This baked macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs is smothered in a Cheddar and Colby cheese sauce and topped with panko bread crumbs. Easily the best we’ve ever had.
Baked Mac and Cheese with Bread Crumbs
- 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.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I rarely deviate from my tried and true mac and cheese recipe, but this baked macaroni and cheese 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 macaroni 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.
Originally published February 14, 2017