Take a break from the blue box mac. Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese is the epitome of comfort food! The irresistible garlic butter breadcrumb-topped casserole is a surprisingly easy dinner recipe, calling for just 10 minutes of prep time.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2 quart or larger casserole dish. Bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain well. Do not overcook and do not rinse macaroni.
Return pot to stovetop. Over medium heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter until foaming. Whisk in flour and cook until bubbling but not browned, about 1 minute. Whisk in milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted.
Fold in macaroni and stir until uniformly combined. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce, if desired. Pour into prepared casserole dish.
In a medium bowl, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in microwave. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and toss until evenly coated.
Pour breadcrumbs over macaroni. Bake until sauce is bubbling and breadcrumbs have browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
Macaroni: Any bite-size pasta is fine. Pick a favorite shape; something that will cling to the cheese sauce and deliver it right into your mouth. Cavatappi, farfalle, rotini, penne, rigatoni, ziti, orecchiette would also work wonderfully.
Milk: Any fat percentage of milk you like. To make it even more indulgent, replace some of the milk in the recipe with evaporated milk.
Cheese: My version of Baked Mac and Cheese calls for equal parts shredded cheddar and gruyère for creaminess and cheese-forward results. But feel free to mix things up with white cheddar, goat cheese, pepper jack, Velveeta, mozzarella, smoked cheddar, fontina, or even blue cheese. For depth of flavor, choose at least two. (Twist my arm!)
Yield: This Baked Mac and Cheese makes nine 1-cup servings, ideal for dinner and complete round of leftovers for a small family.
Storage: Transfer leftovers to an airtight container or cover the casserole with foil or plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Make ahead: Make it, just don't bake it. Follow this Baked Mac and Cheese recipe through Step 4, then wait to add the breadcrumbs and bake. Cover the prepared casserole in foil and store it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Bake covered (still at 350 degrees) for 20 minutes or until heated through, then add the breadcrumbs and finish in the oven for 20 minutes.
Freezer: You can freeze the casserole before or after baking, but it stays creamier if you freeze it before the final bake; that way it isn't heated up twice. Wrap tightly in plastic and foil, label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.