It doesn’t get much better than mac & cheese. This homemade recipe has a fail-proof sauce, three cheeses and a great flavor with shallots and garlic.
The Best Mac and Cheese Recipe
I LOVE mac and cheese – like in EVERY form – I mean does it get any better than pasta drenched in a cheese sauce! NOPE!
I don’t share a lot of classic meals on the blog (more dessert based) but almost all the recipes I DO share are comfort foods. It’s my love language!
Feeling bad? let me bake for you! rough day? I’ll make soup! This mac and cheese recipe is SUPER EASY to make and personalize (with other cheeses) and always a huge hit!
How to change and personalize your Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
The pasta – obviously for “mac” you use classic elbow macaroni, but I also love penne and corkscrew pastas for mac and cheese – any pasta that holds lots of sauce is a good one to use for mac and cheese
The sauce – how long you cook your roux effects the flavor, any spices you add and of course the types of cheeses you pick! Below is a video tutorial talking ALL about it! This recipe is the cheeses I like to use (well currently – I like to change it up often too!) – BUT you can mix other cheeses into your rotation for other flavors.
Finally – to bake or not to bake – Personally I like to mix my pasta and sauce and enjoy right away – BUT some people like to pour the pasta and sauce into an oven safe pan and top with more cheese or bread crumbs and bake a bit – but I like my pasta fresher!
The great part about starting with a bechamel sauce (once you add cheese it becomes a mornay sauce) is that it holds together really well and doesn’t separate. You do want to make sure you take the sauce off the heat and let it cool a little before adding the cheese – if it’s too hot the cheese will clump together rather than melt into a smooth sauce. Add the cheese a little at a time, making sure it’s melted before adding more.
Just take me to the Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe already!
If you’d rather skip my tips and tricks for making the base (bechamel sauce and mornay sauce), along with links to other cheesy recipes and get straight to this delicious homemade mac and cheese – simply scroll to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card.
How to make a Roux
The Roux is what is going to thicken the sauce. A Roux is made from flour and fat (in this case butter). If you’ll be adding cheese you want to substitute some of the flour for cornstarch – this will keep the cheese from getting stringy and keep the sauce smooth.
Melt the butter and add the flour. Stir to a thick paste and continue to cook while it darkens. Some cooks believe a roux can only be made with a wooden spoon vs a whisk – but I found it doesn’t matter too much.
The lighter the color of the roux the less flavor but more it will thicken your sauce – the darker the more nutty the flavor but the less it will thicken. For a Gumbo I go for like a brick red, for this cheese sauce I go for a light brown.
How to make a Bechamel sauce (White sauce)
This is the thick white sauce – I use a bechamel sauce to thicken my soups, and as a base for my white pasta sauces.
Take your roux and add your milk, half and half or cream to it. Bring the sauce to a simmer (while stirring).
Once it simmer take it off the heat and continue to stir – it will thicken as it cools. About 4 mins.
Once the sauce is thick add your spices. If you’ll be adding cheese I wait to add the salt until after the cheese as each cheese has different salt levels and you don’t want an overly salty dish.
How to make a Mornay sauce (Cheese Sauce)
This is the same base I use for my Homemade alfredo sauce as well. Alfredo is made with parmesan while I use a few different cheeses for my Mac and Cheese.
I always use some type of cheddar – traditional cheddar will give you a classic yellow mac and cheese. I typically use white extra sharp cheddar, Gruyere and Monterey Jack cheese.
I buy blocks and shred the cheese myself for a smoother sauce and better flavor. The pre shredded cheese tends to have less flavor had have a coating to keep them separated that I don’t love in my cheese sauce.
Take the sauce off the heat and add the cheese in batches while stirring. Next taste the salt and see if it needs any additional salt! Then add it to the pasta.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
If you love these pasta recipes as much as I do, I’d love a 5 star review. Be sure to share on social media and tag me if you make it @ashleemariecakes! If you want to stay updated on new recipes sign up for my newsletter and join my Facebook Group!
If you love Mac and Cheese you’ll love these other pasta recipes!
Chicken Penne Pasta | Deep Fried Mac and Cheese Bites | Bacon Linguine Carbonara
Alfredo Sauce from Scratch | Mac and Cheese Stuffed Cheeseburger | Chicken Alfredo Lasagna Roll-ups
To watch me make this Homemade Macaroni and Cheese play the video in the recipe card (if you’re on desktop, a short teaser video should be auto playing for you).
You can find all my cooking show style recipe videos on YouTube, or my short recipe videos on Facebook Watch, or my Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.
