Look, I make plenty of healthy pasta dishes (including a lower calorie light mac and cheese), but holiday mac and cheese is not something I compromise on. This is my special occasion, indulgent and creamy macaroni and cheese. This is the kind of mac and cheese that slows you down and makes you savor it mac and cheese.
If you have a pot-luck, a friend that needs some extra love and care, or just a holiday or special occasion you want to show off at, this is the mac and cheese you bring.
Viral Tik Tok Mac and Cheese Baked
This mac and cheese got a lot of traction of Tik Tok and Instagram. In fact, this mac and cheese went viral with over 7 MILLION views as this post is being updated. This went viral for good reason--it is that good.
Can I use shredded cheese to make mac and cheese?
Don’t you dare put pre-shredded cheese in this mac and cheese in this. It is forbidden. Even the slightly fancier one. Nope. Indulgent mac and cheese works best with cheese you grate yourself. The reason why you don't use shredded cheese is actually because the anti-clumping agents in shredded cheese make it not as meltable compared to hand (or food processor) shredded cheese.
Use a cheese grater for your cheese. Speaking of cheese, get some good stuff. If you want to get funky with it, Food Network has a whole article about different cheese pairings. Personally I prefer Sharp Cheddar + a Secondary Cheese.
What cheese to use in mac and cheese
My go-to, simple mac and cheese usually relies on sharp cheddar and a secondary cheese. Usually I stick to Colby Jack, Monterey Jack, Swiss, or Smoked Gouda. If I use Smoked Gouda, I tend to pair it with another cheese so the smokiness doesn't overpower it--like half swiss and half gouda.
For Thanksgiving, I make a white mac and cheese with sharp white cheddar and swiss. Sometimes I add a pinch of nutmeg and some fresh thyme to tie it in and make it feel fall-ish. White Cheddar and Swiss is the cheese combo I use when making a version of Panera Mac and Cheese at home for my girls (same basic recipe but I throw in some white American Cheese too and go easier on the buffalo sauce).
Cheddar and Colby Jack is great for a nice, yellow mac for barbecues and football season. It is a classic combo and it pairs great with barbecue. Pro tip, top my mac and cheese with some easy slow cooker pulled pork.
Of course, you can use any cheese you like. I find myself clearing the fridge with leftover cheese for mac and cheese after any party. One of my favorite traditions is making a cheese sauce New Years Day with the leftover New Years Eve Cheese to start my year with cheesy roasted potatoes (Yancey’s Fancy Cheddar makes a Champagne Cheddar that sort of tasted like a fancy Handi Snacks cheese and I have it every year). I also really like using Trader Joe's Cheddar-Gruyere for a fancier mac and cheese.
Fold in the Cheese (and other techniques)
Assembling the sauce is way easier than you may think. You are going to start with melted butter and some flour. Technically, you should start with equal parts butter and flour but technically nobody will be upset with more butter.
When you mix the flour into the butter, keep the heat on medium and continuously whisk. The butter will start browning and smell nutty (think grilled cheese smell) and the roux will expand with each swipe of the whisk or wooden spoon. This is when you add your milk of choice.
When you add the milk, whisk in slowly and stir until smooth. I do this a little at a time to keep the consistency what I want. Once it is smooth, add dijon, hotsauce, and a pinch of salt.
Once your milk is whisked in and smooth, you’ll start folding in the cheese. First, start with the cream cheese. The cream cheese helps keep things smooth and thick.
Before folding in the remaining cheese, turn the heat down low to not burn the sauce. Gently stir the cheese in with a spoon or whisk until fully melted. If it is too thick, add some more milk. It is always easier to thin out the cheese sauce than thicken it. To thicken, you’ll need more cheese.
Assembling Make Ahead Mac and Cheese
Take your dish you’ll cook your indulgent mac and cheese and butter the dish. Add 1/3 cheese sauce, 1/2 the noodles, 1/3 of the shredded cheese, 1/3 the sauce, second half of the noodles, the rest of the sauce, and mix. Top the mac and cheese with remaining cheese. For reference, my mac and cheese fills a 14.25"Wx10"Dx3"H lasagna pan.
Bake the mac and cheese for 20 minutes of 350°F or store in the refrigerator for later. If storing for later, cook with aluminum foil covering until heated through (about 30 minutes). I finish my macaroni and cheese with a broil on high until bubbly. This is optional, but magical. If you are not into broiling, crank the heat to 425 for a few minutes; either way, keep an eye on your mac and cheese to not burn the top.
- 2 lb. Elbow Macaroni
- 1.5 lb. Cheddar Cheese
- 1 lb. Monterey Jack Cheese
- 3 oz. Parmesan Cheese
- 8oz. Cream Cheese
- ½ lb. Salted Butter + more for dish
- 4 cups Heavy Cream
- 1 cup Whole Milk
- ¼ cup Flour
- 2 tbsp. Hot Sauce
- 2 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
- Kosher Salt
- Boil pasta in heavily salted water 2 minutes under al dente.
- In a separate pot, melt butter and whisk in flour to make a roux.
- Add hot sauce, dijon mustard, and slowly add in heavy cream while whisking.
- Turn heat low and add cream cheese and whisk until smooth.
- Add in ⅓ of the shredded cheese and whisk until smooth.
- Add milk and whisk until smooth.
- Add ⅓ cheese sauce to the bottom of the pan.
- Add macaroni, shredded cheese, and more cheese sauce. Continue the layered pattern until all macaroni and cheese is in the dish.
- Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes and finish with a broil until bubbly.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 604Total Fat: 49gSaturated Fat: 30gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 159mgSodium: 600mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 19g