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A grey ceramic bowl filled with baked mac and cheese with bread crumbs

Baked Mac and Cheese with Bread Crumbs

4.72 / 14 votes
This baked macaroni and cheese boasts all the cheesy goodness of the usual American classic but with the spectacular addition of crunchy, buttery crumbs on top as well as the bonus points that it can be prepared in advance. What’s not to love?!
David Leite
Servings6 servings
Calories1040 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes


  • 8 to 9 tablespoons (4 to 4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup panko or dried bread crumbs (about 100 g)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or small shells
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/4 cups store-bought chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
  • 1 pound Colby cheese, shredded (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 1/4 cups)


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
  • If using bread crumbs, in a medium saucepan over low heat, melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Add the bread crumbs and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and stir again. Spread the bread crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C).
    If using panko, in a medium saucepan over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Toss in the panko and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and stir again. Spread the panko on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden, 7 to 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C).
  • Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts (3.8 liters) water to a boil in a large pot. Add the macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt and cook according to the package directions, stirring often, until nearly al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain the pasta.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: The macaroni will still be firm after cooking according to the directions above–it will finish cooking in the oven.

  • Dry the now-empty pot in which you cooked the pasta, place it over medium heat, add the butter and wait until it melts.
  • Add the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook, still stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and broth or stock until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking often, and cook until thickened, 10 to 12 minutes more.
  • Remove the pot from the heat. Gradually whisk in the Colby and Cheddar cheeses, adding them slowly and by the handful, until they melt, 2 to 3 minutes. Your sauce should be smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir in the cooked pasta, breaking up any clumps with a spoon. Dump the whole shebang into a 13-by-9-inch (33-by-23-cm) baking dish. (You can cover and refrigerate the macaroni and cheese and bake it later. See our make-ahead instructions below.) Sprinkle with the toasted panko mixture. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips and bake until golden and bubbling around the edges, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Let the baked macaroni and cheese casserole cool for 10 minutes before you bring it to the table amid a chorus of oohs and aahs and scoop it straight from the baking dish.


How to make this baked macaroni and cheese ahead of time?

Prepare the macaroni and cheese as instructed above, keeping the panko or bread crumbs separate until ready to bake. The assembled, unbaked casserole without the topping can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, sprinkle the macaroni and cheese with the panko or bread crumbs, cover with buttered aluminum foil, and bake in 400°F (200°C) oven until warm throughout, 20 to 25 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the crumbs are crisp, 10 to 20 minutes more.
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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 1040 kcalCarbohydrates: 80 gProtein: 46 gFat: 60 gSaturated Fat: 36 gMonounsaturated Fat: 16 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 168 mgSodium: 951 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 10 g

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

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2016 America’s Test Kitchen. Photo © 2016 Carl Tremblay. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I rarely deviate from my tried and true mac and cheese recipe, but this baked mac and cheese with bread crumbs was worth the detour. Very crusty with good flavor and spiciness from the cayenne and mustard. I don’t usually put bread crumbs on the top of my baked macaroni and cheese, but the buttered and toasted panko was quite effective here.

The recipe is a bit long and complicated to make but not difficult. Just make sure you’ve allotted plenty of kitchen time before tackling this project, and then enjoy the results.

I’m glad I had a sheet pan underneath as this casserole was full to the top as well. It really does require that cooling off period before serving as it came out of the oven bubbling hot.

This baked mac and cheese with bread crumbs is a great dish that’s very worthy of any holiday meal. This makes a huge batch that would be absolutely perfect for a family gathering.

I used Mueller’s small shell pasta, Cabot’s Seriously Sharp Cheddar, and Cabot Colby. The buttered panko bread crumbs toasted perfectly in 10 minutes and smelled delicious.

Weʻre big fans of mac and cheese and so it would have to be a pretty awful combination to make us dislike one. This version had a lot of flavor. I loved the combination of cheeses and the crunch from the panko crumbs. The blend of flavors makes this a classic.

I used whole wheat elbow macaroni. I also used homemade vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. This made the dish vegetarian but not vegan. Would I make this again? I did make it again. The second time I used bread crumbs. I used 4 tablespoons butter with the bread crumbs and I think there’s just enough. I bet it could use a touch more but I think it’s ok as it is. I used small pasta shells the second time.

I’d say it makes more like 12 servings although we usually eat mac & cheese with a vegetable side dish like greens. I can see this macaroni and cheese as a base for add-ins like vegetables, bacon, tuna, chicken or other protein, or a mix up of other cheeses.

This is the time of year when having a nice baked macaroni and cheese around fills that gap that only comfort food can fill. This is a decent macaroni and cheese, relatively easy to make and attractive enough to serve to company or on a special occasion.

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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4.72 from 14 votes (11 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I loved this recipe. Having fooled around with a lot of macaroni and cheese variations, I can honestly say that this is one of the few that I will come back to. It’s tasty enough for grownups but simple enough to satisfy kids. A winner!