Homemade Southern Baked Mac & Cheese
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This homemade southern baked mac and cheese recipe is comfort food at its finest. It’s cheesy, creamy, and full of warming spices that’ll make you feel at home. I love how easy southern baked mac and cheese is to make. It’s great for any day of the week!
Macaroni and cheese is one of my childhood favorites and I still ask my mom to make it for me whenever I visit her. But since she lives far away, I had to start experimenting with mac and cheese recipes on my own.
After trying everything from Brie Mac and Cheese to New Orleans Mac and Cheese, I decided to give homemade southern style baked mac and cheese a try. And wow, it blew me away. So, if you were wondering “how do you make southern baked macaroni and cheese from scratch?”, then you’ve come to the right place.
pepper or more Cajun seasoning. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted and browned, and the filling is bubbling. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving and dig in!
- 8 oz. elbow macaroni
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 ½ cup whole milk
- 1 13 oz can of evaporated milk
- 8 oz extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
- 8 oz mild cheese such as Monterey jack mild cheddar, gouda, fontina, or provolone
- 8 oz cream cheese room temperature
- 1 tsp. salt or more to taste
- 1 tsp. creole or Cajun seasoning
- ½ tsp. mustard powder
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- Freshly ground pepper for topping
- All ingredients ready? Let's begin!
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9×13-inch pan with butter or spray with cooking spray and set aside.
- Cook macaroni in salted water according to package instructions. Drain, and stir 2 tablespoons of butter into the macaroni until melted.
- While the pasta is boiling, shred the cheese blocks into a large bowl, combine evenly, and set about half of the mixture aside for later.
- In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese, then whisk in evaporated milk until as smooth as possible.
- Mix in the whole milk, the salt, creole or Cajun seasoning, mustard powder, and nutmeg. Stir in half of the shredded cheese mixture until combined. Taste the mixture and season to your preference if needed. Then stir in the beaten egg. Add buttered macaroni and stir to combine.
- Pour the unbaked mac-n-cheese into the prepared baking pan.
- Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese on top, and sprinkle some freshly ground pepper or more Cajun seasoning. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted and browned, and the filling is bubbling. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving and dig in!
Notes & Tips
- The number one rule to making beautifully cheesy baked macaroni in cheese is shredding the cheese yourself. Store-bought pre-shredded cheese is coated in preservatives that interfere with the texture of the cheese and don’t allow it to melt the same.
- Don’t skip the butter. Buttering the macaroni before adding them to the milk/cheese mixture creates a layer so that the pasta won’t absorb any of the liquid from the sauce. This ensures you’ll have a creamy custardy cheese sauce. It also prevents the macaroni from sticking to each other while you’re prepping the cheese mixture.
- If you don’t mind overcooked pasta, you can even cook the macaroni for 2 minutes longer than the package instructions. This will also help to create an extra creamy sauce.
- Don’t add more than 1 teaspoon of salt before you taste the cheese mixture. Extra sharp white cheddar cheese is pretty salty, and cream cheese, as well as creole seasoning, also have added salt. You can always add more after if needed.
- A good homemade southern baked mac and cheese has a combination of 3 different types of cheeses – extra sharp, mild, and creamy. Here’s a list of the best cheese for southern baked mac and cheese:
- For the extra sharp cheese, my favorite and classic option here is extra-sharp white cheddar cheese. But you could also use Colby cheese or even parmesan cheese. I’d replace half of the sharp cheddar with parmesan and the other half with American cheese. If you are looking for more sharp cheddar cheese options check my taste test of cheddar cheeses, the majority of my favorites were more sharp varieties of cheddar.
- For the mild cheese try Monterey jack, mild cheddar, gouda, fontina, or provolone. You can also use mozzarella, swiss cheese, or Edam.
- For the creamy cheese, I used Philadelphia cream cheese, but you can also use mascarpone, sour cream, or ricotta. These Italian soft cheeses are a great addition to this easy southern baked mac and cheese recipe.
Substitutions & Variations
If you’re asking yourself, can you make baked mac and cheese with shells pasta? The answer is yes! Personally, I like the classic elbow pasta associated with mac-n-cheese, but you can substitute shells and follow the same instructions above.
You can make this southern baked mac and cheese recipe with breadcrumbs to level it up even more. To make the breadcrumb topping, place a small pan over medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add a teaspoon of minced garlic, stir for bout 30 seconds, and then toss in ¾ cup of breadcrumbs, and saute for 3-4 minutes until slightly toasted. Season with salt and pepper if desired and top the mac-n-cheese with breadcrumbs before baking.
The evaporated milk is another secret ingredient in this recipe and it adds extra protein. But you can make this Southern baked mac and cheese recipe without evaporated milk by replacing it with half-and-half or a mixture of equal parts heavy cream and water.
I think the egg is quintessential to homemade southern style baked mac and cheese. But if you don’t like the custard texture the egg gives this recipe, you can omit it and add a bit more cream cheese or evaporated milk instead.
To make this recipe lower in dairy, you can substitute the whole milk for vegan unsweetened full-fat milk or half unsweetened almond milk and half non-dairy creamer. It’s a great way to reduce the dairy content without compromising the flavor of this dish.
Can I substitute condensed milk for evaporated milk?
Absolutely not, condensed milk, unlike evaporated milk, is sweetened and not suitable for savory dishes such as this southern baked mac and cheese. You can substitute evaporated milk for condensed milk in desserts to make them less sweet. But it doesn’t work the other way around.
Can You Make Baked Mac And Cheese Ahead Of Time?
Yes! Simply follow the instructions through step 6 and then cover the unbaked macaroni and cheese with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 1-2 days. Before baking, let the dish sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes, then follow step 7.
You can also store the unbaked mac-n-cheese in the freezer, well-covered, for up to 3 months. Before baking, let the dish thaw in the fridge for at least 8 hours.
Alternatively, you can portion out the leftover macaroni and cheese and freeze it in airtight containers until ready to eat. Let it thaw before heating up or heat it in 2-minute bursts in the microwave if you don’t mind mushy mac-n-cheese.
Of course, freshly baked homemade macaroni in cheese is always best, but meal-prepping is an excellent time saver. Make this delectable southern baked mac and cheese whenever you’re craving some comfort food or gathering with loved ones.
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