My Recipe Box

Classic Baked Macaroni & Cheese

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Serves six to eight.

This is great on its own, but if you like to gild the lily, try one of the add-ins below.

CooksClub members: Watch the Video Recipe for step-by-step instruction on how to make this classic macaroni & cheese.

  • Kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 quart whole milk, heated
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme, plus 1 tsp. chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz. (2 packed cups) grated extra-sharp white Cheddar (the sharpest you can find; I like Cabot’s Seriously Sharp Hunter’s Cheddar)
  • 4 oz. (1 packed cup) grated Monterey Jack
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni or other small pasta, such as pipette or small shells
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more for the baking dish
  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1-1/2 oz. (1/2 lightly packed cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oven to 400°F and put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until slightly darker, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the mustard.

Classic Baked Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

Switch to a whisk and gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. To avoid lumps, go slowly at first, whisking until the mixture is smooth before adding more milk. Once about half the milk is in and the mixture still isn’t very thick, you can add the rest more quickly.

Classic Baked Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

When all the milk is in, switch back to the spoon and stir in the thyme sprig, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Let come to a bare simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes to meld the flavors (reduce the heat to medium low or low as needed to maintain the bare simmer).

Discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Add the Cheddar and Jack cheeses, stirring until melted, and then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, stirring occasionally.

Tip:
For individual servings: choose small baking dishes that hold 1-1/2 to 2 cups each. You can fill them to within about 1/2 inch of the rim. The number of servings will, of course, depend on the volume of your baking dishes. Without any of the add-ins, this recipe yields about 9 cups.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Pour into a colander and shake it a few times to drain really well. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir until well combined. Generously season to taste with salt and pepper. Lightly oil a 9x13-inch baking dish and spread the pasta in the dish.

In a medium bowl, toss the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, olive oil, chopped thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Scatter the crumbs evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the center of the oven until the crumb topping is golden, about 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Variations

Add flavor or heat with these add-ins:

  • Pancetta or bacon: Sauté 1/4 lb. pancetta or bacon (finely chopped if using pancetta) until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan. Crumble the bacon. Substitute the fat for part of the butter so that you have about 6 Tbs. total, and proceed with the recipe. Add the pancetta or bacon to the sauce along with the pasta.
  • Ham: Brown 2 cups of small-diced smoked ham in the butter over medium-high heat. Drain on paper towels and proceed with the recipe, reducing the heat to medium to cook the onion. Add the ham to the sauce along with the pasta.
  • Hot chiles: Cook 2 Tbs. minced fresh serrano chiles along with the onions. Or add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes with the mustard.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on eight servings; Calories (kcal): 630; Fat (g): fat g 32; Fat Calories (kcal): 280; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 18; Protein (g): protein g 25; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 10; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 60; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 830; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 80; Fiber (g): fiber g 3;

Photo: Scott Phillips

This recipe is very good.I make 2 adjustments when I bake this 1 use Gruyere or Percorino-Romano instead of the Monterey Jack 2 add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. More flavof

This recipe is very good.I make 2 adjustments when I bake this 1 use Gruyere or Percorino-Romano instead of the Monterey Jack 2 add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. More flavof

We added Lobster! It was excellent!

I have been looking for a great recipe for mac and cheese for years and this is it! Great flavors and textures! Perfect. As for everyone who says its dry I do not agree at all. I think it just depends on personal preference and like others have done you can make adjustments to make it just right for you.

I agree with other reviewers, this was too dry. I love a crunchy topping, but the amount of breadcrumbs overwhelmed the dish and contributed to the dryness. Had to throw most of the pan away.

I've made this several times and I also freeze several single portions for my son. I'm very generous with the cheese, which probably makes it less "dry and dense" as per other reports. I also find it's fine without any bread crumb topping. It can take alot of additional hot spice which my family loves, and they even add Frank's hot sauce to it after. Delish!

I reviewed this recipe earlier (2008). After experimenting with the roux, I only use 3-4 tablespoons of flour to 3-4 tablespoons of butter and keep the other ingredients the same, otherwise, the sauce does get too thick. I also prefer a creamier sauce. In addition, I also add a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Instead of dijon, try Colman's dry English mustard. And cut down on the breadcrumbs.. Delicious!

This is a great basic macaroni and cheese recipe. I only had 3/4lb pasta and it worked out excellent. Re-heats well too for lunch as well. I like adding things like a whole sockeye fillet baked dry first then broken into pieces and sockeye holds together without falling to bits. And I just put finely chopped bread on top instead of crumbs, crispier! Oh - and I always use whole wheat pasta. I'm so used to it now regular pasta just doesn't have texture anymore.

