Mac and Cheese Casserole is made with elbows macaroni, a mixed blend of cheeses, and topped with cracker crumbs and bacon slices for the ultimate creamy and cheesy experience! I used two different kinds of cheese in combination with cream to make it ultra-creamy on the inside, with a crunchy topping.
Casserole recipes are a favorite around here. They are easy to make and usually make enough leftovers so we don’t have to worry about cooking dinner the next day again.
Also, they can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the freezer. When the time is ready, you can easily reheat them. Among our most popular ones are Cheesy Crack Chicken Casserole, White Pizza Casserole, and Chicken Hash-brown Casserole.
Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
There is absolutely nothing that I love more than this homemade baked Maccaroni and Cheese casserole. You see, I love cheese, and when combining it with pasta you are guaranteed to end up with something extra special!
This dish is so creamy and smooth that I can never get enough of it. The flavors are outstanding, and the homemade cheese sauce here is the secret ingredient. It is rich and creamy thanks to the mix of sour cream, heavy cream, and cheese. I used the classic roux-based cheese sauce, where butter and flour are cooked together.
As a result of this technique, you will have the creamiest and cheesiest casserole possible. Due to mixing the ingredients together, and then adding pasta into it, the cheese proportionally and evenly integrates into this dish. It simply melts in your mouth!
Additionally, baking the casserole for 30 minutes after assembling it together, ensures you have a perfectly balanced and cheesy dinner. To make it even more amazing, I have added a buttery topping made of Ritz crackers and bacon. This makes it crunchy on the outside and creamy on the side. Just perfect!
- Elbows macaroni: I always use elbows pasta for this recipe because it absorbs the sauce well.
- Dairy ingredients: To make the sauce you will need butter, sour cream, milk, heavy whipped cream, evaporated milk, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and mozzarella cheese.
- Olive oil
- Seasoning: Garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, paprika, mustard powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper.
- For the topping: I use cracker crumbs and bacon slices. Alternatively, you can go with Panko crumbs or simple bread crumbs. Use whatever you have on hand.
How to make creamy Mac and Cheese Casserole?
For the exact direction, please see the recipe card below. Also, watch the short video tutorial attached for quick guidelines. But the general steps are as follows:
- Preheat the oven: Firstly, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking casserole dish.
- Cook the pasta: Next, cook pasta according to package instructions. I cook it al dente (slightly undercooked), so it does not get mushy when it is baked.
- Make the sauce: In a large saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Then, add flour and stir to combine. Next, add the milk, heavy cream with cornstarch, and evaporated milk.
- Simmer and season: Simmer and add the sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese. Mix the sauce and add the seasoning to it. Then, add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture.
- Bake: Lastly, pour into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I have to bake my Mac and Cheese Casserole?
For this recipe, I went ahead and baked it. However, if you are short of time, feel free to eat it right from the pan. Also, you can stick it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top and serve it that way.
This will work just as well and is a great shortcut when you are running low on time.
What is the best cheese to use for it?
This totally depends on your taste and preference. Any good quality melting cheese will perfectly work for this dish. A combination of cheddar, sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, and Parmesan is what I usually use.
Also, the white cheddar, Gruyere cheese, and Asiago blend is a great combination and will produce a smooth, rich, and creamy sauce.
Can I make Mac and Cheese in the Instant Pot?
Absolutely! Making it in the Instant Pot is equally delicious and super easy. You can find the Instant Pot version of this recipe here.
Can I make it gluten-free?
Yes! Simply substitute the regular pasta with a gluten-free version. Also, use gluten-free flour. The full recipe can be found here.
How do you keep it creamy?
By using a combination of cheeses along with milk and cream cheese. When cooked, this sauce will be soaked with the macaroni, resulting in a creamy and cheesy dish.
What should I serve with Macaroni and Cheese Casserole?
This dish is very versatile, and can be served as it is, or as a side dish with various pairings. Some suggestions would be:
- Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwich
- Instant Pot Pot Roast
- Roasted Beef Tenderloin
- Slow Cooker Corned Beef
- Instant Pot Corned Beef
How to freeze this dish?
- To freeze, transfer the mixture to a buttered 9-by-13-inch freezer-to-oven baking dish.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Freeze for up to 6 months.
- Bake, frozen, and covered with foil, at 350°F, for 1 hour.
More Pasta recipes to try:
- Before baking the casserole, make sure the pasta is not overcooked. Preferably, the pasta has to be al dente, since it will cook some additional time in the oven.
- Similarly, you do not have to cover the casserole with foil when baking. This way, the topping will get golden brown and crunchier.
- Additionally, use quality cheese. If you want a truly creamy texture, it is best not to use pre-shredded cheese. Take the extra few minutes and shred your own cheese.
- You don’t need to rinse the cooked pasta for this recipe especially if you will be using pre-shredded cheese. This way the starch from the pasta will thicken the sauce.
- Feel free to swap cheeses for a combination of whatever you have on hand. Such cheeses as Asiago, Gouda, smoked Cheddar, Monterrey, will work just as well.
Best Mac and Cheese Casserole
- 1 pound elbows macaroni (cooked per box directions, aim for al dente)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or light cream)
- 1 can of 14 oz. evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground thyme (optional)
- 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 4 oz. cream cheese (cubed and at room temperature)
- 3 cups cheddar cheese (freshly grated or buy pre-shredded)
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese (freshly grated or buy pre-shredded)
Buttery Cracker Topping:
- 1 1/2 cups cracker crumbs (I used Ritz crackers)
- 6 tablespoons (unsalted butter melted)
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
- 10 bacon slices (cooked)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter or with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- Cook pasta per box directions, aim for al dente. Drain, mix with olive oil, and set aside.
- Place a large saucepan over medium heat and once it's hot add the butter. Stir and melt the butter, carefully not to burn it.
- Add the flour and whisk until fully combined with the melted butter.
- While still whisking, little by little add the milk, stirring to combine. Take your time and don't rush through this step.
- In a small bowl, whisk cream and cornstarch until fully combined and cornstarch is fully dissolved. Add the mixture to the pan. Stir to combine.
- Add the evaporated milk and stir to combine. Add onion powder, garlic powder, ground thyme, paprika, mustard, red pepper flakes and salt.
- Stir over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, and let it simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in sour cream and cream cheese until fully combined. If the sauce is too thick you can add more milk or some chicken broth. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low and add 3 cups of cheddar cheese and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, freshly grated or pre-shredded. Stir to combine, until the cheese is fully melted.
- Remove the pan from heat and add the cooked elbows macaroni. Stir to combine.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
Buttery Cracker Topping:
- In a medium bowl combine cracker crumbs with melted butter and stir using a fork until fully combined.
- Level the top with a spatula and sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 cup of cheddar cheese evenly over the surface of the casserole.
- Sprinkle the Buttery Cracker Topping evenly over the surface and top with chopped cooked bacon if using.
- Bake the casserole uncovered in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. Until the top is golden brown and bubbly.
- Remove from oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.
- Serve topped with extra bacon and if desired chopped parsley.