What’s an easy weeknight dinner and the ultimate comfort food? If in your head you’re thinking, ‘a macaroni and cheese recipe with bread crumbs,’ I have to agree!
Whenever the craving for creamy macaroni comes up, luckily, I have a recipe that’s sure to be the best baked mac you’ve ever tasted!
The addition of panko breadcrumbs to the top of homemade macaroni makes for a supreme, crunchy topping on a dish that’s great served with a hearty salad or as a side dish to a complementing protein. Plus, this is such an easy way to enjoy one of the greatest inventions of all time: cheese!
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There’s plenty of other recipes for the best mac out there, but many of them have similar complaints: the cheesy sauce is too bland, not thick enough, too runny, and the list goes on.
Classic recipes such as this can often be overthought, but sticking to the basic ingredients and ensuring you’re cooking them properly can assist you in achieving the perfect plate of food.
Finding an easy recipe that also holds up in the flavor department shouldn’t be a difficult task, so here on North of Bleu, we’d like to share our easy baked macaroni and cheese recipe for you to try and wholeheartedly enjoy for yourself!
Generally, the types of cheese that can be utilized in any easy mac recipe will vary depending on personal preference, but I highly recommend using freshly grated cheese straight off the block!
Pre-shredded cheese won’t melt as evenly and can cause clumpiness in your homemade cheese sauce, so it’s always better to take that little bit of extra time to grate your cheese by hand.
You can use just milk if it’s what you have in your kitchen, but I’ve found that the most optimal combination to avoid the mac and cheese bake from coming out too watery is to use a combination of ½ cup milk, 2 cups of evaporated milk, and ½ cup sour cream.
I’ll explain how to do everything shortly for the best results that’ll seriously leave you speechless!
What Type of Pasta Should I Use?
Typically, the pasta most used for macaroni dishes is the infamous elbow macaroni noodle. As different brands of macaroni cook to al dente at different rates, you’re going to have to simply follow the instructions listed on the container.
Other cylindrical pastas that can be made useful for creamy baked mac are penne, rigatoni, and ziti, but corkscrew shaped noodles also are a real treat in this dish.
Rotini, fusilli, gemelli, and riccioli are all great ideas, and sometimes I’ll even replace the macaroni noodles for shells.
Discover what pasta is your go-to pick and always be sure to cook the noodles in boiling water that has been salted enough to taste like the sea. Here’s my favorite brand of gluten-free pasta that I now use for all my pasta dishes.
What Type of Cheeses Can Be Used?
For my recipe, I call for the use of 2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese and ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese, so I totally recommend that, but you can actually play with a different cheese or three if that’s more your style.
Additionally, I’ll use non-dairy white cheddar cheese instead of sharp cheddar because that creamy macaroni is nice paired with grilled chicken, pork chops, or several other of my easy weeknight dinner ideas.
After taking some time to hear the advice of others, it also appears as though pepper jack, Monterey jack, and Colby cheeses make for a deluxe dining experience, with gruyere and pecorino Romano cheeses coming in as another popular option for a mac and cheese recipe.
Remember to hand grate your own cheese for optimal smoothness and feel free to omit or add extra cheese if your heart desires. Perhaps on your second time cooking my macaroni and cheese recipe with bread crumbs, try replacing one-half of the cheddar with mozzarella cheese for an epic taste twist!
If you’re dairy-free or plant-based, you can always modify this recipe for some amazing non-dairy options. Here’s one of my favorite brands of non-dairy cheese, which in my opinion, tastes like cheese!
What Ingredients Do I Need?
In addition to the dairy ingredients needed (non-dairy if you’re dairy-free) to perfect the classic macaroni casserole, you’ll need 2 tablespoons of butter (salted or unsalted will work fine) and an additional ¼ cup butter for the breadcrumb topping. Half a cup of breadcrumbs will suffice.
There’s a couple of seasonings you’ll want to include that will bring all of your ingredients together.
Part of what takes this dish to the next level is the dedication put in to making sure it starts off with a rich béchamel sauce, which is what you’ll be needing the tablespoons of the butter for, as well as 2 ½ tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
The seasonings for the flour mixture mentioned will include 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of mustard powder (you can also use worcestershire sauce!), and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder or your favorite hot sauce.
I’ll tip my hat to you if you’re someone who makes your pasta fresh at home, but alternatively, it is okay to use store bought noodles if that is more available to you.
You’re going to need 16 ounces of uncooked elbow macaroni, which yields about 8 servings.
This dish is so grand, it is often that I find myself even making it for dinner solely on its own for a delightful meal.
All of the ingredients used are inexpensive, and honestly the only downside to this recipe is that it requires you to wash dishes- but so does every recipe worth any amount of time and effort spent in the kitchen!
How To Make A Macaroni and Cheese Recipe With Bread Crumbs
So many hands raise whenever you ask a group if a velvety treat like homemade macaroni is their favorite pasta to eat year round, but the individuality of each mac and cheese dish that those in the room could bring to the table is truly phenomenal.