Outstanding recipe - but I did modify it. Used 12 oz of elbow macaroni, added 6 pieces of crumbled bacon, 1 minced jalapeno that I sauteed with the onion, and used Pepper Jack instead of Monterey Jack. Because I used the jalapeno, I did reduce the onion t 3/4 because the pepper was sooooo large. For the bread, I used 2 slices of bread that I threw in the Cuisinart to crumb. My husband eats meat, and I don't, so I separated the mixed mac and cheese before I added the bacon, and used two 1.5 liter baking dishes for his and mine. Oh - didn't add any salt because it's easier to add a little to taste while eating it. I don't eat salt at all, and mine was great! My husband loved the recipe and cleaned the plate! Now next time? I'm going to add minced garlic to the onion and jalapeno....

This is the best macaroni and cheese, ever. You are actually making a cream sauce to add the cheese to. The flavor is outstanding. Be very patient with the cream sauce.

Too dense and dry - it sat like a brick on my plate. The roux (6 Tbs flour + 6 Tbs butter) plus the quart of milk resulted in a very thick pudding-like mixture, which only got thicker with the addition of the cheese and thicker still after adding the macaroni. After 15 minutes in the oven it was like rubber. So just too dense for my tastes. I prefer a looser mac & cheese that is easily served with a spoon and collapses on the plate. If I try this recipe again, I will cut the flour and butter by 1/3 or 1/2.

Too dry. I did reduce the amount of macaroni and bread crumbs but obviously not enough. Recipe has potential, but then again most recipes do.

I have made this mac and cheese several times and it has always been a big hit even with the pickiest of eaters. The best way to ensure that it does not become dry is to cut back on the pasta: use only a 13oz box and presto, perfect consistency without the risk of messing up the cheese sauce by trying to increase it. I always use the whole grain macaroni as well and it is wonderful!

I've made this several times and it's always a hit. I made it again last night with one modification, I bought packaged shredded cheese (I wasn't feeling well and thought this would be easy). The reviews were lukewarm, not remotely the same flavor as getting a block and shredding it yourself. I don't know if cheese looses something once it's shredded and packaged and then sitting for who knows how long? Advice to other cooks, get a block and shred it yourself. Also, half the bread crumbs are more than enough.

I am also not a macaroni lover, however, this sounded so good, I made it. It was such a success that I have made it several times for my quests with great praise comming back to the cook. I am making it again next week and I might try the cheddar chips and pancetta. In the past I have used homemade breadcrumbs ..........awesome

This macaroni and cheese is my son's favorite!!!!! as well as many of his friends. I have become famous at my son's elementary school for my mac n' cheese. I have found that you can cut down on the cooking time by cooking your pasta while you are making the sauce rather than cooking it after the sauce is prepared as the recipe states.

Against my better judgement, I followed the recipe and put all the breadcrumbs on top. It was way too much. Next time I would cut the breadcrumbs by half. I did like the flavor that the parm. cheese and olive oil imparted to the breadcrumbs. I thought the dish was creamy enough just too much on the breadcrumbs.

This is a delicious and easy recipe. I made it for Valentine's Day along with some steaks and vegetables. It was a great compliment to the steaks. I followed the recipe but omitted the onions. I sliced into cubes some sourdough bread for the bread crumbs. Delicious!! This is a recipe I will keep for years!!

I top this dish with Cheddar Kettle Chips instead of bread crumbs and it's to die for. The pancetta is also a must!

This is absolutely delicious. This was the perfect consistency for me, and I found there to be a nice depth of flavor. I don't know where the other comments are coming from about lack of cheese or too much work -- this isn't Easy-Mac, and thank God! I like using Monterrey Jack with jalapenos.. mm.. nice little kick.

Very nice flavor, but as most others have written, a bit dry. Maybe we are all too used to store-bought mac & cheese, but I like a little ooze in mine.

My family absolutely loves this recipe. The second time I made it, I cut down the amount of onions I used. I also opted for Panko breadcrumbs (available in Asian markets) tossed in some melted butter. This made the topping much lighter, but still crunchy and delicious.

My family was disappointed after the work put into this recipe. We found the dish overwelmed by the bread crumbs, and, consequently, too dry. Less bread crumbs and a creamier consistency to the cheese sauce would greatly improve the recipe.

This is by far the most flavorful mac and cheese I've made. The "extra" ingredients such as mustard, thyme, w-sauce really make the difference. I've made this 3 times, following the recipe, except the last 2 times I lightly browned the onions first; really worth the extra effort, and everyone raved. Bacon and/or chiles are a great addition, too, or just add a few shakes of red pepper flakes, or a 1/4 tsp of chile paste.

Watch the time cooking as the breadcrumbs can get dark. Not heating the sauce after adding the cheese is essential to avoid the oily/stringy problem

I would have liked it a little cheesier. Heavy on the onions for my family. I will try again but cut onions in half, cut bread crumb by half and put some cheddar and mozzarella in the topping. we want a cheese topping, not so much bread crumbs

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