This mega creamy Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese Casserole is the only macaroni cheese recipe you will ever want to make!
Make this Macaroni and Cheese Casserole for guests or family (think Thanksgiving!) and they will love you forever! The homemade sauce itself is rich and crazy creamy and the casserole is stuffed with a hidden layer of provolone cheese and sour cream that melts when baked for a ridiculous amount of velvety creamy, cheesy gooey goodness. A million dollar worthy goodness.
Macaroni and Cheese Casserole Recipe Video
The Best Mac and Cheese Recipe
I love a hearty pasta from my Classic Lasagna and One Pot Lasagna Soup to my One Skillet Cheesy Penne and Tortellini Al Forno but the most universally adored pasta has to be macaroni and cheese. Just about everyone looooooves macaroni and cheese – forkful after forkful of noodles bathed in rich creamy, cheesy, sauce. Whether it started as a blue box obsession (or if that still remains, I won’t judge you), and advanced to homemade stove top mac and cheese, Buffalo Macaroni and Cheese, One Pot Chili Mac and Cheese or even Taco Macaroni and Cheese, homemade macaroni and cheese in all its varieties – when done right – is one of the most comforting, cravilious foods on the planet.
But have you ever tried a homemade macaroni and cheese recipe and discovered what should be the most silky pasta all too often is runny, dry, bland and disappointing? So, so sad. But not this Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese Casserole. This baked macaroni and cheese will leave you and your taste buds so, SO happy.
What is this Million Dollar Mac and Cheese Recipe
I call this Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese for a few different reasons – including the surprise filling, which I will get to later – but let’s start with the quick, fool proof, easy, creamy, cheesy, flavorful from scratch sauce that takes just minutes to whip together.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe ingredients
- Pasta: My favorite pasta shape for Baked Macaroni and Cheese is cavatappi. It is also known as cellentani, amori, spirali, or tortiglione and should be sold at most grocery stores. It’s a type of spiral, hollow, macaroni with scored ridges. Both the hollowness and the ridges area ideal to capture creamy sauce – and I just love the texture of the shape. It is sturdy enough for the rich sauce and doesn’t become easily overwhelmed or soggy.
- Sharp cheddar: This quintessential cheese provides the signature flavor with its sharp richness. Take care to use a block of quality cheddar and shred it yourself, otherwise your cheese sauce will be grainy.
- Parmesan cheese: Use freshly grated Parmesan and not pre-shredded or from a can.
- Provolone: You will need 6-8 slices depending on their size.
- Sour cream: A hidden layer of sour cream melts in the middle of the casserole to make it extra creamy! Use full fat for best results.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter so we can control the level of salt. Do NOT substitute any of the butter with oil or your sauce can become grainy.
- All-purpose flour: This thickens the sauce and stabilizes the cheeses. Please do not use wheat flour. All-purpose flour is more finely ground and integrates more smoothly into the roux for a smoother sauce.
- Milk: The higher the fat content, the smoother your cheese will melt/incorporate. It’s best to use whole milk, or at least 2% milk.
- Evaporated milk: This secret ingredient adds creaminess without the fat of heavy cream. Evaporated milk is canned, stabilized homogenized cow’s milk from which 60 percent of the water has been removed. This means it is thicker than just milk and more stable than heavy cream and less likely to curdle or separate.
- Dijon mustard: Mustard might sound odd, but I promise it is not a pronounced flavor but simply boosts the other flavors and highlights the cheddar.
- Chicken bouillon: Please do not skip! It is a secret ingredient that adds tons of flavor. You may use chicken bouillon, bouillon powder or better than bouillon – all in equal amounts. If you are using bouillon cubes, just smash them up a bit before you add them to the sauce – don’t dissolve in water first. You will need 3 cubes.
- Seasonings: Onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes infuse the velvety cheese sauce with complex flavor while still allowing the cheese flavors to shine.
How to make the Best Mac and Cheese
Instead of using just a roux (whisking of flour, butter and milk) to create the sauce, I combined the roux method with evaporated milk whisked with some cornstarch to stabilize all the cheesiness and create incredible silkiness that doesn’t separate or curdle when baked. I then added a plethora of hand picked seasonings for the most flavor infused sauce suitable for Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese.
And then comes the capital M in Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese Casserole – the provolone, sour cream filling. The what?! I know it might sound odd, but please trust me. I got this idea when I was day dreaming about my moms Baked Penne which is a marinara based pasta with a layer of provolone and sour cream in between layers of noodles. The best part of the pasta is the creamy, cheesy center, so then I got giddy dreaming about what this filling would taste like cradled in between cheese smothered noodles instead of marinara smothered noodles.
I was so excited, in fact, I whipped up my first go of this macaroni and cheese at 9 PM because I just couldn’t wait any longer. I even told my husband not to brush his teeth because there was true deliciousness coming shortly.
Million dollar deliciousness to be exact.
The provolone melts as the pasta bakes, adding a fresh depth of cheesiness while the sour cream melts, adding a fresh layer of creaminess. This to live for layer of deliciousness blends into each forkful so although you can see the white layer of goodness, its creamy cheesiness just enhances the overall pasta. And when I say enhance, I mean creates the CREAMIEST macaroni and cheese you will ever dive into.
And might I suggest diving mouth first.
