Recipes / Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

By Mark Bittman

Published February 27, 2024

One of the most popular recipes in the original How to Cook Everything, which I attribute to too many people growing up with the mac and cheese that comes from a box. The real thing is rich, filling, delicious, and dead easy.

Photo: Aya Brackett
Photo: Aya Brackett
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You can change the type of cheese you use: Try blue cheese, goat cheese, smoked Gouda, or even mascarpone. Or mix in about 1/2 cup crisp-cooked chunks of thick-cut bacon or pancetta.


Make The Recipe!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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Makes 4 to 6 servings 1x

Time about 45 minutes

Units Scale


  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese like sharp cheddar or Emmental
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (preferably fresh)


  1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Grease a 13 × 9-inch baking pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
  2. Heat the milk with the bay leaves in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, after about 5 minutes, turn off the heat and let stand. Cook the pasta until it’s just starting to soften but is still too hard to eat. Drain, rinse it quickly under cold water to stop the cooking, drain again, and put in a large bowl.
  3. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. When it foams, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot roux, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk, and continue to do so until all the milk is added and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar or Emmental and stir until it melts.
  4. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss in the Parmesan, and taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some pepper. Transfer the pasta to the prepared pan. (You can make the recipe to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day; return to room temperature before proceeding.) Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the pasta and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.

6 Great Mac-and-Cheese Combos
Any pasta will work with any of the cheeses, so mix these up as you like. Some drier hard cheeses, like Parmesan, Asiago, Manchego, and some pecorinos, are best when combined with softer cheeses; similarly, very strong cheeses are best paired with mild cheeses. Try:

  1. Pasta shells with 1/2 cup cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups grated pecorino cheese
  2. Fusilli or corkscrews with 1 1/2 cups grated smoked Gouda or mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  3. Wagon wheels with 1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese and 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  4. Rotini or spirals with 1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola and 1 cup grated Bel Paese or fontina cheese
  5. Tube pastas like penne, rigatoni, and ziti with 1 cup grated Manchego and 1 cup grated Jack
  6. Orecchiette with 1 cup ricotta and 1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition 

Recipe variations

Shortcut Macaroni and Cheese
The ingredients are layered and cooked together so it’s less creamy and a little more crusty, but still really good: In Step 1, butter the baking pan with an extra 1 to 2 tablespoons butter. Skip Step 3; instead layer in one-third of the pasta in the prepared pan, sprinkle with half of the flour, fleck with half of the butter, cover with about 1/2 cup of the grated cheeses, pour half of the heated milk over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers, using up the remaining flour, butter, and milk. Top with the remaining pasta, cheeses, and the bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 30 minutes.

Rich Macaroni and Cheese
Reduce the milk to 3/4 cup. Omit the bay leaves, 3 tablespoons of the butter, and all of the flour; don’t heat the milk. Substitute 1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) mascarpone for the cheddar. Cook the pasta as directed. Skip Step 3; instead, mix together the milk, mascarpone, and Parmesan in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta and the sage, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and combine. Proceed with Step 4.

Macaroni and Chile Cheese
For a spicy dish, use a hotter chile or add 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chile with adobo sauce: Use 2 cups grated Jack or cheddar cheese and omit the Parmesan. Add 2 medium poblano or other mild green fresh chiles, roasted, cleaned, and chopped, and about 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, and use crumbled tortilla chips instead of the bread crumbs. Proceed with the recipe, stirring the chiles and cilantro into the pasta in Step 4, then top with the crumbled chips.