Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Crunchy Crumb Topping

Hooray for real mac and cheese. It’s crazy to eat the stuff from the box when the real deal is so easy to make and so totally superior. Do use a cheese with some character, however, or the bland noodles will dominate.–Sur La Table

LC Cheesy Goodness Note

If you’re going to do macaroni and cheese, then do macaroni and cheese. To do that properly, you need cheese. The good cheese. You know, the special, sort-of expensive, hauntingly sharp Cheddar from someplace where they know what they’re doing, like England or Wisconsin or Vermont. Trust us.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 4 to 6


  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)
  • A pinch to 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup coarse fresh or dried bread crumbs


  • 1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190° C).
  • 2. Salt a large pot of water generously, so it tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil, then add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions.
  • 3. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk until smooth and pastelike. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • 4. Still whisking vigorously, slowly pour in the milk. If the sauce gets lumpy, don’t worry; just keep whisking until it becomes smooth again. Lower the heat and simmer (yes, still whisking frequently!) until creamy and smooth, 7 to 8 minutes.
  • 5. Add 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and the mustard and/or nutmeg, if using. Take the pan off the heat and add 2 1/2 cups of the Cheddar and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and add more seasonings, if you like.
  • 6. Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot. Dump the sauce on top of the macaroni and toss thoroughly to coat. Turn the macaroni mixture into a large cast-iron skillet, a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, or other generously sized casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Cheddar and Parmesan.
  • 7. One last thing. Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. (Use 2 tablespoons for uber-buttery bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon for swimsuit-season bread crumbs.) Drizzle the butter over the bread crumbs in a bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the macaroni.
  • 8. Bake until the crumbs are browned and the macaroni is warmed through, 20 minutes if you’re in a hurry or, if you’re in no rush and prefer a creamier sauce, up to an hour or so. You’ll need to cover the dish after 15 minutes or so to prevent the crumbs from browning too much. Let the macaroni and cheese rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before scooping it out in heaping portions.

Tuxedo Variations

  • While the classic is always welcome, try mixing things up on occasion…
  • Smoky Green Chile Version
  • Add a 4-ounce can diced mild green chiles, drained, to the macaroni mixture before turning it into the baking dish. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika to the buttered crumbs.

  • “Tuna Melt” Version
  • Substitute 1 cup grated Havarti or Fontina cheese for 1 cup of the Cheddar when you make the sauce (you’ll still need a total of 3 cups cheese plus the 1/2 cup Parmesan or Pecorino). Add two 5-ounce cans tuna, drained, and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest to the macaroni before turning it into the baking dish.
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