Easy Homemade Macaroni and Cheese – this easy baked version is creamy, cheesy, and is topped with a buttery Ritz cracker topping. A comfort food favorite the whole family will love.
I’m excited to share this recipe with you. It’s so easy to prepare and uses ingredients that are likely in your pantry and fridge. So, when that comfort food craving hits, this mac and cheese can be on the dinner table in 40 minutes.
If you are short on time, this dish can be served straight out of the pot – without baking. But, you will be skipping the crispy, buttery cracker topping which is really the best part!
I like to garnish this mac and cheese with oven-roasted tomatoes. This is optional of course, but I love how the acidity of the tomatoes cuts through the richness of the cheese. To make the tomatoes, toss halved grape tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
- elbow pasta – the classic mac and cheese pasta, the curves hold on to the cheesy sauce. Any pasta with a curved shaped or ridges to hold the sauce can be used.
- evaporated milk – helps the cheese melt smoothly and prevents the sauce from getting a grainy texture
- cheddar cheese – a classic in mac and cheese, cheddar cheese melts well and has a sharp flavor. I prefer using orange cheddar for color.
- Fontina cheese – a creamy and mild cheese, Fontina melts beautifully and balances the sharpness of the cheddar.
- Parmesan cheese – adds sharp saltiness to the sauce.
- ground (dry) mustard – commonly found in mac and cheese, the mustard provides acidity that cuts through the rich cheese sauce and rounds out the flavor.
- other seasonings – black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika – for more great flavor.
- Ritz crackers – a crispy topping is a must for baked mac and cheese, and buttery Ritz crackers are the best!
Tips for making baked mac and cheese
- Use evaporated milk in place of traditional cream sauce – in my experience, evaporated milk helps the cheese melt smoothly and prevents the sauce from having a grainy texture. This also eliminates the need to make a rue, therefore adding to the ease of this recipe.
- Use one pot for prep – cook the pasta first and drain. Then use the same pot to make the cheese sauce. Fewer dishes to wash later!
- Undercook the pasta – Since this is baked mac and cheese, cook the pasta a little less (about 1 minute) than al dente.
- Reserve 1/2-3/4 cup of the cheddar cheese to fold in before baking – this creates little pockets of cheese that aren’t fully melted into the cheese sauce.
- Finish with a cracker topping – a crispy crumb topping is probably the best part of macaroni and cheese. Ritz crackers are buttery and delicious and when mixed with some butter and parmesan cheese, this topping is over the top!
Do I have to bake this mac and cheese?
No, this macaroni and cheese does not have to be baked. If served straight out of the pot without baking, the cheese sauce will be looser but will be equally delicious.
Can I freeze macaroni and cheese?
Absolutely! Like lasagna and other pasta dishes, mac and cheese freezes well.
- Freeze before baking – Pour the mac and cheese into an oven-safe dish. Let cool. (TIP: Do not add cracker topping until you are ready to bake.) Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and add the cracker topping. Bake for 5-10 minutes longer or until topping is golden brown.
- Freeze after baking – Let cool. Cut into individual portions. Wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and/or use a freezer-safe zipper top bag. Freeze for up to 2 months and thaw in the refrigerator. Portions can be re-heated in the microwave or in the oven. The oven method will allow the cracker topping to regain its’ crispness!
Macaroni and Cheese is always a crowd-pleaser and this easy homemade baked version is guaranteed to be a winner with your family. I hope you try this recipe. Please leave a comment below and tag me on Instagram @mycasualpantry so I can see your creation.
More pasta recipes
- Fettuccine Alfredo with Mushrooms
- Mushroom Ravioli with Sage Butter
- Cheese Ravioli Sausage Bake
- Brussels Sprouts Pasta with Pancetta and Lemon
Easy, baked mac and cheese with a creamy sauce and a crispy, buttery cracker topping.
- 12 ounces elbow pasta
- 24 ounces evaporated milk (2-12 ounce cans)
- 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 13 butter crackers, like Ritz (1 fresh stacks sleeve)
- 1 tablespoon butter softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large pot, add the pasta to salted, boiling water and cook accordingly to package directions, but removing 1 minute before al dente. Drain and set aside.
To the same pot, add the evaporated milk and heat over medium-low heat. Add the cheese in small batches (reserving 1/2-3/4 cup cheddar cheese) and stir until melted.
Stir in the ground mustard, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir until the pasta is evenly coated. Fold in the reserved cheddar cheese. Pour the mixture into a 2.5-quart baking dish.
In a small bowl, crush the Ritz crackers, add the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Mix well and sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly around the edges.