Sheet Pan Mac n’ Cheese

sheet pan mac n cheese

Before Thanksgiving this past year, I experimented with baking stuffing on a jelly roll pan. Many of you, I imagine, understand the thought process: Why limit the best part of the stuffing to a single layer? Why not make the entire stuffing taste like the crispy bits bobbing at the top?

The stuffing came out well — not well enough to share with you — but I’m hoping to have that taken care of before this November.

The experiment, however, made me want to bake everything (within reason — bread pudding, pasta gratin, etc.) on a sheet pan and thus far, I’ve had one success: this mac n’ cheese. And when I tell you there’s no going back, I mean it.

When baked on a sheet pan, the ratio of topping to noodles increases by at least half, ensuring that buttery breadcrumbs fill every bite. In this mac n’ cheese, blistered cubes of mozzarella peek through a golden, herb-speckled topping, stretching with every pull of the fork, clinging relentlessly to the layer of crispy crumbs. It tastes — not that this was the goal — surprisingly light and looks surprisingly elegant or as elegant as macaroni and cheese can.

It’s the slab pie, the brownie edge, the grilled cheese frico of mac n’ cheese, and I think you and any Super Bowl guests you find at your house this Sunday will approve.

bread crumb topping

hearbed bread crumb topping

par boiled noodles

components

noodles and bechamel

spreading on the sheet pan

adding the mozzarella

ready for the oven

just baked sheet pan mac n cheese

just baked sheet pan mac n cheese

cut mac n cheese

Sheet Pan Mac N’ Cheese

Making this sheet pan macaroni can be broken down into three phases: 1. Boiling the macaroni until it's less than al dente. 2. Making a very thin bechamel using equal parts water and milk. 3. Baking it all together with a layer of garlicky, herbed, buttered breadcrumbs. Once you have the method down, you can get creative with the additions, cheeses, breadcrumb seasonings.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound elbow macaroni
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 oz fresh bread to be pulsed into crumbs (3 cups once pulsed)
  • parsley, a medium to large bunch
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 1 cup (8 oz) Fresh Mozzarella, diced into small cubes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Boil macaroni for about 5 minutes or for 2 minutes less than the box's suggested al dente time. (For example, my macaroni box said 'al dente perfection' in 7 to 9 minutes. I boiled mine for 5.) Drain. Do not rinse. Set aside.
  3. In the same large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add flour, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from bottom of pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken, about 20 minutes. Note: the mixture will not get super thick, but it will coat the back of a spoon, and if you run your finger through the coating, the trail should stay — see photo. Remove from the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter stovetop or in microwave. Pulse bread in food processor to make crumbs. Measure 3 cups and place in a mixing bowl. Add parsley (it's ok if the tender stems are included — use the top 3/4 or so of the bunch) and garlic to food processor. Pulse until fine, then add to bowl with breadcrumbs. Season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour butter over top and mix with spatula until combined.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, toss macaroni with grated Parmigiano Reggiano — it's ok if the noodles are sticking together; they will separate once the béchamel is poured over top.
  6. Line a jelly roll pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Spread macaroni mixture over top. Distribute mozzarella cubes over top. Scatter breadcrumb mixture evenly over top.
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden and the macaroni is bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
http://www.alexandracooks.com/2014/01/28/sheet-pan-mac-n-cheese/

Are you not feeling so daring? If so, this is a more traditional mac n’ cheese, my favorite before discovering the sheet pan variation. It’s a no-boil recipe and super easy to throw together.
super easy no-boil mac n cheese

43 Comments

  1. Oooh, my favorite part is the topping. I saw Food 52 do this and theirs isn’t nearly as appealing as yours. Yours I want to eat up now!

    Reply
  2. I love the fact that at any party where a version of Mac&Cheese is served for “kids” in attendance, IT’S ALWAYS THE ADULTS hovering around the dish! This looks wonderful. I’m making it this weekend. Too good for the children.

