Baked Macaroni and Cheese | Recipes for Cooking Basics

Baked macaroni and cheese by Cook Smarts

I was out of town with friends this weekend, and we got onto one of my favorite topics of conversation: “What would you eat all the time in a consequence free world?” I eagerly shouted, “Macaroni and cheese!” While there is definitely a long list of other answers to this question, macaroni and cheese ranks high. Kraft’s blue box, Annie’s shells, homemade creamy stovetop or crispy baked – I’ve never met a macaroni and cheese recipe that I haven’t eagerly devoured.

While I love them all, I do have favorites. One of my go-to macaroni and cheese preparation methods starts with a roux. If you don’t know what a roux is, it’s a great cooking basic to know. It’s a blend of melted butter and flour (usually in equal parts) and it works as a natural thickener for soups and sauces, such as gumbo or bechamel. In this case, it’s the thickener for our velveety cheese sauce (can we say homemade Velveeta?). Plus, starting with a roux allows us to use lower-fat milk and less cheese since we have a natural thickening agent. You are more than welcome to use whole milk and all the cheese you want, but I like to keep it light so I can indulge more frequently, with just a few [worth it] consequences.

This preparation also gives you the flexibility of eating this straight off the stove or poured into a baking pan (or mini-pans like the photo above) and topped with panko for a baked option. Let your tastes and the time you have guide your decision. I also like to use fresh pasta for this. It makes it feel so much more special. Plus, it cooks a lot quicker than dried pasta and makes this dish come together almost as quickly as the boxed variety. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a stash of Annie’s in my pantry for when I HAVE to have macaroni and cheese and find myself sans cheese. I like to be prepared for emergencies.

Baking individual portions of macaroni and cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Eat this macaroni and cheese fresh off the stovetop or bake with a panko crust for an extra crunch
Serves: 4
Ingredients - Mac 'n Cheese
  • Fun shaped pasta, fresh or dried (e.g., shells, elbow macaroni) - ¾ lb.
  • American cheese - 4 oz.
  • Another type of cheese (e.g., cheddar, Havarti, smoked gouda, gruyere, parmesan, or cheese blend) - 4 oz.
  • Butter - 2 tbs.
  • Flour - 2 tbs.
  • Milk (any type) - 2.5 cups
  • Paprika (optional) - ½ tbs.
  • Dijon mustard (optional) - ½ tbs.
  • Panko - (optional) - ½ cup
  • Thyme (optional) - 4 sprigs
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (if you plan on baking)
  2. Bring water to boil for pasta. When water boils, salt heavily, add pasta, cook till al dente, and drain Drained pasta for macaroni and cheese
  3. Meanwhile, grate cheeses or chop into smaller cubes for easier melting Fresh rigatoni & grated cheese for baked macaroni and cheese
  4. In a >5 quart Dutch oven, melt 2 tbs. butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour to form a roux. Cook butter and flour until it's a light brown Making a roux for macaroni and cheese
  5. Pour in milk, whisking it into your roux. Bring to a light boil, but be careful to not let milk spill out of your pot Bechamel sauce for macaroni and cheese
  6. The milk should be thick and creamy at this point. Add in your cheeses, paprika, and Dijon mustard. Whisk or stir until melted and it forms a creamy cheese sauce Making macaroni and cheese Making homemade cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese
  7. Toss with your pasta. Eat fresh of the stovetop or if baking, pour into a 9x9 baking dish (or individual dishes). Mix panko with thyme leaves. Sprinkle panko over your mac 'n cheese and bake for 15 minutes Making individual macaroni and cheese
  1. American cheese is a great melting cheese, which is why I typically like to include it. Feel free to use your own favorite cheese combination
  2. Get kids involved. Kids will love helping with the cheese sauce and seeing it come together
  3. Need an idea for a vegetable side dish? Make these green beans while your macaroni and cheese is baking


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  1. says

    I’m really glad to know I’m not the only one who has an appreciation for the blue and orange box of mac’n’cheese. :)

    This looks divine, though I would probably leave out the panko on top (just not a fan of the crunchy top…more room for more cheese if you leave it off!), but I would definitely give this a go with the fresh pasta option. Now that’s something that never even crossed my mind! Thanks for the tip!

  2. says

    @Molly. Thanks for stopping by and your comment. You can definitely go either way – the stovetop option is all about creamy cheese, :). I’ve been eating fewer carbs so when I do have them, I like to indulge in the fresh stuff. It’s SO good

  3. Jeannine Baldwin says

    Nothing about this recipe worked for me. I used Rigatoni shells & they were all wrong, my roux didn’t thicken, therefore when I added the milk there was no creamy sauce. In general it was completely flavorless.

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