Make Ahead

Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese

January  8, 2010
11 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

I've always thought macaroni and cheese's 20% crunch to 80% soft ratio was all wrong. The ratio should be more like 50:50. The soft part, delicious though it may be, wears you out. You need lots of crisp bits to stay interested in the dish. In an effort to realign macaroni and cheese, I brought together three concepts: a baked pasta technique from Cucina Simpatica, a potato gratin method from Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue's food columnist, and a similar method used by Melissa Clark for kugel. In Cucina Simpatica, pasta is par-cooked, then combined with cream, cheese and other seasonings and baked at 500 degrees. The high temperature finishes the pasta quickly and toasts the tips on the top layer—a memorable detail. Steingarten's gratin involves roasting thinly sliced potatoes and cream on a baking sheet so that the entire gratin is crisp and handsomely browned. And Melissa Clark spreads her kugel in a baking sheet achieving a predominantly crunchy texture. Back in the macaroni and cheese lab, I combined these three ideas by par-cooking the pasta, folding it together with a few cheeses, spreading it on a baking sheet, and finishing it in a 475-degree oven. The result was total success—the muffin top of mac 'n cheese! Major world issue solved, at last. Here I've used Julia Moskin's recipe for Crusty Macaroni and Cheese and applied my cooking method to it. —Amanda Hesser

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 1 pound pasta spirals (or other small shape)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, plus more as garnish
  • Salt
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  1. Heat oven to 475° F. Use the butter to thickly grease a 11- by 17-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine the grated cheeses and set aside 2 heaping cups for topping.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes (if using spirals; otherwise, cook for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the box). Drain.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne, and salt to taste. Spread the mixture in the baking sheet and evenly pour the milk over the surface. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, sprinkle on a little extra cayenne, and bake, uncovered, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Tanya
  • Jalesa Sweitzer
    Jalesa Sweitzer
  • Dawn Png Shell
    Dawn Png Shell
  • greg t
    greg t
  • Maeve Royer
    Maeve Royer
Amanda Hesser

Recipe by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

107 Reviews

Tanya November 17, 2021
It was quick and easy, but--and I know this will sound a bit crazy-- it was a bit too CHEESE-y. Like... just cheddar on pasta. Which... well, that is all it is. Silly me for thinking anything different! I missed the creaminess of mac n' cheese SAUCE. I will make sheet mac n' cheese again, but I will melt cheddar into a bechamel and add a crumb topping. Not even sure why I thought I needed a recipe for this, lol!

