Small Batch Mac and Cheese

This simple recipe makes a small batch of mac and cheese, the perfect amount for 3-4 people.

I’ve been making this mac and cheese for several years now, and it keeps evolving and changing.

Either I make it with all cheddar to give it that classic orange hue. Or I make it with a combo of both gruyere and cheddar.

I’ve even subbed some of the cheese with cream cheese or havarti at times.

Homemade mac and cheese is obviously not as quick as a boxed version, but I promise you it is easier than you think.

how to Make a Roux

Mac and cheese starts by making a roux which is a mixture of fat and flour that is cooked together. It helps thicken the sauces which becomes the base of the dish.

First, sauté 1 tablespoon minced garlic in 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil and butter. The garlic is optional, but I like the flavor it adds.

Then add 2-3 tablespoons of flour and cook for 1-2 minutes while whisking into the fat.

Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 to 2 cups heated milk very slowly. Heating the milk prevents lumps of flour from forming.

Bring the sauce to a simmer whisking continuously for 2-3 minutes. It should thicken and become creamy and smooth.

If you still end up getting lumps, use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until completely smooth. 

Add Cheese and Spices

After all the milk is added and the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and add the cheese.

The cheese will melt quickly and thicken the sauce making it very creamy.

This would be the time to add any spices or flavorings.

Spices like cayenne, garlic, and dry mustard give it a complex and sophisticated flavor, making it adult-friendly.

Or check out some of these different flavor combinations!

Add Pasta and Bake

Next, stir in the cooked pasta and pour into a greased baking dish.

Then top with breadcrumbs and bake until bubbly and hot. (Check out my tip on making your own crumbs.)

Feel free to increase or decrease the amounts of pasta, milk, and cheese, according to how creamy, dense, or rich your family prefers it.

The best thing about mac and cheese is that it’s easily adjustable to your own preferences and can be prepped ahead, saving you lots of time!

Mac and Cheese Variations:

You can even make your own variations on this classic dish by trying out some of the ideas below:

  • Bacon Mac & Cheese: Dice 2 strips of cooked bacon and stir into mac & cheese before baking.

  • Chili Mac & Cheese: Omit the breadcrumbs, and stir in 1 cup of homemade or canned chili before or after baking.

  • Jalapeño Mac & Cheese: Stir in 1/4 cup diced jalapeños and add a few dashes of tabasco or hot sauce.

  • Lighter Mac & Cheese: Replace 1/2 cup of milk with chicken or vegetable broth.

  • Mushroom Mac & Cheese: Sauté 4 oz of sliced mushrooms along with the garlic and oil.  Substitute some of the cheese with mozzarella and parmesan. Then add an extra pinch of salt and parsley.

  • Pumpkin or Squash Mac & Cheese: Replace 1/4 cup of the milk with 1/4 cup pureed pumpkin, butternut squash, or carrot. Add an extra pinch of salt.

  • Sour Cream & Chive Mac & Cheese: Replace 1/4 cup milk w/ 1/4 cup sour cream. Add in minced chives or green onions. Sub the gruyere for a milder white cheese like havarti or Monterey Jack. Omit the garlic, cayenne, nutmeg, mustard, and use a dash of onion powder.

  • Other Cheeses to Try: Pepper jack, havarti, mozzarella, parmesan, gorgonzola. Make a 4-cheese version with a combo of different cheeses.

What My Kids Say:
10 year-old: “This is delicious!”
7 year-old: “It’s yummy, creamy, and delicious.”

Here are some other easy pasta recipes

Creamy Garlic Mushroom Pasta
Mushrooms, garlic, and cheese? What’s not to love?
Check out this recipe
Joby's Test Kitchen plate of creamy garlic mushroom pasta with herbs and parmesan.
Tortellini and Sausage with Spinach
Tortellini, spicy sausage, and fresh spinach all come together in a creamy sauce.
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Skillet with tortellini and sausage in creamy spinach sauce.
Creamy Tuna Pasta with Peas
A kid-friendly pasta dish made with canned tuna, peas, and a creamy sauce. 
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Joby's Test Kitchen plate with creamy tuna pasta and peas.
Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach
This pasta dish utilizes fresh summer tomatoes and baby spinach. 
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Joby's Test Kitchen bowl of pasta with mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, spinach.

Joby's Test Kitchen bowl of Mac and cheese with bread crumbs

Small Batch Mac and Cheese

Joby’s Test Kitchen
This simple recipe makes a small batch of mac and cheese, the perfect amount for 3-4 servings.
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 54 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 19 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 564 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 6-8 oz macaroni (whole wheat, white, or combo of both)
  • 1½-2 cups (360-480ml) milk
  • 1-2 tbsps (14-28g) butter
  • 1-2 tbsps (15-30ml) oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic, optional
  • 2-3 tbsps (16-24g) all-purpose flour
  • ½-⅔ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • ½-⅔ cup grated Gruyere cheese (or use all cheddar)
  • ¾-1 tsp salt
  • ¼-½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp cayenne, optional
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard, optional
  • tsp ground nutmeg, optional
  • 2 slices (56g) wheat bread (end pieces are perfect)
  • 2 tsps (10g) oil

Instructions
 

  • Grease a 2 1/2 quart (about 9×9 inch) baking dish. Cook macaroni according to package, usually 6-8 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
  • Heat the milk in the microwave for 1-2 minutes or in a small saucepan. Set aside.
  • In the same pot used to cook the pasta, add butter, oil, and garlic. Cook over medium heat about 1 minute until butter melts and garlic is fragrant. Add flour and stir for 1-2 minutes.
  • Whisk in the hot milk slowly. Stir for 2-3 minutes or until thickened and smooth. Turn off heat.
  • Add the cheese, salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg, and whisk till all the cheese is melted. Mix in the cooked macaroni and pour into the baking dish. If not planning to bake right away, cover and store in the fridge up to one day.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F and take out the mac and cheese if it was in the fridge. Grind the bread slices in a food processor until it turns into crumbs. Then drizzle in 2 teaspoons oil and pulse a few times. Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the mac and cheese. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes, until the sauce stars bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Notes

Lumps? If after using hot milk you still have lumps of flour in your sauce, use an immersion blender to puree it until smooth. 
Calorie Info: The calorie amount was calculated using the higher amounts suggestd for each ingredient such as 8 ounces pasta, 2 cups milk, 1 1/3 cups cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, etc. 
Keyword cheese, mac and cheese, macaroni, pasta

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