Who doesn’t love ooey gooey, cheese-covered macaroni noodles, especially with a crispy breadcrumb topping? Mac and cheese is a classic side dish that has a seat at any holiday’s table. While it’s perfectly fine to make your mac and cheese on the stovetop, baking it in a casserole dish makes the cheese a little thicker, and crisps up a golden brown panko topping.
Ingredients needed to make baked mac and cheese casserole
First things first, you need macaroni. It’s not totally necessary to use elbow macaroni in mac and cheese, so if you have rotini or fusilli on hand, give those a try instead. You’ll want to use around 8 ounces, or about half of a standard box of noodles.
For the sauce, you’ll need butter, flour, milk, and a couple different cheeses. Any milk will work fine, but whole milk will give you the thickest and richest sauce. This recipe calls for mozzarella, white cheddar, and fontina — all deliciously melty and balanced in flavor. If you can’t find fontina, try Gruyère — an equally melty cheese. If you’d prefer regular cheddar to white, just swap it for mild cheddar.
To finish the sauce, you’ll just need garlic powder, fresh or dried thyme, salt, pepper, and panko breadcrumbs. Panko will be a little crunchier than standard, fine breadcrumbs, but you can swap them in a pinch.
Make the panko topping
Cook the pasta about a minute less than al dente, so that it cooks to perfection in the oven. You can make the panko topping after making the sauce, but it is easiest to throw together the topping before getting into the sauce. Just mix together 2 tablespoons of melted butter, a pinch of salt, and the panko breadcrumbs, until the panko is slightly moistened. We aren’t looking for a super wet crumb, just enough to help it brown in the oven. Set aside.
Whisk together the sauce
Most macaroni sauces will start with a roux to help it thicken. To make the roux, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a pot, then whisk the flour into the melted butter, until smooth. The flour will try to clump together — just keep whisking until smooth. Don’t allow the roux to burn, or the sauce will have a bitter taste.
Pour in the milk 1 cup at a time, whisking as you pour to avoid scalding, and break up any clumps. The milk will thicken slightly from the flour, but will still be thin after 3 minutes. Stir in the cheeses one at a time, melting each one down before adding the next. The fontina cubes will take the longest to melt, so add the thyme, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste while melting the fontina.
Add the pasta, bake, then serve
Add the cooked and drained pasta to the sauce, then stir until the pasta is completely coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then carefully pour the mixture into a casserole dish. This will fit in most casserole dishes, but will best fit a 9-by-11-inch dish. Sprinkle your prepared panko mixture on top, then add a few thyme sprigs. Bake uncovered for around 30 minutes to crisp the panko, and thicken the sauce.
This mac and cheese is delicious on its own, or when paired with spicy chorizo or baked chicken. If serving this as a side dish, serve it alongside steaks, fried chicken, or pork chops. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container, and reheated in the microwave, though you might notice some dryness in the noodles. If you plan on having leftovers, add more milk to the sauce to ensure better reheating.
Baked Mac And Cheese Casserole Recipe
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups mozzarella, shredded
- 1 cup sharp white cheddar, shredded
- ¼ cup fontina cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
- ½ tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, plus more for topping
- Pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions — just under al dente.
- In a small bowl, mix the panko with 2 tablespoons melted butter, and a pinch of salt until moist. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour, and mix constantly until smooth and golden.
- Whisking constantly, add the milk 1 cup at a time, incorporating into the roux until smooth. Allow to thicken slightly, about 3 minutes.
- Add the mozzarella, and stir until smooth. Add the cheddar, and stir until combined. Add the fontina, and allow to melt into the sauce, stirring frequently to avoid burning. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more milk.
- Stir in the thyme, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, and combine until noodles are coated.
- Pour the mixture into a casserole dish. Sprinkle the panko blend generously on top, then add thyme sprigs. Place in the oven, and bake until panko is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and serve immediately.