The Perfect White Mac and Cheese
- 1/3 C butter
- 1 shallot chopped fine optional
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 C all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
- 2+ cups whole milk
- 1 C heavy whipping cream
- 8 oz Gruyere shredded
- 6 oz sharp white cheddar shredded
- 2 ounces Monterey Jack shredded
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/8 tsp dried mustard
- 1/2 Tbsp salt
- 2 lbs macaroni or other pasta, cooked
- Melt the butter and saute the shallot
- whisk in the flour and corn starch to a thick paste – this is your Roux, cook on medium low until the color develops – the lighter the color the less flavor but more thickening, the darker the color the more flavor less thickening – I went for a light brown
- Add the milk and cream and cook until the sauce comes to a simmer (it’s okay if it boils but try to catch it before that) – take off the heat and keep stirring, it will thicken as it cools – about 4 mins – this is your Bechamel sauce
- stir in your spices – white pepper, chili powder, garlic powder – not your salt yet
- test the temperature with your finger – if it’s still burning let cool longer, if it’s uncomfortably warm it’s perfect – add your cheeses in stages, stirring constantly
- Remove from heat and slowly add the cheese, stirring well – this is now a Mornay sauce – add extra milk if it’s too thick (about half the time I add extra milk)
- Taste the sauce and add salt if it’s needed.
- Pour over the cooked and drained pasta and Stir
- Now you can either cover with breadcrumbs and cheese and bake OR serve immediately – while it’s creamy, warm and delicious!
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Te combination of cheeses sounds amazing!!!!!!!
seriously SO good! but I love playing with the cheeses every time I make a batch! I do come back to this combo over and over again!
Kara (Creations by Kara)
I’m with you, I like my mac and cheese served straight out of the pot. It seems creamier to me that way. And this recipe is making me drool!
something out how the oven dries pasta I just don’t see the point! I seriously make a homemade mac and cheese every week – love trying out different cheeses!
I soooo wanted to LOVE this! But it’s about average to me. I was trying to recreate one of my favorite local restaurant’s macaroni and I thought this recipe would be the perfect fit! However, it doesn’t even compare to this restaurant. Although the cheeses suggested seemed fairly bold and sounded amazing, I found the end result to be fairly bland. I also found it a bit gritty. To be fair, I substituted condensed milk for the milk and cream in this recipe but that’s about it (BTW, it would be nice to know what kind of cream… heavy cream? creamer? whipping cream? half and half/aka cream? etc?). FYI, if you do this…at least for me… the sauce ends up EXTREMELY thick… and I mean thick to the point that it might as well just be pure melted cheese….I had to add about another cup of milk to dilute it to a reasonable consistency. Maybe the condensed milk ruined the recipe? Well anyway, I’m continuing my search for the best macaroni but this recipe has gotten me the closest. I think next time, I will eliminate the flour and add more cornstarch (read elsewhere that flour can be the reason for gritty texture).
condensed milk isn’t even close to milk and cream – so it’s not really my recipe. I wouldn’t consider creamer or half and half cream. Half and half is half cream, half milk so you could use it instead of both the milk and the cream – that would work better than condensed milk, but hard to control the ration of cream/milk that way. Cream is also known as whipping cream. I like the higher fat so I use heavy but either will work. if it was that thick it sounds like it was over cooked/thickened. you don’t want to cook it totally thick before adding the cheese or yes you will need to add more milk. My question for you is did you freshly shred all your cheese, or did you use preshredded. Preshredded cheese has a weaker flavor and preshredded cheese has a coating on it that keeps it from sticking together, but also keeps it from melting well and will result in grainy sauce. I don’t recommend changing the flour/cornstarch ratio, I’ve added the right amt that will help keep the cheese sauce smooth.
Hello excited to try this my son is such a mac and cheese snob he won’t eat anything out of the box but he loves to eat $11 orders of it at restaurants LOL question could I use the pre bagged shredded cheese (besides the gruyere) or should I grate it all from Big Blocks? just looking to save some time!
I do not recommend pre shredded cheese – they coat it to keep the cheese to keep it from sticking together and it effects the melting and has a much weaker flavor.
Roux is pronounced roo
clearly I’m not great at french
Can this be made ahead of time? I need to make it for a crowd, but I need time to make other dishes too. I was thinking if I can make the sauce and boil pasta then reheat them together before serving? Thanks
you can make the sauce ahead of time, but id recommend making the pasta fresh then reheating the sauce and adding it
Looks amazing! Gonna make it tonight! Can the sauce be frozen in batches for future use? Figured if I made a bunch, I can whip up dinner quickly when time is flying away 🙂
YES you totally can, but cheese sauces can’t be frozen, so when I make extra sauce I leave it in the fridge and use it within a week.
I made this for Thanksgiving dinner this year and was going to make something else for Christmas but my entire family told me I HAVE to bring this because “that ish was fire.”
Even my son, who doesn’t like cheese, begged for me to make this for dinner. That’s a win on my book.
that makes me so happy! I’m glad it was sick a hit with your family!