This easy macaroni au gratin is so magnificently and outrageously incredible that folks are actually applauding it at the dinner table. (We’re not kidding. One of our testers actually received a round of applause from her family after serving this elegant riff on macaroni and cheese—the first time that had happened in 30 years of her cooking family dinners.) But what really swayed us about this recipe is just how quick and easy it is to make compared to a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes. It’s simply macaroni smothered in a luxuriously rich sauce containing cream and three cheeses (three!) and then everything is broiled to a crisp golden brown. Obviously we, too, think it’s something to clap about.Angie Zoobkoff

A dish of macaroni au gratin on a white paper napkin on a white plate with a stack of plates beside it.

Macaroni Au Gratin

4.63 / 8 votes
This macaroni au gratin is no ordinary macaroni and cheese. Not at all. It’s still pasta in cheese sauce but blanketed with a layer of ooey, gooey blend of three cheeses. Easy and on the table in less than an hour.
David Leite
Servings4 to 6 servings
Calories846 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time45 minutes


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 ounces dry elbow macaroni (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon mild olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 ounces grana padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 ounces Jarlsberg, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 6 ounces white Cheddar, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)


  • Combine 2 quarts (1.8 liters) water and the kosher salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and return to a boil. Cook the macaroni until barely al dente, about 5 minutes from when it returns to a boil.
  • Drain the macaroni in a colander and shake it dry. Dump the macaroni on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the oil, and gently toss until it’s evenly coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another. Let cool completely. You should have about 3 cups.
  • Set a rack in the oven about 4 inches (10 cm) from the broiler and preheat the broiler.
  • Toss the grana padano, Jarlsberg, and white Cheddar in a large bowl until well combined. Then separate the mixed cheeses into two piles, one slightly larger than the other. [Editor’s Note: Ideally you want the smaller pile to be 40% of the whole and the larger pile to be 60%.]
  • In a large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream and sea salt, if using, to a boil. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. The cream will foam up and then subside into a simmer. Add the macaroni and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 90 seconds. The cream will start to thicken just slightly and coat the noodles.
  • Start adding the 40% pile of cheese in small handfuls, stirring and waiting for the first handful of cheese to melt and incorporate into the sauce before adding the next handful. Transfer the contents of the pan to a 2 1/2-quart (2.4 liter) ovenproof skillet or baking dish. The mixture will be runny but that’s okay. Mound the reserved cheese on top of the macaroni and place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: The mac and cheese mixture will be very runny when you pour the cream and pasta into the baking dish. Don’t worry. It’ll come out just fine.

  • Slide the baking sheet into the oven and broil, rotating the skillet or dish often, until the cheese melts and caramelizes into a golden brown crust, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch it carefully as every broiler is different and your cheese can go from not-quite-golden-brown to charred-as-charcoal in a matter of seconds.
  • Remove the macaroni au gratin from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Devour immediately.
Poole's Cookbook

Adapted From

Poole’s Recipes and Stories From A Modern Diner

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 846 kcalCarbohydrates: 36 gProtein: 27 gFat: 66 gSaturated Fat: 41 gMonounsaturated Fat: 18 gCholesterol: 227 mgSodium: 3537 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2016 Ashley Christensen. Photo © 2016 Johnny Autry. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This macaroni au gratin is one of those rare recipes with only a few ingredients that turns into heaven on a fork. In over 30 years of cooking, this is the first time my family actually clapped. I couldn’t understand how this would come together with no butter, no flour, no roux. It’s magical.

I broiled it for the full 5 minutes to a perfect caramelization. It’s very rich so it made 6 to 8 servings.

This macaroni au gratin is comfort food taken to a whole new level. Unctuous, rich, creamy—the combination of cream and the mix of cheeses makes this dish what everyday macaroni and cheese aspires to be!

I used Parmesan, old Cheddar, and Jarlsberg and found it to be perfectly balanced—the Parmesan added salt, the Cheddar was creamy, and there were a few stretchy strands studded throughout from the Jarlsberg. The macaroni was perfectly al dente and the cheese crisped up to a crunchy crown on top. Bonus points for the fact that all of the ingredients can be on hand all of the time and, start to finish, the dish can be on the table in well under an hour! Just 45 minutes from “I think I’ll make this” to “I think I’ll eat this”! It took only 20 minutes to boil the pasta, grate the cheeses, and tidy up—very quick.

I was doubtful that the pasta would be done at 5 minutes but took it off at that point as per the recipe and it ended up perfect. I baked it in a shallow oval pan that was 11 by 7 by 2 inches and the macaroni filled nicely and there was lots of surface area for the broiled cheese on top.

It’s very rich. Although the portions didn’t look overly large, this is so filling that it easily fed 4 of us with a little salad on the side. The second time I made this—yes, I made it twice in one week!—I used half and half in place of the cream, Emmental in place of the Jarlsberg, and folded in some sautéed mixed mushrooms. It wasn’t quite as rich but was also very nice.