    Reply
    • SO true. My kids don’t even like mac n cheese — so annoying! — but every time I make it, and I’m talking stovetop no breadcrumbs, it’s always Ben and me shoveling it in our moves straight from the pot. It is too good for children…you are so right. I love it.

      Reply
  3. Even though traditionally in my family we seem to prefer (or maybe it’s just impatience?) stove-top macaroni and cheese, unbaked and super creamy, this just sounds so delicious with all it’s crispy breadcrumbs. Baking it in a sheet pan! Genius! I am totally with you on the stuffing crisp-top-to-gooey-bottom ratio, as well. Oh man. My mind is racing :) Bravo, Ali!

    Reply
    • Mac n cheese with breadcrumbs is totally a new (or relatively new) phenomenon for me — we never grew up eating breadcrumbs on macaroni, and I remember the first time I saw it thinking it was kind of odd. But I have fallen in love with breadcrumb toppings of any kind, and I do love a mac n cheese with crispies on top. And I know, I can’t really mentally start thinking about stuffing with the holidays finally behind us, but….it’s kind of hard to not experiment, too. I will keep you posted!

      Reply
  4. I tried this yesterday, but instead of one sheet pan, I put it into two separate foil pans as I was going to give one to a neighbor who fell on the ice.
    Well, mine didn’t quite come out like this! It was very dry, the sauce having “evaporated” within the first ten minutes I think. Then the topping was so browned as to be almost burned within 15 min. so I covered it gently with foil. I’m going to try and add some more sauce today before I give the extra pan away. I thought I used just the right ratio and everything you have here…. Didn’t yours dry out at all in such a flat pan?
    I’ll let you know what happens later today….btw: it tastes delicious, esp. with the garlic bread crumbs!

    Reply
    • Oh no! Libby, I’m sorry to hear this. I didn’t have any issues with drying. It is possible that my oven isn’t as hot as yours, so I should make a note in the recipe to keep an eye on it, but I basically just cook mine until the breadcrumbs are golden, and for me, this takes about 30 minutes, and there still is plenty of creamy sauce binding the noodles. How big were the foil pans you used? I wonder if the material of the foil (versus a sheetpan) somehow conducts heat faster, which might have contributed to the drying? I’m so sorry! That is no fun.

      Reply
  5. I have not made this yet (it looks wonderful), but I have a question. What is the size of pan you use? Is it a full sheet pan? or a half-sheet pan? It looks like something I might like to take to a pot luck dinner.

    Reply
  6. Hey I am with the gal who pointed out it is always the adults hovering around the Mac N Cheese. I would be one of those adults. Plus when I make it, that has been my experience. So many kids were brought up on box Max N Cheese.
    Ick is my food review on that. However, those kids often think the baked Mac N Cheese is odd. I shouldn’t looked at this recipe right before lunch, because you can guess what I want!

    Reply
    • Haha, I love it. You know, I was talking about this with my husband the other night — I never grew up eating baked mac n cheese or any kind of mac n cheese that had bread crumbs on top. And my mother, who made nearly every thing from scratch, never made homemade mac n cheese. We ate boxed Annies white shells — my mother was the type that bought unsweetened apple sauce — and I do remember liking it as a kid. I have a hard time eating the boxed stuff these days, and my kids actually won’t touch it, but they can be picky in general. Thanks for writing in!

      Reply
  7. Hey I am with the gal who pointed out it is always the adults hovering around the Mac N Cheese. I would be one of those adults. Plus when I make it, that has been my experience. So many kids were brought up on box Max N Cheese.
    Ick is my food review on that. However, those kids often think the baked Mac N Cheese is odd. I shouldn’t looked at this recipe right before lunch, because you can guess what I want!

    Reply
  8. Hi Alexandra,
    I love mac and cheese and I am planning to freeze for days after my delivery. Can you suggest more such recipes? Alos what goes best with mac and cheese?
    Thanks.

