Beat those winter blues with the ultimate comfort food: homemade Creamy Mac and Cheese! This kid's favorite takes only 20 minutes and can be served as a complete family friendly dinner or a side dish for a family dinner or winter holiday. Made with evaporated milk, cream cheese, and whole milk for the creamiest homemade mac and cheese you’ll ever have.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made mac and cheese since my children were born.
I never had homemade creamy mac and cheese as a kid. We were an out-of-the-box Kraft mac and cheese family, so making mac and cheese from scratch was entirely new to me when my daughter was born.
While I credit most of my cooking ability to watching and helping my own mother and grandmother make from scratch recipes throughout my childhood, for some reason mac and cheese wasn’t in their recipe rotation.
I’ve picked up a natural ability to simply know how to cook from them. But homemade mac and cheese was something I had to learn, and fail at, before perfecting the most amazing, flavorful creamy mac and cheese sauce you’ll ever have!
When my first daughter started eating real food she absolutely, positively fell in love with pasta. It was ALL she wanted for as many months and years as I can remember, and pasta is still one of her favorite dinners.
So my goal years ago was to make a simple homemade creamy mac and cheese sauce that my toddler going through her pasta-only stage would eat and love.
Once I had that down, I tried to make my homemade mac and cheese more well-rounded by sneaking in grated carrots and green beans. This worked great and she ate a ton of carrots and green beans for about 6 months!
After those 6 months of carrot-eating bliss, she started noticing the “orange stuff” in her mac and cheese. And as every kid probably decides at some point, she suddenly no longer liked vegetables, especially carrots. Okay then.
I moved onto a new recipe, hidden cauliflower mac and cheese, which was a success until recently when she started questioning what those "crispy things" were in her pasta.
Darn. All good things must come to an end.
So here we are, back at square one. Which apparently is fine with everyone in my house, because this creamy mac and cheese is just so damn good. And plus, we have a new baby who was just introduced to the scrumptious mac and cheese world. We might as well start back at the beginning with plain ultra creamy mac and cheese!
To give the best creamy mac and cheese its amazing creamy texture, you need:
- evaporated milk
- cream cheese
- whole milk
To give this creamy mac and cheese it’s irresistible cheesy flavor, you need:
- extra sharp cheddar cheese
- white cheddar cheese.
You should really not use bagged shredded cheddar, as it does not melt as nicely as a fresh block of cheese. I also shred mine finely so that it melts quicker.
The best mac and cheese always starts with a roux made of butter and flour. I add paprika to season my roux. Not only does the paprika give mac and cheese a stronger taste, but it gives it a fabulous yellow-orange hue.
And you’ll need your favorite short pasta. You can never fall short with the classic elbows for mac and cheese. We love making this with bow ties and wagon wheels, too. The kids always think those are fun to eat!
Making this creamy mac and cheese from scratch only takes 20 minutes and is not difficult. Here's how to do it:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (cover so it boils quickly).
- While the water boils, melt the butter over medium heat in a large shallow pan until it’s foamy.
- Add the flour and paprika and whisk constantly until a paste forms, about 1 minute.
- Add the whole milk, evaporated milk, and cream cheese. Whisk frequently, breaking up the cream cheese with a wooden spoon. Bring to a low bubble. This takes about 5-6 minutes. If the cream cheese is still a little crumbly, that’s okay. It will continue to melt during the next step. Your water should be boiling by the end of this step. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook 8-10 minutes. Drain.
- Add the cheese 1 cup at a time to the milk mixture, whisking constantly until it’s melted and smooth, about 3 minutes total.
- Season with salt and let boil for 2 more minutes while whisking constantly.
- Add sauce to the pasta and serve.
You can always turn this creamy mac and cheese recipe into something a little different to suit your family’s tastes.
To the sauce, you can make these simple changes:
- Add a little bit of pepper with the salt
- Use all white cheddar cheese for a white cheddar mac and cheese
- Use all extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
You can add these veggies to the boiling pasta water for a hidden veggie mac and cheese dinner:
- Chopped cauliflower to make hidden cauliflower mac and cheese
- Grated or diced carrots, like in this hidden veggie inspired recipe
- Cut green beans
- Small chopped broccoli pieces
And to the whole meal itself, you can season with salt and pepper at the end as much as you’d like.
Another option is to mix the pasta and sauce in a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and extra cheese, and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. This will make a crispy baked creamy mac and cheese dinner!
You can also use mini muffin tins to bake it for bite sized creamy mac and cheese cups. This would be so fun for the kids to eat or a great idea for parties or sleepover nights.
Serve this ultimate creamy mac and cheese immediately or warmed in the microwave. You’ll notice that the sauce will appear to “crumble” or lose its creaminess after a little while of sitting. Don’t worry! As soon as you warm it up the creaminess will come back.
You can store it in the fridge for about 5 days. This recipe freezes wonderfully. Sometimes I make a ton and freeze extras in the deep freezer for around 6 months.
If you enjoyed this recipe, make sure to give it a star rating and let me know what you thought in the comments! And follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for more delicious recipes!
The Best Creamy Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces elbow pasta
- 4 tbsp butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 cup whole milk
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 2 cups white cheddar cheese finely shredded
- 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese finely shredded
- 1 teaspoon salt
- pepper to taste
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni according to package.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a large shallow pan until foamy. Add the paprika and flour and whisk until a paste forms, about 1 minute.
- Add the whole milk, evaporated milk, and cream cheese. Whisk frequently, breaking up cream cheese with a wooden spoon. Cook until it bubbles, about 6 minutes.
- Add the cheese 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly, until smooth, about 3 minutes total.
- Season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes while whisking.
- Add sauce to cooked pasta. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 5 days (or the freezer for 6 months)
I made this tonight and have placed it in the fridge until morning. At what temp should I reheat it so that it is hot when I put it in my insulated carrier for lunch.
Hi Connie- you should heat it to 140F so that it's nice and warm for lunch. Enjoy!
This was tasty! I want to make it ahead for thanksgiving. What would be the best way to do that? Should I make + bake it on Wed and just reheat Thursday? Thanks!
Yup, that should do it. Enjoy!
Recipe testing for the holidays led me to this and I found exactly what I have been looking for! Thank you! I added nutmeg, dry mustard and cayenne, but I think anyone can season it up or not as they wish. It is the sauce made with evaporated milk, cream cheese, and grated cheeses that makes this the best. Thank you!
THis mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food! Thanks for the delicious recipe!
This was SO good! My family is already asking for more!
Oh this recipe looks ultra creamy and so delicious! I have never done it with evaporated milk before and now I'm curious to try. I like my Mac 'n' cheese with a little bit of heat so I add some chilli pepper flakes at the end. Will try it this weekend!
Such a fabulous, comforting dish the whole family loves! Delish!
For me, there is no better comfort food than Mac and cheese, and this recipe is ideal - so creamy and delicious!
This recipe is amazing and so cheesy delicious. I added a generous amount of garlic hot sauce to give it a kick. It tastes great in the pot, baked with bread/Panko crumbs and as microwaved leftovers. Thanks for posting!
Oh, garlic hot sauce sounds delicious!! Now if only my little ones would eat it..! Thank you for the feedback, I am glad you enjoyed it.
I did the same! Made a double recipe batch of Mac n cheese, grilled 6 chicken breast with “Slap yo momma” seasoning then sliced the chicken on top and drizzled garlic hot sauce and Chalula! It was soooo good! I have deep metal pan for lasagna and it all fit great. I don’t think it would have fit in a std 11” x 9” pan.
made this for the kids for Thanksgiving. Will let you know how they liked it. I did add 1 tsp of dry mustard.