Simple Mac And Cheese (With Crunchy Topping) Recipe

Macaroni and cheese is certainly having a moment. What was once considered a simple, inexpensive dish, is now being fancied up with everything from avocados to truffles and lobster. Still, sometimes what you really want is the good old classic version, and that's just what recipe developer Christina Musgrave delivers here. As she says of the dish, "This simple baked mac and cheese may be easy, but it will quickly become a staple in your house."

This macaroni and cheese recipe does have one special feature that you will not find in the boxed variety (besides real cheese): It has a crunchy crust made of cracker crumbs. Musgrave says she favors Ritz-style butter crackers, saying "These types of crackers are great because of their high butter content so they don't dry out too much during baking." A less buttery cracker such as a saltine, she says, might get too dry as the casserole bakes.

Gather the ingredients for this crunchy-topped mac and cheese

To make this macaroni and cheese, you'll need both macaroni (the elbow-type are classic) as well as cheese — sharp cheddar makes for a nice contrast with the pasta. The other ingredients you'll need are flour and milk for the sauce, salt and pepper to season the dish, and crackers and butter for the topping.

Cook the macaroni

While Musgrave sticks with elbow macaroni for this casserole, she does say "You can definitely use any shorter pasta such as short rigatoni, shells, or shelbows." Whatever pasta you use, cook it according to the package directions until it reaches the al dente stage. Be careful not to overcook the noodles, as they will soften up even more as the casserole bakes. Drain the macaroni once it's done.

As the pasta is boiling, you can multitask by preheating the oven to 350 F.

Make the cheese sauce

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, then mix in the flour. Cook and stir the roux for 3 minutes, then stir in the milk. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it continue simmering for 5 minutes, or until it thickens up. Stir in the salt, the pepper, and 9 ounces (or about 3 ½ cups) of the grated cheese.

Bake the macaroni and cheese

Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce, then pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Melt the remaining butter, mix it with the crushed crackers, then sprinkle this over the grated cheese topping the casserole. Bake the macaroni and cheese for 30 minutes, or until it looks golden brown and the cheese topping is melted. Don't over-bake it since you don't want the crumb topping to burn.

Musgrave tells us that "You can serve this [macaroni and cheese] as a main or a side." If the latter, she suggests that it would be a great accompaniment for fried chicken. If you're planning to eat this dish as a main course, though, you could always stir in some cooked chicken or other meat or meat substitute if you want more protein content than the cheese alone can supply.

Simple Mac And Cheese (With Crunchy Topping) Recipe
5 from 69 ratings
This simple mac and cheese recipe gets an upgrade with an easy, crunchy topping. Trust us, you'll be adding this recipe to your regular routine.
Prep Time
Cook Time
macaroni and cheese in pan
Total time: 40 minutes
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 4½ cups)
  • 2 cups butter crackers, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a casserole pan and set it aside.
  2. Cook 1 pound elbow macaroni in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in ¼ cup flour and mix constantly for 3 minutes
  4. Add 3 cups milk and bring it to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until thickened. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and ¾ of the cheese. Add the cooked macaroni and mix well.
  5. Transfer the mac and cheese to a casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese.
  6. Combine 2 cups butter crackers and 2 tablespoons unsalted, melted butter. Top the mac and cheese with the crackers.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
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