This Easy Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is a crowd favorite! A true comfort classic, it features a blend of cheeses and a crispy panko topping, all baked to ooey-gooey perfection in the oven.

a dish of easy baked mac and cheese topped with breadcrumbs.

Easy Baked Mac and Cheese: Your Ultimate Comfort Food Fix!

Is there anything better than a bowl of mac and cheese? It’s the ultimate comfort food no one can resist! 

However, we don’t love the ingredients in store-bought varieties, and the texture isn’t always what we’d hope for. You just can’t beat homemade! 

Luckily, this baked mac and cheese is just as easy as any boxed option and tastes just as good as what your momma used to make. With minimal prep time, a quick cook time, and a flavor that will knock your socks off, you’ll never go back to the boxed stuff again! 

A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, this recipe:

  • Features warm spices
  • Comes together with minimal prep time and cleanup
  • Cooks in less than 30 minutes
  • Is great to make ahead of time
  • Is super customizable.  
  • Couldn’t get any more kid-friendly

What Are the Ingredients in Baked Mac and Cheese? 

You won’t find any powdered cheese in this recipe! Instead, we use a handful of simple ingredients to create a velvety texture and rich taste. 

Mac and Cheese

  • Pasta – We recommend cavatappi noodles but any you like best and have on hand will work. Elbow macaroni and shells also taste great!
  • Milk – Whole milk will yield the richest flavor and creamiest texture, but 2% will also work.
  • Broth – Use low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth to cook the noodles and infuse them with savory flavor. 
  • Garlic – Use whole, fresh cloves, and mince them yourself. 
  • Herbs and Spices – Kosher salt and pepper, smoked paprika or sweet paprika, ground mustard, and dried oregano create a savory taste with just a hint of warmth. 
  • Cheese – Use shredded white cheddar cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, or a blend of both! Avoid using pre-shredded cheese if possible. It contains anti-caking agents that prevent it from melting completely.
  • Butter – Unsalted butter is best. 
  • Cream Cheese – This is our secret for a silky sauce! For the best taste and texture, use full-fat varieties. 

Optional Topping

  • Panko Breadcrumbs – These are ideal for creating an extra crispy topping because they absorb less oil than regular breadcrumbs. 
  • Cheese – You can never have too much cheese, right?! In our opinion, Parmesan takes this breadcrumb topping from good to great. You can also enhance the dish by combining cheddar and gruyere with your noodles.
  • Butter – Use unsalted butter to add richness to the topping and help it turn golden brown and crisp as it bakes. 

What Else Can I Add? 

We kept this recipe simple, focusing on the flavor of the cheese. Feel free to mix and match different ingredients and toppings! 

Some of our favorite variations include: 

  • Veggies – Give your mac and cheese a boost of nutrients with vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, or peas.
  • Meat – Transform this side dish into a meal with protein like chicken, hamburger meat, or bacon.
  • Crunchy Toppings – Add some texture to your mac and cheese with breadcrumbs or a cracker topping combined with melted butter. We like using panko for its delicious flavor and its crunchiness is the perfect contrast to the creamy sauce and tender noodles.
butter and cheese on top of cavatappi noodles in an oval baking dish.

Discover the Path to Irresistible Cheese Bliss with this Mac and Cheese Recipe

If you’ve ever attempted homemade mac and cheese but thought it was too complicated, this recipe is for you! It’s basically fail-proof using only a few steps and a total time of about 30 minutes. 

  1. Cook the pasta noodles to al dente according to the package instructions. 
  2. Add the cooked pasta, part of the milk, garlic, and spices to a greased baking dish, stirring to combine. 
  3. Sprinkle the Sharp Cheddar and White Cheddar cheese on top followed by the butter and cream cheese. 
  4. Cover with foil. Then, bake in a preheated oven until the cheese melts. 
  5. Stir to combine the ingredients and coat the pasta with the cheese sauce. Then, slowly pour in the remaining milk, using as much as needed to reach your desired consistency. 

Tips for Success

This easy baked mac and cheese recipe comes together in a single dish. You don’t need to stand over the stove, watching it every second. 

However, we do have a few tips to make the process foolproof! 

  • Slightly Undercook Your Pasta – Remember, the cooked macaroni will cook again in the oven. So, you want to boil it al dente for just four to five minutes. Otherwise, it can become mushy.  
  • Use Warm Liquids – Warmer milk mixes in easier with the other ingredients and creates a thicker sauce. We like to let it sit out while preparing the dish, or warm it over the stovetop! 
  • Incorporate Freshly Shredded Cheese – It takes a little bit longer, but shredding your own cheese from a block creates so much more flavor. Trust us. It’s worth it! Pre-shredded varieties have anti-caking agents, so they don’t melt easily.
  • Adjust the Ingredients – Feel free to add more noodles if you want a less saucy mac and cheese. Otherwise, add more cheese if you want it cheesier! 
an oval baking dish full of easy baked mac and cheese with a spoon in the center.

