Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with creamy cheese sauce and buttery cracker topping is the ultimate comfort food. Super easy to make and delicious, you will never go back to the boxed macaroni cheese again!
Now that the days are getting cooler, I’ve been cooking a lot more of our favorite casseroles for dinner at home. One that has been making a steady appearance is this homemade macaroni and cheese because what could be better than something cheesy to cozy up to in chilly weather?
With a creamy homestyle cheese sauce, firm-to-bite pasta, and a buttery Ritz cracker topping, it screams comfort food!
I have at least three mac and cheese recipes on the blog but although they’re scrumptious in their own right, this one right here deserves top billing. It tastes amazing with so little effort, you’ll never resort to that boxed stuff again.
It’s the perfect side dish for family dinners and will make a great addition to your holiday parties.
This homestyle mac and cheese is easy to make in minutes yet tastes so creamy and dreamy like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Plus, it requires simple ingredients you probably already have on hand so there’s no running around stores with a long grocery list.
The recipe has three components, namely the pasta, the cheese sauce, and the cracker topping. Read the tips below on how to successfully make this classic dish at home!
- Elbow macaroni is the classic choice, but any short pasta such as shells, fusilli, bow ties, penne, or ziti are also good options.
- Cook the pasta a minute or two shy of package directions as it will continue to cook in the oven when browning the topping.
- Toss with butter to prevent from soaking up too much liquid.
- Although pre-grated cheeses are more convenient to use, they contain additives that keep them from melting well. For a smoother and creamier consistency, shred your own cheese!
- For extra depth of flavor, use EXTRA sharp cheddar.
- The cup of heavy cream with the milk makes for the creamiest, dreamiest cheese sauce ever! If you’d like to cut back on the calories, you can substitute equal parts of milk or half and half for the heavy cream.
- Keep the milk and the heavy cream at a gentle heat and do not allow to boil over lest the sauce will curdle or separate.
- Don’t skip the seasonings! Ground mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne add a depth of flavor to the sauce and cut through the rich taste.
- Cook the bechamel sauce until it coats the back of the spoon. For a smooth texture, add the cheese in parts and whisk until fully melted before adding the next batch.
- Pasta tends to absorb a lot of moisture as it bakes in the oven and even as it sits so be generous with the cheese sauce to compensate for the drying out.
- We love to top our mac and cheese with a buttery Ritz cracker topping. Just crush the crackers, toss with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, and sprinkle on top of the pasta. Bake until golden brown.
- Alternatively, you can top the pasta with more shredded cheese or with buttered Panko crumbs.
- Enjoy this creamy macaroni and cheese for lunch or dinner as a side dish or main entree. Serve with crispy buttermilk fried chicken and bourbon baked beans for the best meal combo ever!
- Transfer leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Drizzle with a little milk to loosen consistency and add back moisture and reheat in the microwave at 2 to 3-minute intervals until completely warmed through.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked macaroni
- 1 tablespoon butter
For the Topping
- 12 pieces Ritz Crackers, crushed
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan Cheese
For the Cheese Sauce
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
- In a pot over medium heat, bring salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook about 1 minute shy of the package directions or until slightly firm. Drain well and toss with one tablespoon butter. Set aside.
- In a bowl, combine butter, crackers, and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add the 1/2 cup butter and cook until melted. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned and slightly nutty in aroma.
- Gradually add milk and heavy cream, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a simmer, whisking regularly.
- Add ground mustard, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, whisking occasionally, for about 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
- Add cheese in three parts, whisking until cheese is melted before adding the next batch.
- In a large bowl, combine cheese sauce and cooked macaroni. Transfer into a lightly greased baking dish.
- Sprinkle top with the buttered crackers.
- Bake in a 350 F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the mixture is bubbly.