This macaroni au gratin recipe is everything it promises. It’s cheesy, creamy and supremely indulgent. Thick cream sauce and tender pasta smothered with crisp melted cheese.

I served this for lunch but could it could easily be presented as an appetizer with spoons for everyone to dig in. Serve with some crusty bread to get every last bit of cheese sauce. I used Parmigiano Reggiano and an aged Cheddar in addition to the Jarlsberg.

Can you ever go wrong when combining macaroni with cheese? Well, imagine combining macaroni with three cheeses! It’s a feast for the senses! Not to mention yummy! While making this macaroni au gratin recipe, I kept drooling at the thought of the finished product. I was a little apprehensive about using Jarlsberg because I’ve never tried it before, but the nuttiness balanced the sharpness of the white Cheddar and balanced the dish as a whole.

I will definitely try it again but will serve it in individual ramekins, probably add some fresh cracked pepper, and cut the recipe in half unless I have company. (It does not warm up well in the microwave.) All in all, a grown-up dish well done for supper or brunch.

This macaroni au gratin recipe turned out to be a nice surprise. It was very simple to put together, all measurements were spot on, and the timing was right.

I used Grana Padano. The macaroni took almost no time to cool so everything went together quickly. It’s very runny when you pour the cream and pasta into the baking dish but don’t worry, it comes out just fine. I was a little concerned when I pulled it out of the oven because there was a layer of grease from the cheeses. Once it sat for a bit it all absorbed back into the macaroni. The only thing I would change would be the amount of salt. It had a salty flavor. I would use just 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt in the water for the macaroni and leave out the sea salt in the cream sauce.

Macaroni and cheese. Comfort food that, for some reason, I have not been making much of in recent years. Perhaps I have been wanting to make my comforting dishes a bit more healthy. This macaroni au gratin recipe was a nice excuse for me to make something a bit more indulgent.

Unlike many mac and cheese recipes, this did not have a roux. Cooking down all of that heavy cream made for a nice thick sauce. Now, although this was really delicious, I think that 2 cups of heavy cream were not entirely necessary. Truth be told, I don’t think that they were necessary at all. I would recommend trying the recipe using 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup half and half. If that works well, I might try using all half and half the next time I’d make this recipe.

The mixture of the 3 different types of cheeses worked well. I felt that the Jarlsburg, although only 2 ounces, was very distinct. I served the gratin with a lovely salad with roasted beets and sliced purple onion. I also cooked up the beet greens with a paste of garlic and coarse salt. They were both great foils for the richness of the mac and cheese.

I was very happy with this macaroni au gratin.

I didn’t add any salt during the cooking as the cheese provided a lot of salt. I found that after the cream had boiled, it didn’t thicken significantly in 90 seconds, and I thought it would have required further boiling to reduce the volume and to thicken it. However, I went with the recipe and added the cheese and found that after the time in the oven it seemed considerably thicker in consistency.

I would make the dish again and I thought of adding cooked bacon or chorizo to the recipe if I was making it again.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I made this last year during one of our summer BBQs. It was the HIT OF THE MENU!! (even with BBQ Babyback Ribs, big salad and grilled mixed veggies, …and…. we also made Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ). Everyone loved the mac au gratin the best. Our grandsons (15, 16 & 22) all LOVE mac n cheese. They said it was the best I ever made. Now, this is the ONLY mac n cheese recipe I will use. I always make it in my Cuisinart large stainless steel skillet and pop it in the oven. After removing from the oven it always stays hot or at least 45 minutes. Thank you for sharing Ashley’s recipe with your readers. I love your writings, wonderful staff, and your website. (PS-I loved the article on your father that you posted recently!!!)

    1. GrammaSue, I love everything about you!! I’m delighted you and your family enjoyed the recipe.

  2. I think it would be apropos that proper compliments and credit be noted in this recipe to Chef Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner who actually created and developed this recipe.

    1. Ed, thanks for writing. I think if you look closely, you will see Ashely’s name under the photo as well as a link to her bio and photo. Then at the bottom of the page, you’ll see the copyright line; “Macaroni Au Gratin Recipe © 2016 Ashley Christensen. Photo © 2016 Johnny Autry. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.”

  3. 5 stars
    Macaroni and cheese always sounds good, especially now that the chilly weather is setting in. However, this macaroni au gratin is next level mac and cheese. Crunchy, crispy bruléed cheese on the outside and a rich, creamy sauce on the inside—this dish deserves a special place on your holiday table. Fair warning, it’s dangerous to have in the house because you will not stop eating it! I substituted Parmigiano Reggiano for the grana padano. I transferred the contents of the pan to a 2 1/2-quart baking dish, After adding the remaining cheese, I broiled the dish on high, turning it twice to promote even browning. It took 3 minutes for the cheese to caramelize into a golden, crisp crust. I do believe that the salt added to the cream is superfluous when using Parmigiano Reggiano. Next time I will not add salt to the cream.

    1. E, here’s a howdy doo! I agree wholeheartedly. I use Grana Padano, but, as you discovered, Parmiggiano Reggiano works well, too.