sometimes baked mac and cheese recipes are, well, super bland and flavorless. This isn’t one of those recipes.
Can you make baked macaroni and cheese ahead?
Yes. I will often make this up to adding the breadcrumbs and baking. If you keep the breadcrumbs stored separately, you can cover this dish and keep in the refrigerator and then bake (adding the breadcrumbs) the next day or even the day after.
What is the best cheese to use for macaroni and cheese?
For this recipe, I like a mix of sharp cheddar and pepper jack. You can use other cheeses instead— just be sure to use something with low moisture (not fresh mozzarella) and plenty of flavor.
Should you cover your mac and cheese when baking?
Yes. I cover the top of the dish in aluminum foil for the first 20 minutes of baking. Then, I uncover the dish and let it bake another 8-10 minutes.
You want the casserole to bake but you do not want the breadcrumbs to burn in the process.
I mentioned this on our podcast recently, but this is my ultimate comfort food! I love this for holidays, like Thanksgiving. But I also really love to make this now and again alongside a protein for a special dinner.
This makes 4-6 servings, so at our house it lasts for a few meals. Enjoy! xo. Emma
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- 8 ounces macaroni noodles
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup milk
- ¾ cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 ½ cups pepper jack cheese (shredded)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (see note for how to make your own)
- 2 teaspoons chives (chopped)
- In a pot, heat enough water to cover the pasta plus a few teaspoons salt over high heat until boiling. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Stain and set aside.
- In the meantime, in a large pot, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
- Add the cayenne and a big pinch of salt and pepper.
- Add the flour and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat, so it bubbles as it cooks. Stir every so often and allow to cook for a few minutes. This is called a roux. It's the texture of a paste.
- Now, pour in the stock and milk. Reduce the heat to a medium/low and whisk so the roux becomes well incorporated.
- Stir in the pepper jack cheese and half the cheddar and stir until melted.
- Add the pasta and pour into your baking dish. Top with remaining cheese, chives and then breadcrumbs.
- Bake (covered in foil) at 350°F for 20 minutes.
- Remove the foil and continue to bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and edges bubble.
Notice: Nutrition is auto-calculated, using Spoonacular, for your convenience. Where relevant, we recommend using your own nutrition calculations.