Secret Ingredient Creamy Mac and Cheese recipe is the ultimate, cheesy pasta dinner. This comfort food recipe is perfect for a family meal, cozy date night, or special occasion.
Although this creamy mac n cheese casserole is baked, it’s not a custard mac and cheese. It’s simply baked to marry the ingredients and crisp the topping.
First, let me tell you what this Mac and Cheese recipe is not… It is not loaded with weird ingredients. As well, it doesn’t have ham, chicken, ground beef, or any added meat. It doesn’t have kale, spinach, peas, tomatoes, or any ingredient that makes it ‘healthier’.
What this Macaroni and Cheese recipe is… It is creamy. It has a buttery, crunchy topping. And, it is decadent and amazing and delicious and sumptuously wonderful! It is full of gooey cheese. It is classic comfort food. This is a special recipe! 😋
SECRET INGREDIENT CREAMY MAC AND CHEESE
First, I don’t want to be all secretive and ‘click-bait-ish’ with my secret ingredient title. Although uncommon, I’m probably not the only one to ever add these special ingredients to mac and cheese.
Furthermore, there’s actually more than one secret, or ‘special’, ingredient to my recipe. Here they are.
- Seasoned croutons add more flavor than panko or traditional bread crumbs. Typically, I make homemade croutons. You can also use store-bought, seasoned bread crumbs, crushed. Actually, you can use any flavor you want. Furthermore, you can use panko if you don’t have croutons.
- Sriracha, ground red pepper, or hot sauce – Just a pinch or splash adds just enough flavor just the slight hint of heat. That’s all you need.
- Cream cheese – Cream cheese keeps mac and cheese creamy and adds flavor. Use full-fat cream cheese.
THE SECRET TO GOOD MAC AND CHEESE
Remember fat is flavor and cheese is flavor so you won’t have good mac and cheese unless those two ingredients, butter and cheese, are flavorful. Therefore, I recommend using real butter (salted or unsalted, your choice) not margarine. Furthermore, I recommend a good quality, name-brand (not generic) sharp cheddar cheese. So you say you don’t like sharp cheddar? Well, the sharpness is diluted in this recipe by the pasta, milk, and heavy cream. Therefore, I still recommend sharp cheddar.
HOW TO FIX BLAND MAC AND CHEESE
- Salt is an absolute must for pasta dishes. Remember to salt the water when you’re cooking pasta. As well, you may want to salt the sauce. This depends on the saltiness of your cheese so taste the sauce before adding it.
- A dash of hot sauce adds flavor and if you’re not heavy-handed with it, won’t add heat.
- Instead of milk use heavy cream.
- As well, add panko, breadcrumbs, butter crackers, or crushed croutons to the top.
- Paprika is another spice that will add great flavor to your mac and cheese.
- Finally, garlic powder and/or onion powder adds flavor.
HOW TO MAKE CREAMY MAC & CHEESE
There’s basically three steps to my macaroni and cheese recipe.
First, cook the pasta. Or, I should say uncook the pasta. Cook pasta for mac and cheese slightly undercooked or just before al dente. This will keep the pasta from completely falling apart once it’s stirred into the cheese sauce and cooked some more.
Next, while you’re pasta is cooking you can start the cheese sauce. You make a roux with butter and flour. Next, you add milk and heavy whipping cream. After that mixture thickens slightly you’ll add cheese and stir it until it melts.
Finally, put the pasta in the cheese sauce, top with croutons, and bake until all the yummy ingredients are melted together and wonderful!
And, it’s just that simple!
HERE ARE SOME MORE OF MY FAVORITE MAC & CHEESE RECIPES
- 3 Ingredient Mac and Cheese
- Copycat Cracker Barrel Restaurant Mac and Cheese
- Eight Cheese Mac n Cheese with Cheetos
- Crawfish Mac and Cheese
- Tipsy Italian Sausage Pasta
- Kentucky Hot Brown Mac & Cheese
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Secret Ingredient Creamy Mac and Cheese recipe
FOR THE PASTA
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni or any size
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
- 6 tablespoons butter salted or unsalted
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- 2 cups Gruyère cheese shredded
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper or ground black pepper
- ⅓ teaspoon ground red pepper or hot sauce or Sriracha sauce
FOR THE PASTA
- Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large pot cook the pasta to al dente (according to the package instructions).
- Remove the pasta from the heat and drain. Place back in the pan and drizzle with olive oil. Stir to coat. Allow to pasta to cool while you're preparing the cheese sauce.
FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
- Combine shredded cheeses in a large bowl and set them aside.
- Spray a large 3-quart or 4-quart baking dish or braiser pan with non-stick cooking spray. I use a braiser pan that goes from stovetop to oven (which means one less pot to clean!)
- Melt the butter in your large pan/pot. Whisk in flour and over medium heat continue whisking for about 1 minute. You want it to become bubbly and golden.
- Gradually whisk in the milk and heavy then stir until it's smooth. Continue cooking and whisking until there are small bubbles on the surface. Once you see these bubbles cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, hot sauce, cream cheese, and shredded cheese. Whisk until the cheese melts and the mixture is smooth and slightly thick.
- Stir in the pasta and stir until the pasta is incorporated with the cheese sauce. Pour into your baking dish (or if you used an oven-safe pan simply add the crushed croutons mixture to the top.)
FOR THE TOPPING
- In a small bowl, combine crushed croutons, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Sprinkle over the top and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately