A creamy, small batch macaroni and cheese recipe with cheddar and jack cheeses. This makes a stovetop version of macaroni and cheese, but directions are also available for a baked mac and cheese version.
This recipe is a staple for us when we’re craving cheesy, cozy comfort food. There are so many variations of mac and cheese, but this one is fairly straightforward. We start with a super creamy cheese sauce, toss in some seasonings for flavor, then stir in cooked pasta shells for a perfectly cheesy stove top macaroni and cheese recipe. Alternatively, you can pour it all into a small casserole dish, top it with more cheese, and bake it if you prefer. Either option is delicious!
My blog focuses on small batch recipes, and this classic macaroni and cheese is no exception. This is a small batch recipe that makes 2-4 servings (just over four cups of mac n cheese, so serving size is dependent upon whether it is served as a side dish or a main course). It also comes together in less than 30 minutes!
If this is your first time making macaroni and cheese from scratch, I recommend reading through the ingredient notes and tips / tricks to ensure you’re totally successful and make the best macaroni and cheese you can!
- 8 oz. Medium Shells (or other noodles)*
- 2 tbsp. Unsalted Butter
- 2 tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup Whole Milk**
- ½ cup Half and Half**
- Salt + freshly cracked Black Pepper
- ¼ tsp. Garlic Powder
- ¼ tsp. Mustard Powder
- ½ tsp. Hot Sauce***
- 4 oz. (1 ½ cups) shredded White Cheddar Cheese****
- 4 oz. (1 ½ cups) shredded Monterey Jack Cheese****
This is my standard ingredient list for mac and cheese. I dive a little deeper into tips, tricks, and ingredient substitutions below, so be sure to check those out if you aren’t super comfortable making homemade mac and cheese. You can always email me directly if you have a question that isn’t answered below, too!
Important Ingredient Notes:
*Pasta: Medium shells are awesome in mac and cheese because they are like tiny little bowls that deliver the cheese sauce to your mouth in droves. Elbow pasta is a popular noodle for macaroni and cheese, but another favorite of mine is cavatappi pasta.
Other Pasta Options:
- Elbow Macaroni
- Penne Pasta
- Cavatappi (one of my favorites!)
- Farfelle (bowtie pasta)
- Fusilli (little spirals)
**Milk / Half and Half: You can use whole milk entirely if you do not have half and half. You could also use a blend of 2% milk and whole milk if desired. 2% milk has a lower fat content than both whole milk and half and half, so it will take longer for the sauce to thicken. Just give it about 3-5 additional minutes to thicken up (and stir frequently) before adding the cheeses.
***Hot Sauce: Hot sauce is not required, but it provides a nice kick of spice, flavor, and acidity to the cheese sauce. I use Cholula, but your favorite brand will be perfect. You only need a couple of dashes!
****Cheese: IMPORTANT: SHRED CHEESE FROM A BLOCK OF CHEESE. Bagged shredded cheese contains an anti-caking agent so the cheese shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and this prevents them from blending well together in this mac and cheese sauce. Buy a block of cheese and grate it for this recipe for the smoothest, creamiest sauce.
****More Cheese Notes: I recommend using at least two varieties for a combination of cheese. As per this recipe, I recommend a sharp cheddar cheese as one option (and a sharp white cheddar cheese, such as a New York white cheddar or Vermont sharp white cheddar). I also prefer Monterey Jack cheese to create this silky, creamy white cheese sauce. Cheddar provides an incredible, universally enjoyed flavor to the cheese sauce, and the Jack cheese not only provides flavor, but it helps the cheese sauce develop a creamy texture, too. You could use another Jack cheese such as Colby Jack or Pepper Jack (if you want a little kick) instead of Monterey Jack. Havarti is another wonderful cheese option instead of Jack cheese, too.
Other Cheese Options:
- Mild Cheddar or Sharp Cheddar (white or yellow)
- Pepper Jack (for a spicy kick)
- Colby Jack
- Havarti (for a super creamy mac)
Mac and cheese can be personalized to fit your tastes and preferences, so I definitely encourage you to start with this original recipe and get creative from there! Swap out various cheeses, toss in different hot sauces (or even regular mustard), use different noodles, etc. You can get as creative as you want as long as you have a solid foundation recipe, so I hope this provides that for you. 🙂
I truly believe that the idea of an ultimate comfort food is a reflection of our personal tastes; my favorite mac and cheese growing up was the recipe my mom made with Velveeta cheese, and she always served it with a side of cut up sausage links. I still think about that mac and cheese to this day, and it’s super comforting and delicious in my opinion. You could have a similar memory but with other cheeses, or maybe a specific noodle in your mac and cheese. Don’t be afraid to try different ingredients and find the ones that make you the happiest!
How to Make Small Batch Mac and Cheese:
- Boil pasta shells in salted water until al dente (about one minute less than the package directions.) Drain and set aside.
- Melt butter in a medium dutch oven or sauce pan over medium heat. (The pot in these photos is a 3.5 qt. dutch oven). Whisk in flour and cook, whisking occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. (NOTE: This step is important! The raw flour taste needs to be cooked out of this butter/flour paste (roux), so don’t rush this step.)
- Slowly whisk in the whole milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, until a thick sauce forms. Repeat with the half and half, slowly whisking it in. Simmer for 4-6 minutes (or as needed) until the sauce thickens.
- Whisk in the garlic powder, mustard powder, hot sauce, and a healthy pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
- Turn the heat beneath the pot to “low”. Stir in the shredded white cheddar one handful at a time, waiting until the first handful of cheese melts before repeating with the next handful. Repeat with the shredded Monterey Jack cheese. (Note: The sauce should be thick enough to adhere to the back of a wooden spoon. If you run your finger through it, it shouldn’t spread. We want the sauce to be thick because the drained pasta may still have some pasta water in the shells, so the cheese sauce will thin out a little bit when the cooked pasta gets stirred into it!)
- Stir the drained pasta shells into the cheese sauce, along with another pinch of salt and pepper. Serve hot!
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