Basic Baked Macaroni and Cheese With Variations

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Make this mac and cheese with a cheese or bread crumb topping. Diana Rattray
  • 45 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 35 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4
Ratings (10)

This popular recipe for baked macaroni and cheese is made with about 6 ounces of elbow macaroni, but it is full of cheese. The cheese sauce is made with 8 ounces of cheese, and more cheese is sprinkled over the top before it's baked. Half-and-half gives the sauce rich flavor and texture.

If you prefer a bread crumb topping, see the tips and variations below the recipe for a crunchy topping. Toss the breadcrumbs with the 1/2 cup of shredded cheese or omit the extra cheese.

What You'll Need

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (6 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half (or light cream)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (or less, to taste)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

How to Make It

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Butter a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
  3.  Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water following the package directions; drain well and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Blend in flour, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk and half-and-half. Continue cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add paprika, black pepper, and 2 cups of the cheese; stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
  1. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, adding salt, as needed.
  2. Combine the cheese sauce with the macaroni and transfer to the prepared casserole dish.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and sprinkle the pieces over the casserole.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Tips and Variations

  • Bread Crumb Topping. Omit the extra 1/2 cup of cheese for the topping. Toss 1 cup of fine soft bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole before it goes into the oven.
  • For a main dish option, add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked diced ham to the macaroni and cheese mixture. 
  • Stir about 1/4 cup of diced cooked bacon into the sauce along with the cheese and macaroni.
  • Brown about 1/2 pound of ground beef or bulk pork sausage along with 1/2 cup of chopped onion. Drain thoroughly and add to the sauce. 
  • For some Tex-Mex color and flavor, add about 1/4 cup of sliced ripe olives, a small can of chopped mild green chile peppers, and 1/2 cup of diced red bell pepper. Use part or all pepper jack cheese in place of the cheddar. For heat, add some finely chopped jalapeno pepper.
  • Replace the elbow macaroni with mini penne or small or medium shell pasta.