This easy baked mac and cheese is a homemade side dish perfect for feeding a crowd. Made with layers of different cheese and taken to the next level with a blend of spices, it’s a gooey comfort food one can resist!
Why We Love Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
A favorite wintertime meal from our childhood, there’s just something so nostalgic about a big dish of baked mac and cheese. We can never resist it! However, we took everyone’s favorite kid-friendly meal and made it even better. Our version is:
- Leveled up with warm spices
- Requires minimal preparation and cleanup work
- Ready in less than 30 minutes
- Perfect for making ahead of time
- Super kid-friendly
What You’ll Need
- Pasta – We like elbows best, but any pasta shape you prefer will work. Try experimenting with differente variations like gluten free and veggie-filled noodles, too!
- Unsalted Butter – Not only does butter add a rich flavor, but it also prevents the noodles from sticking together and holds the cheese sauce together.
- Cheese – For an extra decadent taste, we included both sharp cheddar and white cheddar cheeses. Whatever you decided to use, make sure it’s grated!
- Milk – Any percentage you have on hand is just fine. Just keep in mind that the higher the fat percentage, the creamier your mac and cheese will be!
- Garlic – Make sure you use fresh garlic cloves. Pre-minced or powdered versions will have a much weaker taste.
- Spices – We incorporated smoked paprika and oregano for a slightly smoky taste. If you don’t want a spicy mac and cheese, you could also substitute the smoked paprika for sweet paprika.
- Cream Cheese – Cream cheese is the secret ingredient we use to create the creamiest mac and cheese you’ll ever taste!
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
- Cook the pasta until al dente.
- Add the pasta, 1 ½ cups of milk, and spices to a baking dish. Stir to combine.
- Add the remaining ingredients.
- Cover, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
- Stir the mac and cheese again, and add the remaining warm milk.
Tips for the Best Results
Slightly Undercook Your Pasta. Remember, it will get cooked twice. So, you want to cook it for just 4-5 minutes.
Use Warm Liquids. The warmer your milk, the easier it will mix with the other ingredients and create a thicker sauce. We like to let it sit out while preparing the dish, and warm it over the stovetop if necessary!
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!
Can I Make This Recipe Ahead of Time?
Yes, but be warned that the longer ahead you make it, the less creamy it will be. To do so, just prepare everything as the recipe states. Then, instead of baking, cover the dish, and store it in the fridge for 1-2 days. When you’re ready to eat, bake as usual, and feel free to add a bit more milk or cream cheese to thin out the sauce!
How Long Can I Store Baked Mac and Cheese?
Once cooked, this recipe can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
To reheat it, warm it over the stovetop or in the microwave, and add a dash of milk or cream cheese until the desired consistency is reached.
Can I Freeze Leftovers?
No! The sauce will dry out and the noodles will become too limp. Don’t worry though, this recipe goes so quickly you won’t have to worry about having too much leftover!
Honestly, we could eat this easy baked mac and cheese all on it’s own! Or, if you want to turn it into a full meal, try pairing it with a main course such as:
- Sweet, crispy, and outrageously yummy, Honey Garlic Chicken Wings are made in the
air fryerin no time.
- Quick and easy, Bruschetta Baked Chicken is guaranteed to become your new favorite recipe!
- Just like your favorite cafe’s, these Turkey Caprese Sandwiches are made with layers of pesto, mozzarella, turkey, tomatoes, and a balsamic glaze!
- A healthy dinner, Sheet Pan Salmon with Vegetables is ready in less than 30 minutes!
Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
- 4 cups cooked elbow pasta (2 cups uncooked, al-dente)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (freshly grated)
- 3/4 cup shredded white cheddar (freshly grated)
- 2 cups milk (divided)
- 2 cloves grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon pepper (taste)
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (or sweet paprika*)
- 2 teapoons oregano
- 4 ounces cream cheese (cubed)
- Cook pasta just until a little under al-dente, about 4-5 minutes.
- In a 12x8 baking dish add cooked pasta, 1 1/2 cups milk, grated garlic, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and oregano.
- Stir together until well mixed.
- Top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, white cheddar, butter, and cream cheese.
- Cover and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Stir together, making sure melted cream cheese coats all of the pasta.
- Heat the remaining milk and stir it into the pasta to get it to your desired consistency.