Best tip was undercooking the pasta by 2 minutes.
Tanya November 18, 2021
Eating leftovers today. The word coming to mind is "one-note." And I already added broccoli and a seasoned crumb/nut blend to the top.
Darian March 15, 2020
Really really good! My daughter thought it needed something, and threw some chili-garlic sauce on it, which I thought was pretty genius. Add some scallions and I think it would be even better.
Alexandra S. November 18, 2019
Amanda! My mother-in-law just texted me a photo of her jumbled recipe folder and the message “where’s the Mac and cheese recipe??” For the last two years this recipe has replaced the mashed potatoes at our Georgia Thanksgiving. Everyone’s in love with it. 💕🦃
Amanda H. November 18, 2019
So glad to hear this! Also, I bet your dinner is *excellent* -- happy Thanksgiving!
Jalesa S. November 16, 2018
I'm making this tomorrow for my boyfriend's sisters thanksgiving dinner. I read the reviews and seen alot of people mention putting parchment paper down to prevent the hassle of scrubbing the pan. Would I need to butter the parchment paper so the mac and cheese didn't stick to the paper?
Amanda H. November 16, 2018
You don't need to butter the parchment but if you don't, then you would lose out on the flavor/richness that the butter contributes. So I recommend keeping it! :)
CanadianCook November 7, 2018
Okay, I realize I’m reeeaaalllyyy late to the party but I created an account just so I could comment on how delicious and simple this recipe is. Made it for my crew tonight along with a green salad (so we could feel better about all.that.cheese.) and everyone raved. This will definitely be my go to mac and cheese from now on!
CanadianCook November 7, 2018
I also made it with gluten free Barilla elbows and a mix of various cheeses I had in the fridge including a double smoked Canadian cheddar. So so good...
greg T. November 7, 2018
It’s super good out of the oven and the least reheatable Mac n cheese I’ve ever made.
Amanda H. November 8, 2018
Thanks for making my day! :)
ENEB August 1, 2017
This was a hit with my kids and my husband. It was fun to make too. Thank you for the recipe.
Amanda H. August 1, 2017
Thanks for giving it a try!
Dawn P. March 9, 2017
Approximately how many cups is 12oz of grated cheese? Thanks!
Maeve R. March 9, 2017
I measured it and I got 31/4 cups grated cheddar cheese from 12oz. I didn't press it in, I just made sure to fill in all the empty space. Hope that's helpful. Happy cooking!👍🏻
Maeve R. March 9, 2017
12oz grated cheddar cheese equals 3 1/4 cups.
Maeve R. March 9, 2017
Okay, I made a mistake. DawnPng Shell it's 3 1/3 cups equals 12oz cheese. Some people get 3 cups, but I think they pressed it in.
Dawn P. March 9, 2017
Thanks Maeve!! That's very helpful. :)
Maeve R. March 9, 2017
😊 you're welcome!!
greg T. March 8, 2017
I am a firm believer that the Mac n Cheese recipe on the back of the Creamette box is still the best Mac n Cheese recipe in the world (I've made 25 different ones over the years to see if it is improvable.. it is not.) As the world's biggest Mac/Cheese snob I saw this and knew I had to make it... here is how adaptable it is. I used 2 percent milk instead of whole. I ran out of Sharp cheddar so I threw in some fairly empty bags of preshedded in the fridge of Jalapeño Jack and Colby to get to 12 ounces. I did shred my own Extra Sharp cheddar but I thought having 12 ounces of two similar cheeses was kinda dumb. Why not a fun 2nd cheese? Anyway also threw in some super finely 4 day old bacon slices from the fridge and a tiny bit of onion. Cooked for 15 minutes.

It's honestly the 2nd/3rd mac n cheese I've ever had. It's glorious. I have all sorts of adds next time (chicken, jalapeños). I think parchment while normally great would not help this recipe. Plus it's dead simple, super fast.. oh and I used GLUTEN FREE pasta. Didn't matter, that high heat and browning on the top is the winner. Heck, Broccoli diced fine in here would be great too... this summer I'll make it every 2 weeks and manipulate it. Oh, I used hot sauce instead of cayenne also. Honestly, I can't stop eating it. Or typing about it.. wait, what about Chorizo?? Great recipe Food52!!
greg T. March 8, 2017
I hate that you can't edit comments here.. I meant its the 2nd/3rd BEST mac n cheese I've ever had.
Maeve R. March 1, 2017
Okay, this is what I'm talking about, good food done in a minimal amount of time. So, in my house I'm the [email protected] queen. I was baking it wrong until my daughter told me it was, too thick. Dihann suggested that I put a thin layer in the pan to make it crisper, and it turned out to be a brilliant idea that everyone loved. Please try this recipe and you'll never go back to the thick [email protected]
claire M. February 10, 2017
could this be adapted to bake in an 8 or 9" round pan in a convection oven - not so crunchy is best for me.

