Creamy Baked Mac & Cheese

Mac and cheese is comfort food 101. This creamy, cheese version is an elevated take on a classic, with shells swimming in a homemade cheese sauce and topped with a crunchy garlic-y bread crumb topping. Get cozy and pop open a bottle of wine while it’s in the oven.


  • 8 oz pasta (shells or elbows recommended)
  • 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp AP flour
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp hot sauce*
  • Fine sea salt

*I prefer Crystal hot sauce or sambal chili paste when it comes to cheese sauce but it’s a personal preference. You can use whatever you have on hand – I’ve used packets of Taco Bell hot sauce (lol) on more than one occasion.


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta to package directions for al dente, minus 2 minutes. This will keep the pasta from getting mushy (since we’re cooking it twice). Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the milk while whisking constantly. I typically add about 1/4 cup of milk at a time to avoid lumps.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and add the hot sauce, dried mustard, all of the jack cheese, all of the cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese. Add a big pinch of salt. Whisk to incorporate until the cheese is fully melted. Taste and add additional salt as needed. The cheese sauce should taste GOOD.
  5. Add the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce (in the same pan or in a large bowl if your pan isn’t big enough).
  6. In a separate microwave-safe bowl, melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter. Add the breadcrumbs, 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, and the garlic powder and toss to incorporate.
  7. Grease a large casserole dish. Empty the pasta into the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.