Baked macaroni and cheese has bits of jalapenos, red pepper flakes, cheddar cheese, panko topping, and a secret ingredient to make it extra creamy.
Awe, macaroni and cheese! Just typing those words brings back memories of that bright blue box with its bowl of orange, cheese covered noodles.
As a kid, I probably ate my weight in macaroni and cheese a hundred times over. It’s one of those foods that never gets old.
However, once you get a little older, you start to crave a macaroni and cheese that' geared towards adults. Don't get wrong, there's nothing wrong enjoying the boxed versions, just don't deny yourself and adult indulgence from time to time.
Keeping that in mind, we've redone our original baked macaroni and cheese recipe and we're sharing it with you today. It uses a combination of cheddar and cream cheese combined in a simple white sauce.
Resulting in, a creamy, flavorful cheese sauce that's perfect for pasta. The recipe takes a little time, but I promise it's worth the effort! Let's get started.
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese:
First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. and spray a 8-inch casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Additionally, you can go ahead and prep the rest of the ingredients.
Clean and chop jalapenos, making sure to remove the seed and white interior of the pepper. Then, shred 3-ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, measure 2-ounces of cream cheese, and pour 1 cup of milk into a measuring cup.
Set all ingredients aside separately. Next, generously season a large pot of water with salt and bring it to a boil.
You can add your choice of noodles. Elbow, rotini, ziti, penne, or cavatappi noodles work well.
Cook the noodles until they are al dente (firm to the bite). After that, strain the noodles and set them aside.
If it is several minutes before you are ready to use them, consider them in cold water to stop the cooking process and to keep them from getting gummy.
Once the noodles are prepped and set aside, it's time to make the roux. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Afterward, add the flour and whisk everything together to combine. Continue to whisk for 2-3 minutes to cook out any of the raw flour flavor.
Now, toss in the chopped jalapenos, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and paprika. While stirring, let the mixture continue to cook for an additional 30-45 seconds.
Then, slowly pour the milk into the roux and whisk to ensure no flour lumps remain. Continue to stir the mixture until the milk begins to steam, but do not allow it to boil!
After the milk starts to steam, reduce the heat to low, add the cream cheese, and stir the liquid until the cream cheese melts. The mixture will thicken but keep stirring until the all the cream cheese has melted.
Slowly, allow the temperature to come back up slightly, then remove from the heat and add the shredded cheese a little at a time. Whisk the sauce as you add the cheese and ensure all of it, melts before adding more.
Begin by carefully pouring the hot cheese sauce over the cooked noodles and toss the pasta to evenly coat the noodles. It's okay if you have some cheese sauce left over.
Put it to good use and serve it as an appetizer with tortilla chips. With the noodles properly covered in cheese sauce, pour the macaroni and cheese into the prepared dish and top the dish with panko breadcrumbs.
At this point, press down lightly on the breadcrumbs to ensure they stick to the baked macaroni and cheese.
Place the casserole dish into the preheated oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. Turn the broiler on low for the last 2-3 minutes to make the top crunchy and golden brown.
Don’t leave it on broil for too long or the breadcrumbs will burn. Last, remove the baked macaroni and cheese from the oven and serve immediately.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Tips:
First things first, if you don't want to make a roux, then simply increase the cream cheese amount to 8-ounces and skip the flour step.
In other words, sauté the vegetables in the butter, add the milk, bring it to temperature and then stir in the cream cheese and cheddar cheese. It won't be as creamy but it does save you an extra step.
Try using different cheeses instead of the cheddar. For example, gouda or provolone make wonderful baked mac and cheese dishes.
When adding the cheddar cheese, if you find the sauce is cooling to quickly and cheese isn't melting, simply put the pan back over low-heat to warm up again. It's important to note, if you have a gas range, then you really have to babysit this dish.
Recipe Card with Ingredient Amounts and Instructions
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, chopped; adjust to taste
- ¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 ounces block-style cream cheese
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded off the block
- Salt to taste, to taste
- 8 ounces short pasta, cooked
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°F and prep an 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes.4 tablespoons unsalted butter2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Add the jalapenos, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and paprika. Stir to combine and cook for an additional 30 seconds.2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes1 teaspoon garlic powder½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Carefully pour in the milk and whisk to ensure all there are no flour lumps. Heat until the milk steams.2 cups whole milk
- Combine the cream cheese and stir constantly until the cream cheese melts. The mixture will begin to thicken.4 ounces block-style cream cheese
- After the cream cheese melts, remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the cheese a little at a time, stirring intermittently.1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
- Once the cheese is incorporated, taste the sauce and add salt.
- Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and stir to coat.8 ounces short pasta
- Place the macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole dish.
- Place 1 tablespoon of butter and breadcrumbs in a small skillet over low heat. Stir to combine. Continue to stir until the breadcrumbs begin to brown slightly then remove from heat.¾ cup panko breadcrumbs1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Add the panko breadcrumbs and press lightly so the breadcrumbs adhere to the noodles.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.
- To get a crunchy, golden crust, turn the broiler on low for the last 2-3 minutes. Remove and serve.