Rich and Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
This rich and creamy stovetop Mac and Cheese is Quick & Easy to make (approx 30-35 min), extra creamy and makes for the ultimate comfort food. It is the perfect side dish or meatless main dish. Time to ditch the boxed mac and cheese for this irresistibly creamy, smooth & cheesy homemade recipe! This is a no fail recipe unlike many other stovetop recipes I have tried. It’s straight forward and not finicky at all. I’m still on the search and testing a true one pot stovetop Mac and cheese but one that is dead simple and no fail. So far I’m happier with this version - although not a true one pot meal (pasta and sauce cook separately) it’s still the best one I have tried - quickest and no fail creamy texture every time.
Mac and Cheese Ingredients
Basic ingredients that you can easily get at the grocery store make up this extra creamy Mac and cheese recipe- here is the breakdown:
- Pasta – We usually use elbow or these cavatappie ones. Feel free to use any type of pasta that you have on hand or like but I do recommend a short pasta shape (bowties, rotini, etc.) instead of spaghetti noodles, but they do work if it’s all you have! You can also use gluten-free pasta, whole wheat pasta, chickpea pasta, etc. etc. Just cook it according to the package.
- Butter and Flour – This combines together to create a roux that is used to thicken the cheese sauce. I use unsalted butter and all purpose flour. There are a few substitutions that work well for the flour including corn starch, tapioca starch/flour, and all-purpose gluten-free flour. I do not recommend whole wheat flour, as it give this mac and cheese recipe a wheat taste.
- Milk – Any variety of milk will work, just remember that the higher the fat content the creamier your mac and cheese will be. I always use whole milk. Some have made this recipe using broth or stock in its place and it works too if you wanted a bit of a lighter version. It just won’t even as creamy or rich.
- Cream - I use heavy cream but half and half will work too
- Cheese – I used a combination of white cheddar and yellow but you could use any combination or keep it to one cheese. NOTE: The quality of the cheese that you use in this homemade mac and cheese recipe really matters. If you wouldn’t eat it by itself, then don’t use it to make mac and cheese! I recommend a high-quality medium to sharp cheddar cheese for the best flavor!
- Salt & Pepper - Add these ingredients to taste!
- Garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard & hot sauce - These are optional but I think they add just a touch of flavor that takes this mac and cheese recipe up a notch without making it unpalatable to kids. Adjust the amount to your family’s tastes!
Mac and cheese add ins:
As always, feel free to stir in any of your desired mix-ins as well if you’d like, such as:
- Proteins: cooked chicken, bacon, shrimp, etc.
- Veggies: I love adding roasted veggies to my mac and cheese and greens like baby spinach, or other flavourful veggies like sun-dried tomatoes, or artichokes.
- Nuts: Pine nuts, toasted almonds, etc.
- Seasonings: Switch things up with Cajun seasoning, Italian seasoning,…you name it.
Classic mac and cheese is made with a good sharp cheddar cheese, but you can also switch things up and use another kind of cheese, or a combination of cheeses. You want to be sure that whatever cheese you use is a good melting cheese. Gouda, brie, provolone, goat cheese, mozzarella, Gruyère (my personal fav), fontina, and asiago cheese are all commonly found cheeses that are good for melting.
How to make this creamy stovetop Mac and cheese:
This easy mac and cheese recipe is super fast-paced once you start cooking, so it’s important to have all the ingredients measured and ready to go! Here is the break down:
- Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions. Be sure to add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water. It may seem like an insignificant step, but it makes a huge difference in the overall taste of this mac and cheese (or any pasta dish for that matter)
- Make the cheese sauce while the pasta cooks, melt the butter in another pot, then stir in the flour and cook it for a few minutes until golden. Slowly whisk in the cream and milk, followed by the seasonings. The sauce will start to thicken up after a few minutes. Slowly whisk in the cheese
- Drain the pasta, add it to the pot with the cheesy sauce, and toss and serve and enjoy while it’s hot.
Tips & tricks for this creamy mac and cheese:
- Measure out all of your ingredients and have them ready when you start the sauce. This is especially true of the cheese as it shouldn’t be cold when added to the base.
- The creamy sauce should still be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce will thicken when you add the cheese and also when the pasta is added and as it cools. So don’t worry about cooking the sauce until it’s super thick before adding the cheese. Stick to the time notations in the directions.
- This recipe is best eaten fresh and right away while it’s hot. I don’t recommend making this recipe ahead.
- Be sure to let the roux (flour + butter) cook for a few minutes - this cooks the raw flour taste out and gives the finished dish more flavor.
- Try to cook the pasta and sauce at the same time if possible- that way it’s quicker to make and the hot drained pasta mixes better into the sauce.
More creamy pasta dishes you will love:
- 1 lb. medium pasta shells, or elbow macaroni
For the roux
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
Cheddar cheese sauce
- 3 cups Cheddar, shredded, I used a blend of white and yellow cheddar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
For the seasonings
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon hot sauce, optional
Shred the Cheese
- Shred the cheese first and set aside. It should be close to room temperature when added to the sauce. Don’t use pre shredded - see recipes notes.
Boil the Pasta
- Boil a large pot of salted water and cook according to pasta package instructions. Drain well when finished.
Make the Cheese Sauce
- Make sauce while the water boils and the pasta cooks. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook whisking for 1 minute, until it begins to turn a light golden color.
- Slowly whisk in the heavy cream and milk. Whisk and cook for approx 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the seasonings and hot sauce if using.
- Reduce heat to low. Slowly one little handful at a time sprinkle in the shredded cheese, stirring as you add it.
- Whisk continuously until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat.
- Add boiled pasta and stir to combine. Serve while hot.
- Storage: Refrigerate for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat stovetop or in the microwave. If the sauce is a little dry after reheating, mix in a splash of milk, cream or broth to make it creamy again.
- Baked mac and cheese: If you have a little extra time, you can bake the macaroni and cheese to give it a golden crust. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into a casserole dish, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter if desired, and bake uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the interior is bubbly.
- Can I use pre-shredded cheese?: Pre-shredded cheeses are mixed with either potato starch, powdered cellulose, and natamycin, or a combination of the three to prevent clumping. These agents have an impact on how the cheese melts. For best result use freshly shredded cheese as it melts better, but pre-shredded cheese can also be used in a pinch. The results may not be as velvety smooth, but it’ll still taste delicious.