What to serve with this Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
This Million Dollar Baked Casserole can be a meal in itself, just add some chicken, ham etc. or it is the most epic side to:
- Nashville Hot Chicken
- Oven “Fried” Chicken
- Slow Cooker Barbecue Ribs
- Slow Cooker Beef Brisket
- Beef Brisket Sandwiches
- Philly Cheesecake Sandwiches
- Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches
- Thanksgiving Turkey
- Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
- Baked Ham with Cider Maple Glaze
Best Mac and Cheese Recipe FAQs
First, the recipe must have enough liquid once combined with the cheeses, in this case, evaporated milk. It is important to use evaporated milk which stabilizes the cheeses and prevent them from separating. Also use quality cheeses which melt better and produce silkier sauces. NEVER use pre-bagged cheeses for sauces or your destined for grainy/gritty sauce failure.
The main culprit for dry mac and cheese is over-reducing the cheese sauce so it becomes too thick. Take care the cheese sauce isn’t too thick before adding the cheese because the cheese will thicken it significantly. If the sauce appears too thick after you add the cheese, then stir in additional milk to thin.
Yes, you can put too much cheese in mac and cheese. While cheese is a key ingredient in macaroni and cheese, adding an excessive amount can lead to a dish that is overwhelmingly cheesy, overly rich, and potentially difficult to eat. When you use too much cheese, it can overshadow the flavors of other ingredients, and the dish may become greasy or clumpy. It’s essential to strike a balance to achieve the desired creaminess, flavor, and texture without overwhelming the dish.
It is better to use heavy cream for Mac and Cheese instead of milk, or better yet, use evaporated milk which has the thickness of heavy cream without all of the fat! Furthermore, it is more stable than heavy cream so your Macaroni and Cheese is less likely to curdle or separate.
The starch in the flour stabilizes the melting cheeses which prevents it from breaking or turning stringy or gritty. It also is the base of the béchamel which thickens the sauce so it’s rich and creamy.
Evaporated milk adds creaminess and body to Macaroni and Cheese without the fat and heaviness of heavy cream. Evaporated milk is canned, stabilized homogenized cow’s milk from which 60 percent of the water has been removed. This means it is thicker than just milk and more stable than heavy cream and less likely to curdle or separate.
Seasoning your Macaroni and Cheese recipe with onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and red pepper which flakes infuse the velvety sauce with complex flavor. You could also try other spice blends for a unique twist like Cajun, jerk or taco seasoning. You can also add bacon, sausage, chicken, ground beef, artichokes, broccoli, etc. for additional texture and flavor.
The one cheese you will almost always find in Macaroni and Cheese recipes is sharp cheddar. It is flavorful, inexpensive, easy to find, and melts easily. Sharp cheddar should be the building block of your Mac and Cheese recipe, to which you can add one or two different cheeses to enhance the flavor, such as a full-flavored cheese (such as Gruyere) and a more mild, silky cheese (such as Gouda, Fontina, Muenster, etc.).
There are a few keys to avoiding grainy Macaroni and Cheese and instead creating the the creamy, silky smooth recipe of your dreams:
1. Use full fat cheese that you shred yourself from the block. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated with chemicals that will prevent the cheese from melting beautifully.
2. Use enough butter when making the roux, at least an equal amount of butter (or slightly more) as flour to create a roux. If you don’t use enough butter, the roux won’t become smooth and will remain gritty.
3. The roux should be cooked until it becomes really smooth, about three minutes.
4. Remove the béchamel from the heat before adding the cheeses. If the béchamel is too hot when you add the cheese, then the emulsifiers and coagulants will break down and the proteins in the cheeses will clump resulting in grainy sauce. So, make sure your béchamel is cool enough by removing the pan from the heat completely before adding the cheeses.
Looking for more Italian recipes?
- Baked Italian Meatballs (and Spaghetti)
- One Skillet Cheesy Meaty Penne
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
- Shrimp Fettuccine
- Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo
- Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo
You might also like these favorite recipes:
- Million Dollar Baked Penne
- Smothered Chicken Burritos
- Slow Cooker Barbecue Ribs
- Moist Sweet Cornbread
- Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches
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Million Dollar Mac and Cheese Casserole
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- 1 pound cellentani pasta (may sub rigatoni, penne or macaroni)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
- 1 tsp EACH onion pwdr, garlic pwdr, dried parsley, salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 4 cups freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 6-8 slices provolone cheese
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Panko Topping (optional)
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Cook pasta just until al dente according to package directions – don’t overcook! Strain and rinse with cold water.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish. Set aside.
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat then whisk in flour. Cook, while stirring for 2 minutes. Turn heat to low then gradually whisk in milk. Whisk cornstarch into evaporated milk and gradually add to skillet followed by Dijon mustard and all remaining spices/seasonings.
- Bring to a boil, whisking constantly then reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally until thickened (but not overly thick). Remove from heat and whisk in sharp cheese until melted. Add pasta and toss until evenly coated (it will seem like a lot of extra sauce which is a good thing).
- Pour half of the macaroni and cheese into prepared baking dish. Layer macaroni evenly with provolone cheese followed by an even layer of sour cream. Pour remaining macaroni and cheese over sour cream and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with 1 cup Parmesan cheese (or more to taste).
- Panko topping (optional): Melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add panko and stir to coat. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown. Evenly sprinkle over macaroni and cheese.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and inside provolone is melted. If not topping with panko, broil until Parmesan is golden. Cool 10 minutes to set before serving.
***Feel free to swap cheeses for a combination of whatever you have on hand – Asiago, Gouda, smoked cheddar, Monterrey, etc – the possibilities are endless! You can also mix in bacon, ham, etc.
**I find this pasta equally delicious without the panko topping as the Parmesan cheese topping bakes to golden perfection 🙂
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