Can I Make this Recipe Ahead of Time?

Yes, we love to make this easy baked mac and cheese recipe ahead of time for weeks when we know we’ll be busy. You’ve got several options to keep it fresh.

You can:

  • Add all the ingredients together and store them in the fridge for a couple of days. Then, just bake as usual, and enjoy! 
  • Bake your mac and cheese, and store it in the fridge for three to four days. 
  • Prepare your mac and cheese as the recipe states. Then, freeze it for up to three months.

When you’re ready to eat, thaw the leftovers. Reheat in the microwave or oven until the dish warms through.

How to Store and Reheat

We highly recommend serving this easy baked mac and cheese right away while it’s warm. However, if you have leftovers or want to save some for the week, you can store them for later. 

Simply cover the dish with foil, or transfer it to an airtight container. It will keep in the fridge for up to three to four days. 

To reheat, warm leftovers in the microwave or a pot on the stove over medium heat. Add a splash of milk or cream as needed to thin out the sauce. 

We do not recommend freezing this recipe! The sauce will dry out, and the noodles will become limp. 

Common Questions About This Homemade Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Should I cover my mac and cheese?

If you choose to do a panko topping, leave your mac and cheese uncovered for the breadcrumbs to bake and get crunchy. Otherwise, cover the dish with tin foil to keep the dish moist and creamy. 

What are the three best cheeses for mac and cheese?

Whatever cheese you like best! However, some of the most popular options include Gruyère, cheddar, Monterey Jack, and parmesan. 

Why is my mac and cheese runny before baking?

If your mac and cheese is runny before baking, that means it hasn’t had time to thicken. To speed up the process, add a little cornstarch or an egg yolk to bind the ingredients.

Can I substitute water for milk in mac and cheese?

Although water is great for the box stuff, we highly suggest using milk for this homemade baked mac and cheese recipe. Milk makes the dish creamy, and pairs well with the butter and cheeses to create the rich, delicate flavor profile we know and love.

More Mac and Cheese Recipes to Try 

Can’t get enough of cheesy deliciousness like this? Check out more of our easy mac and cheese recipes!

a spoon in the center of a dish of easy baked mac and cheese

Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

4.29 from 7 votes
Author: Food Dolls
Servings: 8 servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 5 minutes
The easiest comfort food dinner, this baked mac and cheese requires minimal prep and is perfect for making ahead of time!


  • 16 ounces cavatappi pasta or similar shape (uncooked)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup chicken OR veggie broth
  • 6 cloves grated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons butter

Panko Parmesan Topping

  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a baking dish add pasta, milk, broth, garlic, and spices. Cover and bake for 45-50 minutes.
    16 ounces cavatappi pasta, 4 cups whole milk, 1 cup chicken OR veggie broth, 6 cloves grated garlic, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • Add cheese and butter. Stir until cheese is melted.
    3 Tablespoons butter, 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • In a separate bowl add all the ingredients for the topping. Top the macaroni and cheese. Broil for 5-10 minutes or until top is golden brown!
    1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 2 Tablespoons melted butter


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Serving: 1serving | Calories: 476kcal | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 57mg | Sodium: 1091mg | Potassium: 383mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 757IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 439mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this recipe?Please leave a comment!

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Meet Alia & Radwa

Welcome to Food Dolls! We’re so glad you found us. We are Alia and Radwa, sisters who want to share simple and easy recipes with you. We hope you find recipes here that you enjoy making as much as we do! Learn more about us!

4.29 from 7 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  1. Your instructions and ingredients are very confusing!!! First you mention adding cream cheese , but it isn’t listed in the ingredient list….???? How much???? When do you add it???? In some places you say the pasta is uncooked but in other places you suggest undercooking the pasta???? This recipe is very confusing!!!!! You need to clear up these instructions!!!!

  2. 5 stars
    DELICIOUS and EASY!! I did add more cheese than it called for because it didn’t seem cheesy enough, but maybe it was just because it hadn’t thickened up yet. Thank you for the great recipe!

  3. 5 stars
    Most importantly, this dish is phenomenal!! So delicious, amazing flavor, and beautiful texture as promised in the video. What’s even more game changing for me is the simplified preparation – everything in one dish – I’m so here for it!! As a mom of two toddlers – every minute and dish saved helps!

  4. I followed this recipe and found my Mac and cheese to have a lot of liquid before adding the cheese. Once I added the cheese, it still did not thicken up. I added about 1/2 cup more of white cheddar before broiling it with the panko topping and let is sit when finished. I hoped that the extra cheese would help to create more of the creaminess pictured in the video but it just didn’t result in that. I’m not sure what went wrong. After letting it sit, there’s still liquid in the bottom of the pan and the noodles are not binded with creamy cheese.

  5. 1 star
    Sorry but this is really bad.
    I threw it in the garbage.
    Not enough cheese to taste cheesy and the smoked paprika takes over the dish.