Amanda H. February 10, 2017
I haven't tried it but I don't see why not -- should produce a mac and cheese that has a higher soft-to-crisp ratio.
Lauren R. February 9, 2017
If crispy is an issue, don't make it ... this is "baked" mac n cheese so of course it will be crunchy and chewy!
Nancyrocks October 18, 2016
Mines turned out sooo gross!! I used the "shell" pasta and that was probably my mistake. I threw the whole thing away :/ wanted to love it so bad!!
Amanda H. October 19, 2016
Hi Nancyrocks -- would love to better understand what was gross about it. Did the cheese not melt properly, or did you feel there wasn't enough pasta?
Valerie N. April 15, 2016
One word. Bacon.
judy June 15, 2021
for me it would be garlic!
Kelley B. April 8, 2016
for everyone who's made this: do you really feel like it only serves 6? I want to make this as the base for a mac & cheese bar for roughly 12 people. if served with a big salad, would this amount suffice or should I up the measurements? thanks!
Maeve R. March 1, 2017
You'd have to use 2 sheet pans for 12 people if they really love mac&cheese.
Mary C. March 27, 2016
Okay. This is totally worth it. Don't pay any mind to the pools of cheese grease on the bottom of the pan if you're worried about fat/caloric intake. This really does live up to its description: each serving has that special crunchy, gooey texture that only four corners of traditional mac and cheese gives you. Brilliant!!
Catherine D. March 27, 2016
I made it last night and it turned out excellent. It's the abundant proportion of cheese to pasta ratio that makes it so good, and of course the delicious crispy golden top. I'll be making it again.
ELCookie November 22, 2015
Believe it or not, my son a college sophomore, sent me a video of you making this and asked that I make it for Thanksgiving. Only problem we travel out of state leaving Weds for dinner Thurs. Can I make it ahead and reheat? Thanks!
Amanda H. November 30, 2015
I'm sorry for the delay -- I hope it worked out. You can make it ahead; when you reheat it, splash a little milk over the top before putting it in the oven to warm up.
ELCookie November 30, 2015
Decided to bring all the ingredients and made it on Thursday. It was a HUGE hit! Even the older generation doubters who stick to tradition and do not like change, had seconds. Thank you for the recipe. PS: Added a dollop of dijon mustard that enhanced the flavors.
Amanda H. November 30, 2015
Phew! I'm happy to hear this, and love your tip!
Monica C. November 21, 2015
I LOVE this! I'll do it with cheddar and grated parmesan. I didn't think before to add fresh milk. I used always béchamel sauce but, in this way, it will be more light. Thank you!
ojailyn November 10, 2015
This looks yummy but is it kid friendly? I was thinking adding to Thanksgiving I have 3 small children (ages 2,3, & 6). (10 adults) Thoughts?
Amanda H. November 10, 2015
Yes, very.
bethL November 10, 2015
While you would think it's kid friendly, because why wouldn't it be. Sadly my son asked for the one in "the box" instead. However, the adults LOVED it. I reheated it the second day when we had some friends over, and accidentally over heated it, so it became extra extra crunchy. I served it sort of like popcorn and that was a hit too. If your serving for Thanksgiving, don't worry too much what the 2, 3, and 6 year olds think. From experience, likely they won't eat much anyway. They'll probably like plain noodles with butter.
Lea March 27, 2016
I'd bet kids would like it better without the crunchy noodles. I am a mac n cheese junkie and the thought of crunchy noodles is despicable to me....
bethL February 9, 2017
You know how picky they can be. Not always rational. There were definitely creamy parts of mine. So crunchy wasn't the issue. I find if he hasn't had it b4 he is unlikely to like something different. When he says he doesn't like things I tell him he loved it in the past. (Shhh) his liking it will not stop me from making it.
Nancy B. November 4, 2015
I got inspired by my baking sheet mac and cheese leftovers to craft a yummy Muffin Top Mac and Cheese BLT. The crispy sheets of Mac n Cheese peeled perfectly away from the tray in nice flat layers, so I heated leftover slabs gently and filled with crispy hickory smoked bakon (one slice), some plum tomato slices, tender young lettuce and a dab of mayo. I can see this becoming "a thing" like ramen burgers. Fillings are only limited by imagination.
And the beauty part. Nothing gets wasted. Those little crumbly bits of mac and cheese that come off the sheets can be tossed in a BLT salad with crumpled bacon, chopped tomatoes, lettuce leaves and a little dollop of mayo on top. I took two beautiful pictures of my creations, and I can't figure out how to put them in here (tried to post it on Food52 FB but I don't see it on the site, which is probably moderated). Anyway, I encourage you to give this a try!
Amanda H. November 4, 2015
Thanks for sharing this fantastic idea!