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This 3 cheese baked mac and cheese is all your cheesy comfort food dreams come true! Sharp cheddar, gruyere, and brie cheese transformed into a silky cheesy sauce, topped with buttery panko breadcrumbs, and baked to golden brown perfection. This three cheese macaroni and cheese recipe is easy to make and full of flavor!
Stovetop vs baked mac and cheese
There are two ways to make macaroni and cheese, stovetop and baked. The biggest differences between the two are time and texture. Stovetop mac takes less time and is more creamy. Baked mac and cheese you get the delicious crust of browned cheese on top and the flavors meld more, for a more flavorful dish. It all comes down to preference, but I am a baked mac and cheese kinda girl.
When it comes to making the perfect baked mac and cheese, your choice of cheese matters. The most important rule is to not use pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents added to them, so they are more difficult to melt and will give you a grainy texture. I like getting my cheese from Trader Joe’s, because their cheese is more affordable and still great quality.
- Sharp cheddar cheese: Cheddar is a staple for macaroni and cheese, it melts and tastes great. I prefer to use white cheddar and sharp cheddar also gives it an extra layer of flavor.
- Gruyere cheese: Similar to melting quality of cheddar cheese, but gives it a nutty flavor note for added depth.
- Brie: I love using brie cheese because it adds so much creaminess to the mac and cheese. You have to remove the rind prior to using.
While stovetop mac and cheese doesn’t require a roux, baked mac and cheese benefits from one. A roux is a combination of butter and flour, that will help thicken the sauce. This keeps your baked mac and cheese from being soupy and loose once it’s baked. For spices, I use ground mustard, cayenne for some heat, kosher salt, and black pepper. Cheese is naturally salty, so you don’t need much added salt.
Béchamel and Mornay sauce
Once the roux is formed, slowly begin pouring in milk while whisking out any lumps. Adding milk to a roux makes it a béchamel sauce. For this recipe I use whole milk for texture and creaminess. Allow the béchamel to heat through, once hot, turn the heat off. First add the brie cheese and whisk to let it melt. Then begin adding handfuls of the cheddar and gruyere cheese and stirring to melt. When shredded cheese is added to béchamel, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Sauce should be completely smooth.
It’s called macaroni and cheese for a reason, macaroni being a short bent hollow tube. Elbows are the most commonly used macaroni, but I used conchiglie. Feel free to use either or even small shells.
Important tip when making baked macaroni, always cook the pasta a minute before al dente. Since the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, if you have cooked it too much on the stovetop, it will just become mush after baking.
Buttered bread crumbs on top of the mac and cheese gives you a delicious crunchy bite. I mixed Italian panko bread crumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
Baking mac and cheese
Bake the mac and cheese uncovered at 400F, for 25-30 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden.
3 cheese baked mac and cheese
Remove the baked mac and cheese from the oven and top with freshly chopped parsley. Allow the mac to rest for 5 minutes before digging in. Enjoy!
This baked mac and cheese is best served fresh out of the oven. To reheat leftovers, place in oven safe container at 350F and reheat for 20 minutes.
Want to see the web story version of the three cheese baked mac and cheese? click here!
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- 1 pound macaroni (cooked al dente (see note))
- 1/3 cup Italian panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 4 cups whole milk (see note)
- 4 cups sharp white cheddar (freshly grated (10 oz)(see note))
- 2 cups gruyere cheese (freshly grated (5oz)(see note))
- 1 cup brie cheese (rind removed, cut into chunks (6oz after rind removed)(see note))
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped Italian parsley to garnish
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- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Prepare pasta in salted water boiling water, according to package instruction to al dente. Do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
- In a small bowl add Italian panko bread crumbs and 2 tbsp melted butter. Stir with a spoon until bread crumbs are coated in butter. Set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, in a large cast iron skillet (12") or high walled skillet over medium heat, add 4 tbsp unsalted butter. Once melted and bubbling, add in 3 tbsp of flour. Whisk until flour is absorbed into the butter. Add in the ground mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Whisk to combine into the roux.
- Slowly begin pouring in whole milk while whisking. Continue whisking till there are no lumps. Allow to come to a gentle bubble, then turn the heat off. First add in the brie cheese chunks and whisk until melted. Next, a few handfuls at a time, add in the gruyere and cheddar, stirring till melted, then repeat with remaining cheese. Sauce should be completely smooth.
- Add in the al dente macaroni, and stir until fully coated and submerged in the cheese sauce. If using a cast iron skillet, sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs over the top then place in oven. If not using an oven safe skillet, transfer to a baking dish, then top with buttered bread crumbs.
- Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden. Remove from oven and top with freshly chopped parsley. Allow macaroni and cheese to rest and set for 5-10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- When making baked macaroni, always cook the pasta a minute before al dente. Since the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, if you have cooked it too much on the stovetop, it will just become mush after baking.
- Pasta used in photos was conchiglie, feel free to use elbows or small pasta shells.
- If you want less heat, use 1/8 tsp cayenne, or omit entirely. Gives the pasta a nice bite to it though, so I recommend at least a small pinch.
- For this recipe I use whole milk for texture and creaminess. Using a less fat milk will make the dish more watery.
- Do not use pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents added to them, so they are more difficult to melt and will give you a grainy texture.
- This mac and cheese recipe has only been tested with sharp white cheddar, gruyere, and brie cheese. Other substitutes have not been tested.
- This baked mac and cheese is best served fresh out of the oven. To reheat leftovers, place in oven safe container at 350F and reheat for 20 minutes.