Despite how versatile and customizable the cheese sauce and overall recipe is, one thing remains certain across the board: you’ve got to gently whisk your béchamel sauce, and slowly add in the cheese, stirring constantly at a medium-low heat setting.
Here are the easy steps I take when cooking the perfect mac and cheese casserole dish with panko bread crumbs:
- Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 191 degrees Celsius. Use cooking spray to line a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- Warm your milk, evaporated milk, and sour cream over medium heat in a medium saucepan, whisking until well combined and melted completely. Do not boil. Now is a perfectly good time to start boiling your salted water for pasta in a medium pot and get those noodles in as soon as the water is ready!
- In a high-sided, large saucepan, begin to melt butter over moderate heat, about at medium. Once you start to see the melted butter begin to bubble, you may add the flour. Keep on whisking the flour into your 2 tablespoons butter for one minute to complete the roux.
- While whisking, go slow and pour in the hot milk. If the mixture bubbles, use the back of your spoon to tell if it’s the right amount of thickness to be done. Any coated layer that remains in place should be an excellent indication that it’s done; too much sauce dripping back into the pan and sliding off the back of the spoon tells you that the mixture is yet to be completed and you’ll need to cook it for some time more.
- Don’t forget about your noodles! After following the pasta box’s instructions, strain, and let the pasta rest until the next step.
- Remove the pan from heat. Now, add in your salt, black pepper, dry mustard, garlic powder, cayenne powder, sharp cheddar cheese, and parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- Finally, in a small saucepan, you’re going to bring the remaining butter to a liquid state over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs, and stir until lightly browned.
- Mix your macaroni noodles and cheese mixture, blending well. Transfer macaroni to your prepared baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top! Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Serve!
- 16 oz elbow macaroni pasta - cooked
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp Miyoko's butter - or butter of your choice
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups Ripple unsweetened pea milk - or milk of your choice (see notes below)
- 1 cup Silk Dairy-Free Heavy Whipping Cream - or heavy whipping cream of your choice
- 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese - or non-dairy alternative
- 2 cups Gruyère cheese
- 2 tbsp Miyoko's butter - melted
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded - or non-dairy alternative
- ¼ tsp paprika
- salt and pepper - to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lighly grease a 3 or 4 quart baking dish and set aside.
- Combine shredded cheeses in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
- Cook the pasta 1 minute shy of al dente according to the package instructions. Remove from heat, drain and place in a large bowl.
- Drizzle pasta with olive oil and set aside.
- Melt butter in a dutch oven, deep saucepan or stock pot.
- Whisk in flour over medium heat and continue whisking for 1 minute until bubbly and golden brown.
- Gradually whisk in milk and heavy whipping cream until smooth. Continue whisking until bubbles surface. Continue whisking and cooking for another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
- Add 2 cups of shredded cheese and whisk until smooth. Add another 2 cups of shredded cheese and continue whisking until smooth. The sauce should be nice and thick.
- Stir in the pasta and coat with the sauce. The pasta should be fully coated with the cheese sauce.
- Pour half of the macaroni and cheese into the baking dish. Add the remaining 2 cups of shredded cheese and then add the remaining macaroni and cheese on top.
- In a small bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, melted butter and paprika. Sprinkle over the top and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
What type of milk can I use for this recipe?Using this recipe, I recommend using Ripple milk, or cashew milk for it’s creamy texture. I don’t recommend coconut milk as it will change the flavor of the macaroni and cheese to a sweet flavor, which doesn’t taste good in my opinion. If you are looking for other milk options, you can use regular whole milk instead.
What types of non-dairy cheese can I use in this recipe?If you prefer to make this recipe vegan or dairy-free, you can use any plant-based cheese of your choice. My favorite brand of plant-based parmesan cheese is Follow Your Heart, as it is the closest flavor to real parmesan cheese. You can find sharp cheddar cheese, parmesan and many other variations for this recipe by many different brands. The choices are endless!
Leftovers and Reheating Instructions
Thankfully, any leftovers from my macaroni and cheese recipe with bread crumbs can be saved for up to 3 or 5 days in the refrigerator when kept in an airtight container, or medium bowl sealed with plastic wrap for smaller portions.
This is a great way I’ve found to incorporate a rich spin on lunchtime, and it’s always a killer hit on leftover night at my house! Accordingly, reheating this casserole dish is truly as simple as it gets and can be ready in a matter of just 20 minutes.
Spray a baking dish of the appropriate size for your serving, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (191 degrees Celsius), cover the dish holding your casserole with foil, and heat the tasty mac for 20 minutes. Voilà!
Understandably, most home cooks and chefs alike favor making only the highest quality of a meal if it requires time to cook as well as purchasing fresh cheese.
That’s why all of the attention to detail is spent on flavoring up the béchamel sauce, using block cheese grated by your own hand, and whisking the mix together with grace and minimal heat.
You’re sure to love this recipe just as much as we do, and for one final tip, try adding cooked bacon and roughly ¼ teaspoon of paprika to the panko breadcrumbs next time prior to topping it to the macaroni and cheese!