The BEST Macaroni & Cheese

The BEST Macaroni & Cheese

May 5, 2020 | by Shannon | Jump to Recipe

I may have been the only kid in the world who didn’t like Kraft macaroni and cheese growing up.

It was a taste that never grew on me, even though I wanted so badly to enjoy this dish that all my friends were crazy about!

Now, if I had had this macaroni and cheese as a kid, I probably would have been a fan of this comfort food classic much sooner in life.

Finally A Fan!

I’m still really picky when it comes to macaroni and cheese, but when I developed this super easy homemade macaroni and cheese recipe during these weeks of quarantine, for the first time ever, I found myself going back for seconds of a meal I never thought I’d be crazy about!

Maybe it’s the Parmesan breadcrumbs, maybe it’s the creamy béchamel sauce.  Whatever it is, this dish has made me a macaroni and cheese fan.

My Unique Twist

I’ve added one really unique spice to this recipe that you can definitely omit if sounds a little too adventuresome: cayenne pepper. 

I promise that adding a dash of cayenne to this macaroni and cheese won’t make it spicy!  Rather, the cayenne is a really nice compliment to all the smooth, creaminess of the cheddar, mozzarella, and béchamel sauce. The cayenne brings out the flavor of the cheese, and all it takes is a dash of this beautiful spice.  It’s absolutely delicious.

My favorite cayenne is from Simply Organic. Click to view or purchase on Amazon! [aff. link]

If you’ll trust me on this one, my favorite cayenne for this dish, and in general, is from Simply Organic [aff. link]. I absolutely love this cayenne, which looks just as gorgeous as it tastes.

Make my macaroni and cheese this week, and enjoy a homemade version of this comfort food classic!

5 from 3 votes

The BEST Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese is a Comfort Food Classic. My homemade recipe is easy, delicious, and a real crowd pleasing meal the whole family will enjoy!
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time40 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

For the cheese:

  • 1 cup cheddar, freshly grated
  • 1 cup mozzarella, freshly grated

For the Parmesan breadcrumb topping

  • 3 slices of bread, standard sandwich-sized
  • ½ cup Parmesan, divided
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ tsp salt

For the Easy Béchamel sauce

  • 2 cups milk of choice, I prefer unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Everything else:

  • 1 pound pasta, any shape
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • Dash of cayenne, optional, but highly recommended
  • Tomato slices

Instructions

Cook the pasta

  • If you want to make this a quick meal, start boiling that pasta water right away! You can cook the pasta while you prepare the other components of the dish. (And if you haven’t already grated the cheese, now is the time to do it!)
  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions, but take 1-2 minutes off the cooking time. Since we will bake the pasta, we want it to be a little firm going into the oven.

Make the breadcrumbs

  • To your food processor, add the bread slices. Process until you have very fine breadcrumbs.
  • In a medium sized skillet, melt the butter for the breadcrumbs over medium heat. Once melted, add the breadcrumbs and salt, and mix together until the breadcrumbs are coated in the butter.
  • Keep the heat on medium, and toast the breadcrumbs until they are golden brown and no longer soft, about 10 minutes. Be sure to gently toss the breadcrumbs with your spatula every so often to keep them from burning. If the breadcrumbs are browning too quickly, turn the heat down to medium low.
  • Let the breadcrumbs cool for a few minutes, then mix in ¼ cup of the grated Parmesan. Set the bread crumbs aside.

Prepare the Easy Béchamel sauce

  • In a small saucepan, add the milk, flour, and salt. Whisk together until smooth, and there are no flour clumps.
  • Now turn the heat on to medium, and add the butter to the pan.
  • Begin whisking consistently. The butter will melt into the flour/milk mixture in a minute or two. Keep whisking over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens and comes to a slow boil. Easy Béchamel sauce is done!

Bring it all together

  • Your pasta should have finished cooking at just about the same time as your béchamel sauce.
  • Put your drained pasta back in the pot you cooked it in, and add the béchamel sauce, cheddar, and mozzarella. Stir until the cheese and the béchamel sauce evenly coat the pasta.
  • Now add the remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne, if using (I promise it won’t be spicy if you use just a dash, and it will really compliment the other seasonings and the cheese!) Stir the seasonings into the rest of the dish.
  • Taste, and add more salt if desired.

Bake the macaroni and cheese

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Oil a 9x13 inch glass baking dish, and pour in the macaroni and cheese mixture.
  • Top the macaroni and cheese with the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan. Just do a thin layer of ground Parmesan over the top.
  • Now evenly sprinkle the Parmesan breadcrumbs over the layer of Parmesan.
  • Top the breadcrumbs with tomato slices (if using), and bake the macaroni and cheese, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

  • Remove from the oven, and let cool for five minutes before serving.
  • This macaroni and cheese is great all by itself, or with a salad and your favorite plant-based protein.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

Be sure to use freshly grated cheese. It's a little extra work, but so incredibly worth it.
This macaroni and cheese is vegetarian!
This macaroni and cheese is gluten free if you use gluten free pasta and breadcrumbs.
This macaroni and cheese can be vegan if you substitute the cheese with your favorite vegan cheese, and substitute the butter with Earth Balance Buttery Sticks.

I’m Shannon, thanks for visiting!  When I’m not on an adventure with my little girl, I’m developing plant-based recipes or watching a Classic Film!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. David @ Spiced

    5 stars
    I hear ya on the Kraft mac and cheese. I never liked it as a kid either. However, they did make a creamy “Deluxe” version that was pretty tasty. But the kind with the powdered cheese? Blech. I love the bechamel sauce in this one. Bechamel sauce is downright magical, and then use that for mac and cheese? Bring it on! I love this recipe, and the hint of cayenne in there is a fun twist. I’ll eat a good mac and cheese anytime of the day, so I need to try this one out ASAP! 🙂

    1. Shannon

      Thank you David! Haha, glad to find I wasn’t alone in my dislike of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as a kid! This “Deluxe” version sounds much better, and possibly could have made me a fan of mac and cheese much sooner!

    1. Shannon

      Thank you so much Rashmi! This is definitely my favorite spin on this classic dish!

  2. Katerina

    5 stars
    This macaroni and cheese sounds so cheesy and delicious, and I love the addition of the parmesan breadcrumb topping and cayenne! Gorgeous twists on this classic – and don’t feel bad, I’ve never liked macaroni and cheese either until I started making it at home (I usually add pumpkin which adds a lovely depth of flavour)! I bet this was super popular at your house!

    1. Shannon

      Thanks Katerina! Ohhh I love the idea to add pumpkin! I can totally see how that would compliment any mac and cheese. Need to try that!

  3. Jeff the Chef

    What a nice mac and cheese! I’m sure the added crunch of the breadcrumbs is delightful.

    1. Shannon

      Thanks Jeff! The breadcrumbs definitely put this mac and cheese over the top for me. 😋

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