Bake up the cheesiest white cheddar mac and cheese for the ultimate comfort food. This recipe is made with Gouda and white cheddar cheese, then topped with a pretzel crust.
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There's not much better than a big bowl of hot, ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese.
The great thing about mac and cheese is how versatile it is. It's one of my favorite comfort foods during the cold winter months, but it's also a great side dish for summer BBQs.
While all mac and cheese is delicious, you're going to especially love this homemade white cheddar version. It's an easy recipe to follow that has a delicious rich white sauce all over the noodles.
Trust me, you won't even want the boxed version anymore!
What You'll Learn In This Recipe
- Tips for making the best homemade mac and cheese, including what cheese melts well.
- The French mother sauce that's used to make the creamy cheese sauce for macaroni.
- How to customize this recipe to make it your own with various mix-ins or toppings.
To learn even more kitchen lessons like these, sign up for my free 5-day email series with helpful tips to become a better home chef.
Ingredients You'll Need
Let's talk about the ingredients you'll need to make homemade cheesy macaroni and cheese:
- Fusilli pasta: Something about spiral fusilli pasta makes this white cheddar mac and cheese so much more fun! Another type of pasta such as elbow macaroni, cavatappi, or rotini would also be great noodles for this dish.
- Unsalted butter: The butter is used as part of the base for the béchamel sauce as well as the pretzel topping. If you prefer a saltier dish, you can substitute salted butter.
- All purpose flour: Flour is key to creating a thick and creamy sauce. A gluten free 1:1 flour substitute will also work in this recipe.
- Whole milk: The additional fat in whole milk is so important for the béchamel cheese sauce. Don't try to use a lower fat content or plant-based milk for this recipe.
- Gouda cheese: The key to good mac and cheese is high-quality cheese. Be sure it's freshly grated. The pre-shredded cheese at the grocery store has an anti-caking agent that doesn't allow it to melt as easily as freshly grated cheese.
- Sharp white cheddar cheese: A white sharp cheddar provides some of the best flavor; however, if you'd prefer, you can substitute for yellow cheddar cheese.
- Pretzels: This is the base for the mac and cheese topping. The pretzels add the perfect salty bite and crunch on top.
- Garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and onion powder: All of these spices go into the pretzel topping. It adds a great flavor to the entire dish.
How To Make This Recipe
Mise En Place
Mise en place is a French word that roughly translates to 'put in place.' Before you begin cooking this recipe, you should get all of your ingredients prepared and 'put in place' on the counter, so you're ready to cook. These preparation tasks include:
- Grating the cheese.
- Measuring out all of the ingredients.
- Grabbing the kitchen tools you'll need.
Boil The Noodles & Make The Cheese Sauce
Start out by cooking the fusilli pasta according to the package instructions until it's al dente. Don't overcook the pasta at this stage since the white mac and cheese will be baked all together in the oven.
The base of any macaroni and cheese is a classic French mother sauce called béchamel. It's one of the most basic sauces to master. With some practice, you'll be making delicious homemade mac and cheese in no time!
A properly made mac and cheese sauce is rich, creamy, and doesn't contain any lumps or graininess. In order to achieve this, we're going to make a béchamel sauce and add some cheese. Technically, this means we made a Mornay sauce, which is the French term for cheese sauce.
To make a béchamel sauce, we'll need to first melt butter in a saucepan. This whole process should be done over low to medium heat. Low and slow is important for making béchamel.
Once melted (make sure the butter doesn't brown), add in the flour and whisk together for a few minutes. We want to ensure the butter and flour are incorporated, and the raw flour taste can cook off.
From there, add in cold milk, and continue to whisk until the milk is steaming but not boiling. Remove the saucepan from the heat, then slowly add the freshly grated cheese. It takes some patience, but nothing about this process is hard - I promise!
Once the cheese sauce is ready, add the pasta and stir until combined.
Make The Topping
This baked cheddar mac and cheese is topped with a unique crust that's made with pretzels. It adds a nice crust and texture to the dish.
To make the topping, simply pulse the pretzels, some spices, and butter in a food processor. Sprinkle that on top of the mac and cheese and then it's ready to bake!
Homemade macaroni & cheese is so rewarding. It takes some love and a little bit of work, but it's definitely worth the effort. Here are some tips for the best mac and cheese:
- Don't overcook the pasta. It should cook to al dente (still slightly stiff in the middle). The pasta will finish cooking in the oven. Overdone pasta will turn mushy when it absorbs the cheese sauce, so don't over-boil the noodles.
- In order to avoid gritty macaroni and cheese, you'll want to make sure you are adding cold milk to your hot roux (flour and butter mixture). Also equally as important, make sure you are continuously whisking the béchamel sauce throughout the whole cooking process.
- Keep a careful eye on the milk to ensure it doesn't start to boil. Milk boils really quickly compared to other liquids. To avoid a burnt, overcooked flavor, keep an eye on the milk the whole time.
- Remember to remove the saucepan from the heat before adding cheese. We want the cheese to melt nice and slow.
Yes, this recipe can be made ahead of time. Simply store the macaroni and cheese in a 9x13 baking dish in the refrigerator after step six in the recipe below. Then, when you're ready to eat, finish baking the macaroni in the oven.
Yes, you can absolutely use yellow cheddar instead of white. Just make sure it's freshly grated!
Sure, you can definitely add in your favorite mix-ins to customize this mac and cheese recipe to your taste. Try adding blanched broccoli, peas, or crispy bacon. You could also add your favorite hot sauce on top for a little kick!
When making macaroni and cheese, it's really important to find a cheese that can easily melt. Cheddar cheese, gouda, Colby jack, fontina, and Monterey jack cheese are all great options!
Yes! I've made this white cheddar mac and cheese gluten free several times. Simply swap out the pasta, flour, and pretzels for a gluten free alternative. I like using Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free One to One Baking Flour.
What To Serve With Mac and Cheese
Looking for some easy recipes to eat alongside macaroni and cheese? Try these out:
Baked White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- Heat oven to 375°F.
- Cook the fusilli pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain completely.
- Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottom saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Once completely melted, whisk in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, and add in the milk, while continuing to whisk. Allow the milk to heat, but not boil (about 7 minutes).
- Once the milk is very hot (steaming, but not boiling), remove the saucepan from the heat. Slowly add in the shredded cheese one handful at a time, continuing to stir. Once all the cheese is melted, add in cooked fusilli and stir together.
- Transfer macaroni and cheese to a greased 9" x 13" pan.
- Pulse the pretzels, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and onion powder in a food processor until they are a fine powder. Add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and pulse until well combined. Sprinkle on top of macaroni and cheese.
- Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly.