mac n cheese

A ramekin of baked mac n cheese with buttered breadcrumbs.

Macaroni and cheese.  ‘Nuff said, right?  

It just doesn’t get any better.  When I asked you to share your favorite fall comfort foods, macaroni and cheese quickly rose to the top.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest

I’ve been making it the traditional way for years, starting with a béchamel, adding various grated cheeses and topping it with a breadcrumb crust before baking it off to gooey perfection.  Or at least, I thought it was perfection.  No one had ever complained.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest

But I was at the library recently and I picked up a cookbook by Cooks Illustrated — The Science of Good Cooking.   I tucked it into my bag on a trip to visit Emily at college and while Scott drove, I read.  

Newsletter Signup
Join our community of food lovers!

Get my latest recipes, helpful kitchen tips and more good things each week in your inbox.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest

It drilled down to the chemistry behind why dishes work, why they don’t and how to improve them through alchemy.  As a former pharmaceutical rep, who can tell you everything you need to know about the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, I found the science fascinating.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest

I won’t bore you with all the details, but the section on macaroni and cheese was enlightening.  I always figured you could use any kind of grated cheese, but it turns out that certain types can give your silky cheese sauce, a grainy texture.  OK, maybe that’s  happened to me.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest
Mac N Cheese | Garlic + Zest

The authors said to cook the pasta, just past al dente – evidently, if it’s cooked less, the pasta releases starch into the sauce, making it gritty.  If it’s cooked until soft, the noodles won’t absorb the cheese sauce.   Who knew?

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest

And finally, instead of baking the mac and cheese for 20-30 minutes (like I’ve always done), they advise doing most of the cooking on the stove top, then topping with buttered bread crumbs and running them under the broiler for just a few minutes.  This allows the cheese sauce to maintain its smooth, creamy texture without drying it out while simultaneously achieving a crunchy buttery topping that feels like it was baked into the casserole. 

mac n cheese in a ramekin

Of course, I had to do my own research.    

The results:  theirs definitely had a creamier consistency.  The ratio of cheese sauce to pasta seemed like overkill when I was making it, but it yielded just the right gooey-ness.  Don’t make this in advance.  To get the full benefit of the cheese-y sauce and crispy crumb, make it just before you plan to eat.  There will be no leftovers.

mac n cheese | Garlic + Zest
Print Pin
5 from 1 vote

Mac N Cheese

The starting point for the ultimate comfort food
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword cheddar, cheese, macaroni, pasta
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4


  • 3 slices bread torn into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter divided, chilled
  • 4-5 sprigs parsley
  • ½ pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 teaspoons salt divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ⅛ -1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk warmed in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese about 1 cup, shredded
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese about 1 cup, shredded


  • Adjust your oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the broiler.
  • Pulse bread, 1 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter (cut into small cubes) and parsley in a food processor to coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  • Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt. When salt is dissolved, add macaroni. Boil, stirring occasionally until macaroni is tender — just past al dente. Drain pasta. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, mustard, remaining salt and cayenne pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly while flour mixture bubbles, about 1 minute. Add milk a little at a time, whisking constantly and scraping bottom and corners of the pan until thickened – about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and add the grated cheeses, stirring until completely melted and incorporated into the sauce.
  • Add macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.
  • Transfer the macaroni and cheese into an 8×8 casserole dish or individual 1/2 or 3/4 cup ramekins (depends on how much you want per serving) set on top of a baking sheet. Top with breadcrumbs and put under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. (Keep an eye on this step – you don’t want it to get away from you!)
  • Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.


In the past I’ve made my bechamel thicker than what they’ve called for here, but what I found by following their recipe, is that even though the white sauce seems thin — after the cheese is added and then incorporated into the macaroni, it thickens nicely and produces the perfect consistency for the cheese sauce.


Calories: 573kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 77mg | Sodium: 388mg | Potassium: 478mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 990IU | Calcium: 408mg | Iron: 1.2mg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. fourminustwoJo says:

    5 stars
    MY family loves Mac & cheese. I am going to try this recipe.

  2. OMG, this looks Amazing!!