An easy creamy baked mac and cheese recipe that comes together quickly and is literally the BEST macaroni and cheese recipe! You'll love this easy oven baked version for your next BBQ or get together. This is a creamy mac and cheese with whipping cream, and boy, will it be a crowd pleaser! It's a Whole Lotta Yum!
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Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
If you truly want creamy baked mac and cheese that's super cheese and actually creamy, the key is cooking it with heavy whipping cream and not using milk. Some creamy mac and cheese recipes make a roux with flour but we skip this extra step and just use whipping cream to thicken the pasta. We shorten the steps compared to the classic mac and cheese and made this recipe as simple yet amazing as possible!
Why You'll Love This!
- Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food that's a budget friendly meal
- Made with heavy whipping cream instead of making milk increases the creaminess and cuts out the roux step of classic macaroni recipes
- It's easy to adapt and add protein to make it a main dish recipe
- It’s a family-friendly recipe that will please even the pickiest eaters
- It makes creamy, cheesy, and perfectly delicious mac and cheese
If you love mac and cheese, you'll want to try our crock-pot macaroni and cheese recipe too! It's also easy to mix in protein like sausage or beef like we did using leftover corned beef.
🥘 Creamy Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients
Our easy mac and cheese recipe uses common ingredients. Other than the pasta, you just need cheeses, heavy whipping cream, and basic pantry seasonings. So simple!
- Elbow macaroni: This is a type of short pasta that's the classic used for macaroni and cheese recipes.
- Heavy cream: I like using heavy cream because it has a thick consistency but you can use whole milk if you don't have access to heavy cream or want it a touch lighter.
- Shredded sharp cheddar cheese: Both yellow and white cheddar cheese can be used for this recipe. You can use Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese as substitutes for cheddar cheese. This gets mixed in and is used as a topping.
- Shredded gruyere or mozzarella: If you can, buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself. Most store-bought shredded cheese has a food agent in them that keeps them from clumping together. This will keep the cheese from giving you that oh-so-lovely cheese pull you're looking for!
- Smoked Paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder: These are not the only spices you can add to this recipe. Other spices that you can add are garlic salt, cayenne pepper, red pepper, mustard powder, dry mustard, and even hot sauce!
- Salt and black pepper: Add these both to taste.
- (Optional) Panko breadcrumbs: These can be added at the very end and quickly broiled to give you a bit of crunch.
** Please see the recipe card at the bottom of the post for the exact quantities **
- Add protein Italian sausage, chicken sausage, and ground beef are hearty mix-ins, you could also add crab, lobster, pulled pork, or even corned beef.
- Crispy Breadcrumbs: If you like your mac and cheese very brown and crispy, turn off the oven and turn the broiler on. Broil the mac and cheese until it gets to your preferred level of brownness.
- Make it gluten-free: Yes, you can use gluten-free pasta for this easy homemade mac and cheese recipe! Just cook the pasta according to the package instructions and proceed with the recipe.
- Casserole dish
- Box grater
🔪 How to Cook Cheesy Mac and Cheese
To make Macaroni and cheese, you simply boil the pasta, add a cheesy sauce, and then the dish is topped with cheese before placing it in the oven and baking it to cheesy, creamy perfection.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
While the oven is heating up, pour water into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add in the dried elbow pasta and cook them for the minimum time in the package directions. If it says 6-8 minutes, cook it for 6 minutes. The al-dente noodles will finish cooking in the oven.
Drain the pasta and pour it into a baking dish.
For the creamy sauce, place a medium saucepan on the stove over medium heat and pour in about 4 cups of heavy cream. Add in 4 cups of cheese and 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, and ½ a teaspoon of salt. Let the cheese melt and then bring the mixture to a boil. Keep stirring until the cheese sauce is smooth.
Pour the creamy cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and mix it with a spoon until the noodles and sauce are evenly combined.
Sprinkle about 2 cups of the extra cheese evenly on top of the mac and cheese mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the baked mac n cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Serve the creamy macaroni hot and enjoy!
💡 Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Tips
- The recipe can be doubled and cooked in a larger baking pan.
- We don't recommend using pre-shredded cheese, it's coated with potato starch and doesn't melt as well, nor will you get those lovely cheese pulls if you use bagged shreds.
- Flipping the chicken tenders is not necessary for even cooking, but we did find that the result was better when we filled after 5 minutes.
- Chicken tenders will need some air between them, so be sure not to overcrowd your fryer. Cook in batches if necessary.
How to Store
- Prepping it in advance: You can make this recipe a few hours ahead of time before baking it. Just cover it with foil and put it in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. The baked mac and cheese will take longer in the oven if you're cooking it after chilling in the fridge.
- Storing leftovers: You can store mac and cheese leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Freezing: Baked macaroni and cheese freezes really well! You can also freeze it before baking. The best way to freeze it is by dividing it into smaller portions and then putting it in a freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. I usually thaw it by placing it in the freezer or on the kitchen counter. If properly stored, Mac and cheese can keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Reheating: Depending on how much time I have, I sometimes microwave for 1-2 minutes or reheat it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Yes, baked macaroni and cheese freezes really well! You can also freeze it before baking. The best way to freeze it is by dividing it into smaller portions and then putting it in a freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. I usually thaw it by placing it in the freezer or on the kitchen counter. If properly stored, Mac and cheese can keep in the fridge for up to 4 days
The best sides for mac and cheese are the classics such as BBQ ribs, coleslaw, Barbecue ribs, a salad, and meatloaf are just a few side dishes that would go well with this easy homemade macaroni and cheese meal. coleslaw other bbq
Yes, you can certainly make mac and cheese in your crock pot. I would recommend that you first spray the inside of the crockpot with non-stick spray before you add in and mix the ingredients. We usually cook it on high for 2 to 3 hours.
Cheeses that are commonly used to make mac and cheese are mild cheddar cheese, gruyere cheese, Colby-jack cheese, parmesan cheese, and even Velveeta cheese. We love mixing sharp cheddar and gruyere cheese, but any of these will work! It's best to use at least 2 varieties of cheese.
😋 More Pasta Recipes
- Crock-pot Macaroni and Cheese
- Corned Beef Mac and Cheese
- Cauliflower "Mac" and Cheese
- Instant Pot Fettuccini Chicken Alfredo
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