This homemade mac and cheese recipe is made with a few simple ingredients and is as easy to make as it is delicious. If you haven’t ever tried making homemade mac and cheese before you may be surprised at how simple it can be.
I compiled a few tips for success that will help your mac & cheese turn out great every time. In fact, you may end up throwing away any leftover mac n cheese boxes. Don’t we all love a simple & easy recipe that tastes super-rich?
Mac & cheese recipe ingredients:
Cheddar cheese, gouda cheese (or another melty cheese), 1 lb of shell pasta, heavy cream, butter, salt, and that’s it. Easy. Simple. Delicious.
What kind of cheeses ARE the BEST for A creamy mac and cheese?
It is important to use good quality cheese. Using a cheese that melts well such as cheddar, white cheddar, gouda, gruyere, fontina, and brie cheeses will help give a smooth and creamy texture.
I combine mild cheddar for its flavor and pair it with another creamy cheese that melts well. My go-to recipe is a combination of mild cheddar and gouda, using 2 parts cheddar, and one part gouda. I sometimes add a small chunk of brie, It’s super melty and gives a better depth of flavor. Knowing your audience and what type of cheese they enjoy will help with the success of your recipe. (if you are sharing:)
This recipe can also be made with cheddar cheese only. So if you love cheddar and want to keep it super simple just use 3 cups of freshly grated cheddar. The sharper the cheddar the more bitter flavor you will have.
What kind of cheese to avoid for mac & cheese
Avoid cheeses that don’t melt well. Stringy cheeses like mozzarella won’t melt well and will result in a stringy sauce, and crumbly cheeses such as feta won’t do well either. Always stay away from pre-shredded cheese since it is coated to prevent clumping, it won’t melt as well and will affect the texture of the cheese sauce.
Can you substitute milk for heavy cream?
Yes, you can use whole milk or a combination of milk and cream. I made this cheese sauce in a bunch of different ways and with different techniques. Since I don’t use a flour roux, whenever I use whole milk I get a watery, clumpy, and congealed consistency. I stick with heavy cream that gives a smooth and silky texture that holds up well and keeps this recipe simple.
What are the best noodles for mac & cheese?
Any noodles that have ridges to help hold the cheesy sauce is best for a mac & cheese recipe. Elbows are classic and are made to hold sauce, small or medium shells are my favorite shape since they hold pockets of cheese. Penne and rotini are also great options. Anything spaghetti-like such as angel hair may be too soft and smooth and won’t hold the sauce well.
What is a roux and why is it in mac & cheese?
A roux is when you melt (fat) butter and flour and cook them together to thicken a sauce. Some recipes call for a roux. A roux will help thicken a cheese sauce that is made with milk. I prefer to thicken a cheese sauce with heavy cream in a macaroni and cheese recipe.
How to make a gluten-free cheese sauce
I stay away from adding a roux with flour for mac and cheese recipes since I know too many people with celiac disease and gluten allergies. Leaving the roux out and using gluten-free pasta will allow all to enjoy. Besides, making a roux can be complicated, mac & cheese should be easy.
Do not rinse the drained pasta. If you rinse the pasta with water you will rinse away some of the starches that help the cheese sauce stick to the pasta.
Why add reserved pasta water?
I have tested this recipe so many times, switching different amounts of cheese and cream. I saw the best results from adding about 2-3 tbsp of reserved pasta water to the cheese sauce. Just a small amount will help create a smoother texture that has a good consistency and isn’t too runny.
what is the best way to store leftovers?
Keep any leftover mac & cheese refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days.
What is the best way to re-heat mac & cheese?
It always helps to add a little heavy cream before reheating to help bring back the smooth texture of the cold congealed cheese.
To reheat on the stove top, add a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream with the cold mac and cheese and place in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally until the pasta and sauce are warmed up and smooth.
To reheat in the microwave, add the cold pasta with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for a minute or two at a time, stirring in between intervals until the pasta sauce is warmed up and smooth. (microwave times may vary)
The true test of a good mac and cheese recipe.
If you find a cleaned-out bowl with no cheese or any noodles left behind…it was probably pretty good.
Homemade Mac & Cheese Recipe
- 2 cups freshly shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup freshly shredded gouda cheese
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 tbsp reserved pasta water optional
- 1 lb pasta of choice
- Cook 1 lb pasta in large pot with salted water for 8-10 minutes following package instructions. Before strainging the pasta scoop out some of the pasta water to reserve for later, then strain and set aside. Do not rinse pasta.
- In the same large saucepan heat heavy cream on medium heat until hot, not simmering.
- Add butter and shredded cheese a small amount at a time and whisk constantly until all the cheese is added and smooth.
- Whisk in salt and simmer for a couple of minutes and continue to whisk to insure all the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Optional step: Whisk in 2-3 tbsp of reserved pasta water one tbsp at a time.
- Turn off heat and add pasta back to the pot with sauce and stir until combined. Serve immediately or store airtight in the refrigerator for up to a few days.