Best Ultimate Make-Ahead Creamy Macaroni and Cheese is elegant enough to serve for special occasions but easy enough to serve during the week. Its creamy, ooey gooey cheesy goodness makes it the ultimate comfort food for any time, especially as a holiday side dish for Thanksgiving and Christmas! It can even be served as a main dish.
Because this recipe can be made ahead of time, it’s perfect for that busy holiday season when you want to save time to be with friends and family.
If you’ve never made homemade macaroni and cheese before, it might seem unnerving, especially if served at a holiday feast. Not to worry – it really is an easy mac and cheese recipe to make involving the basic steps described below.
Ingredients: Here’s What You’ll Need
- The Macaroni: There’s nothing special here – I used regular dried elbow macaroni.
- The White Sauce: The sauce for the macaroni and cheese starts with a regular bèchamel sauce or white sauce made with unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, Kosher salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and whole milk.
- The Cheeses: I use two kinds of cheese in this recipe – Gruyère cheese and extra sharp Cheddar cheese. However, you could any good melting cheese like Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese. You could also use Parmesan cheese.
- The Topping: For the breadcrumb topping, I use Panko breadcrumbs.
First: Cooking the Macaroni
- The first thing I did was cook the macaroni in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions.
- Once the macaroni was al dente, I drained it in a wire mesh strainer and rinsed it well with cold water. Then, I set the cooked macaroni aside while I made the cheese sauce.
Second: Making the Creamy Cheese Sauce
- Once the macaroni was cooked, I melted part of the butter in the same saucepan as I had used for the macaroni.
Then, I whisked in the flour. I let the roux cook over medium heat for several minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste.
- Next, I added the milk. I whisked the sauce over medium heat until it was thickened and bubbly.
- I removed the pan from the heat and added part of the Cheddar cheese, all of the Gruyère cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
I whisked the mixture until the cheeses had melted and the sauce was creamy smooth.
Finally: Finishing the Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese
- Once the cheese sauce was ready, I added the cooked macaroni. I stirred the mixture until the macaroni was nicely coated.
- Then, I poured the macaroni into a greased casserole dish.
- I topped the macaroni and cheese with additional Cheddar cheese and sprinkled on the Panko bread crumbs. Finally, I dotted the top with some butter.
- At this point, I covered the macaroni and cheese and refrigerated it for the next day. I could have gone ahead and baked it at this point as well.
- The next day, I baked the macaroni and cheese in a 375°F oven for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, it was hot and bubbly, and the top was golden brown.
The Ultimate Make-Ahead Macaroni and Cheese was a classic Mac and cheese taken to the next level. It was creamy, cheesy, full of extra richness, and certain to become a family favorite recipe. Yum!
Frequently Asked Questions
I like to shred my cheese, but you can definitely use pre-shredded cheese in this recipe.
You can use regular bread crumbs in place of the Panko breadcrumbs. You can also use crushed ritz crackers or regular breadcrumbs.
I like to use sharp Cheddar cheese and Gruyère in this recipe. But any good melty cheese can be used. Feel free to experiment.
This can absolutely be cut down. Here are the measures that I use when I make half the recipe:
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt, divided
8 ounces of dried elbow macaroni
2 cups milk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
2 ½ cups (10 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
This recipe makes delicious leftovers. I generally reheat the leftovers in the microwave for several minutes until fully heated. You could also reheat them in a 350° F oven for about 15 minutes if you wanted to preserve the crunchiness of the Panko breadcrumbs.
The macaroni and cheese freezes beautifully. If you bake it frozen, I would add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time.
If you’d prefer a quicker Mac & Cheese, check out Susan’s Easy Stove-Top Mac & Cheese. It’s amazing.
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Ultimate Make Ahead Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Kosher salt divided
- 16 ounces dried elbow macaroni
- 4 cups (32-ounces) milk (See Tip 1)
- 8 Tablespoons (1 stick, 4-ounces) unsalted butter, divided
- ½ cup (2.5-ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ cups (10-ounces) Gruyère cheese, shredded
- 4 ½ cups (18-ounces) sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (See Tip 2)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs (See Tip 3)
- Preheat the oven to 375° F. Spray a 3-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water with 1 Tablespoon of Kosher salt to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, for 9 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water; drain completely. Set aside.
- Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot; whisk in the flour. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Whisk in the milk and cook for several more minutes, until bubbly and thickened.
- Remove pan from heat; add 3 cups of the Cheddar cheese, all of the Gruyère cheese, ½ tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir until all of the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy and smooth.
- Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
- Top macaroni and cheese with remaining 1-½ cups Cheddar Cheese and Panko breadcrumbs mixed. Dot with remaining butter.
- May be prepared in advance up to this point, covered, and refrigerated. (See Tip 4)
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the top is golden brown. (See Tip 5)
- Yield: 10 to 12 Servings.
- I used whole milk in this recipe, but you could also use low-fat milk.
- I’ve made this with regular cheddar cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese. All are delicious.
- Rather than Panko breadcrumbs, you can use regular plain breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers.
- If prepared ahead of time, the macaroni will absorb some of the liquid as it sits. Therefore, increase the amount of milk to 4 ½ cups.
- If you’re baking this after it’s been in the refrigerator, you will need to add 5 to 10 minutes to the baking times.
I originally posted the Ultimate Make-Ahead Macaroni and Cheese on December 25, 2017. Since then, it has been my go-to recipe for an amazing macaroni and cheese.
In this re-post, I added new pictures and updated text. I also included the measurements that I use when I cut the recipe in half. In fact, the pictures that I used are for a half recipe.