    Reply
  9. I made this last weekend and it froze great! Made it Sunday, then covered with parchment and foil and threw in the freezer for easy Monday night dinner. I put it in the oven at the same temp you recommended, just cooked a bit longer. Then for the last maybe 10 minutes, I cranked the heat up to make sure the bread crumbs got nice and brown. So yummy! Oh also, I did this with whole wheat penne pasta and it worked great as well. The sauce looked like it was going to be way way too much but when baked up, turned out fine. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Fun! Thanks so much for writing in with all of this great info. SO helpful. I love the idea of being able to freeze this. And I have been dying to bake a pasta gratin on a sheetpan…totally experimenting with that this weekend. Fun! Thanks again!

      Reply
  10. I would love to make this for a super casual, kid-friendly lunch party I’m having, but need to feed 8-10 people. How many does your recipe serve? Was thinking about just upping the pasta to 1 lb. but then concerned about the end result being too dry… Doubling seems like it would be waaay too much.

    BTW, I adore your website…you have replaced Barefoot Contessa for me in terms of go-to cooking websites/recipes.

    Reply
    • Oh, Emily, thanks so much. You are too kind!

      OK, I think this might actually feed 8 to 10 people. I worry about upping the pasta, too. It’s amazing how much bechamel a little more pasta will absorb. And doubling does seem like too much. What sort of eaters :) will there be? I think you can easily get 20 nice-sized squares out of this recipe.

      Reply
      • Thanks, you were right — the recipe easily fed 10 people for lunch (served with a green salad). It was so delicious! I did reduce the oven temp to 400 degrees, as my oven tends to run hot, and it turned out perfectly — super creamy bottom with a perfectly browned top. I will definitely be making this again!

        Finally, to clarify my earlier comment…I continue to adore BC, but often find her recipes to be on the heavy side as well as pricey. Your recipes fill a niche I find for delicious, simply-prepared food. Cheers!

        Reply
        • Wonderful to hear this, Emily! I am going to make a note on the sheet pan pasta gratin recipe that I just posted because I think my oven tends to be on the not-hot side, and I know one commenter had browning issues. So thanks of the reminder! And I know, I love the BC, too, and couldn’t agree more about the costs/ingredients. She’s definitely got the touch!

          Reply
  11. I started making my macaroni and cheese pizzas about 25 years ago when I was so polite I let everyone else dig in first. I switched to pizza so I could eat with one hand fetching everything to the table.

    Reply
  12. Delicious! Made it tonight and husband and I love it. The best part of Mac and cheese is that crunchy crust and this sure has it. Easy to make. Only thing I think I’d change is decrease the garlic.
    Every one of your recipes I’ve tried has been a keeper!

    Reply
  13. Just posted to your previous favorite mac ‘n cheese rather than here by accident, and wanted to say that this recipe is simply fantastic. Our 2-person household was very happy to munch on this all week long.

    Funny – my mom used many quick things like minute rice – but never boxed mac ‘n cheese. She always made it baked. But she used a can of cheddar cheese soup rather than making a bechamel. The crunchy topping was always the best part and we would fight for it at the table.

    Reply
    • So happy to hear this, Dee! We find it is one of those things we munch on for days — I always just leave it out because we pick at it till it’s gone. Funny about your mom and the baked mac n’ cheese — I never had baked mac n’ cheese growing up, but it’s my preference now. And yes, the crunchy topping is just the best. So happy you like this!

      Reply
  14. Ali, I made this last night after my boyfriend mentioned that maybe I’d been making too many salads and vegetable-heavy meals lately. He then proclaimed this was the BEST mac & cheese he’d ever had, perfectly crisp in every bite, full of flavor but not overwhelmingly cheesy. We’ll definitely be making this regularly. Thank you, thank you! And what a beautiful post about the bread, too :) Hope you all are well!!

    Reply
    • Haha, I love it…sounds like Ben. Whenever I cook vegetarian, he is hungry 20 minutes after dinner is over. I am so happy to hear your bf liked this mac & cheese! It’s light right? Like your sandwich bread, which my family is obsessed with. thank YOU! Love seeing sunny CA on my Instagram feed :)

      Reply

Leave a Comment.