This easy creamy mac and cheese recipe topped with sage-flavored bacon crumbs is a fantastic main or celebratory side dish.
Table of Contents
- Butter. I used salted butter but unsalted butter can also be used.
- Flour. All purpose flour.
- Milk. Use whole milk for this recipe. You can add a splash of heavy cream for extra richness.
- Cheese. I like to use a combination of cheeses. Sharp cheddar, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, Havarti, Mozzarella etc. are all good options. I wouldn’t recommend using pre-shredded cheese as it’s often coated in anti-caking agents which means they won’t melt as well into the sauce.
- Cayenne pepper. Other spices like onion powder, garlic powder and paprika can also be added.
- Mustard powder.
- Macaroni. Use any small pasta shape of your choice like penne or rotini. Gluten-free pasta can also be used.
- Breadcrumbs. I used stale ciabatta but you could use any breadcrumbs of your choice.
- Salt and black pepper.
How to make creamy mac and cheese
- Make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook for a few minutes to form a roux then whisk in the milk/cream. Add the seasonings then reduce the heat and allow to cook, stirring regularly for 7-10 minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until completely melted.
- Assemble: Add cooked macaroni (or pasta of your choice) to the cheese sauce and stir to combine then transfer to a baking dish.
- Make the bacon crumbs: Combine the ciabatta (or breadcrumbs of your choice) with crispy bacon and sage in a food processor and blend until relatively fine. I like there to be a little texture still but blend to your preferred texture. Top the creamy mac and cheese with the bacon crumbs.
- Bake: Place in the oven and allow to bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Can I make this ahead?
The mac and cheese can be prepped then covered in foil and kept in the fridge overnight before baking. Any leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Using a combination of milk and cream will make the sauce super creamy. Adding a ladle of pasta cooking water to the sauce as you toss it with the pasta will also give you a creamier sauce.
Using a combination of cheeses will add flavor as well as using seasonings like garlic powder, mustard powder, cayenne pepper and onion powder.
Add a few tablespoons of milk to the mac and cheese before reheating in the microwave oven to keep it from drying out.
Mac and cheese recipes
- Four cheese baked mac and cheese with thyme breadcrumbs
- Caprese baked mac and cheese
- Classic baked mac and cheese
Creamy mac and cheese with bacon crumbs
For the cheese sauce
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- 2-3 cups milk
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1-2 tsp mustard powder depending on preference
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 cups grated mature cheddar
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
For the baked mac and cheese
- 1 kg (2lbs) macaroni par-cooked + reserve 1 cup of cooking water
For the bacon crumbs
- 2 cups bread / breadcrumbs
- 6 strips crispy bacon
- 6 fresh sage leaves
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour.
- Whisk until smooth then slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time. (I always reserve approximately ½ cup milk. Some flours will absorb more/less liquid so you might not need all of it and sometimes after adding cheese I like to thin out the sauce just a little with the remaining milk.)
- Whisk continuously until the sauce is thick then turn down the heat, add the spices and allow to simmer, stirring, until the sauce is thick and cooked through (this takes around 7-10 minutes on a gentle heat).
- Once the sauce is cooked (the sauce will be completely smooth tasting with no flouriness) remove from the heat and add the cheddar and Parmesan. Stir until melted then season to taste.
- Combine the cheese sauce with the pasta. Stir and add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce. You want the mac and cheese to be very creamy before going into the oven.
- Combine the ciabatta (or breadcrumbs of your choice) with crispy bacon and sage in a food processor and blend until relatively fine. I like there to be a little texture still but blend to your preferred texture. Top the creamy mac and cheese with the bacon crumbs.
- Place in the oven and allow to bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crispy.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.