Sheet-Pan Mac & Cheese With Pumpkin & Brown Butter

October 27, 2018
17 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

There's nothing cozier—or easier to pull off—than sheet-pan mac and cheese. It's perfectly creamy and crunchy, lacking in any superfluous bits. And when pumpkin and brown butter join the party, well, it's unstoppable. This recipe draws inspiration from Amanda Hesser's Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese, which I've made approximately one million times each winter since it was published in 2010. Think of this fall-flavor-forward version as a flexible blueprint: play around with cheese-type, and scale up (or down) the pumpkin to your taste. Toss in caramelized shallots, or chunks of roasted pumpkin or squash if you please. Panko can be swapped out for other breadcrumbs, or jazzed up with a pinch of cayenne. No matter what path you take, just be sure to go back for seconds. —Ella Quittner

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: 10 Quick & Easy Dinners the Whole Family Will Love and Our Best Thanksgiving Side Dishes. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Sheet-Pan Mac & Cheese With Pumpkin & Brown Butter
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Makes 1 11x17-inch sheet-pan of mac and cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus more for pasta water
  • 1 pound cavatappi (or other twisty pasta shape with lots of nooks for cheese to nestle into)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, plus more to grease the pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (you can substitute black or rainbow if you prefer)
  • 1 pound sharp cheddar, grated, roughly divided into about three-quarters (12 ounces) and one-quarter (four ounces)
  • 4 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/4 cups plain panko
  • 1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), raw
In This Recipe
  1. Heat oven to 475°F. Grease a 11x17-inch sheet pan with rimmed edges.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for only 4 to 5 minutes, so they’re quite al dente—just soft enough that if you taste one, there's no audible crunch. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water and drain the pot of pasta.
  3. In the same pot you used for the noodles, brown 6 tablespoons of butter: Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until it foams. The foam will recede, and the butter will be golden-tan. (If your pot is dark, you’ll know it’s ready when it starts to give off a deeply appealing rich, nutty scent.) Turn the heat down to low, add back the noodles, and immediately toss so your butter doesn’t stay on the bottom and burn. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of the hot reserved cooking water. Add the salt, pepper, three-quarters of the cheddar (about 12 ounces), Pecorino, and milk, and stir until you have a homogenous, creamy sauce. Mix in the pumpkin puree, adding a little more reserved water if needed to thin slightly. Turn off the heat.
  4. Transfer to the sheet pan, and sprinkle the remaining 4 ounces of cheddar, the panko, and the pumpkin seeds over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the panko is nice and toasted, and some of the cheesy noodles sticking out around the edges are tinged with amber spots.

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Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

16 Reviews

Anusha J. November 25, 2020
Such a great recipe! I used a whole can of pumpkin purée and some extra reserved water cause I wanted more ‘sauce’ (weird, I know). Turned out amazing and the kids loved it. I even used a pinch of paprika in the breadcrumbs.
So S. November 24, 2020
I made the pumpkin puree in the slowcooker overnight by throwing a small pumpkin cut in 4 into the slowcooker with some milk, a little nutmeg, a little nutritional yeast, sage, and thyme

Removed the pumpkin skins the next day then threw everything from the slowcooker into the mac
Irene V. November 16, 2020
Delicious and an excellent way to use up any left over pumpkin purée. 👍
Jocelyn November 7, 2020
This was delicious! Highly recommend for any mac and cheese fans out there. Next time, I would use a little less of the pepitas, but that's just for my personal preference. Can't wait to make again.
judy October 23, 2020
This sounds divine, and it is pumpkin season again. So I will give this a try this week. I think I will bake in regular dish. I only have a toaster oven these days, so even my 1/4 sheet pan is too big. But one person did try and said it came out fine. So I will use my baking pan, have the recipe, and enjoy. Thanks so much.
taylorj November 17, 2019
Hi there! I don’t have a sheet pan that I’m imagining I’d use for this recipe. Could I use a 13x9 baking dish instead? Thanks for any tips!!
Jocelyn November 25, 2020
Yes! That's what I did!
Tomoose October 26, 2019
I added a cup of lentils for protein & mushrooms since they were in the fridge. Cooked the lentils in the pasta water & mushrooms in the brown butter. In the oven now!
Merry December 20, 2018
This was delicious. I used the whole 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water and it was not dry at all, but the top was nice and crispy.
Karen B. December 10, 2018
Surely the oven temp of 475* must be a mis-print. I made this last night it was dry, almost burnt on the bottom and extremely crunchy ~ nothing creamy about this dish. Should I try this recipe again, I think the oven temp will be turned down to 325* or 350*.
lkehoe October 31, 2020
Did you add the cup of milk and the pasta water to the recipe?
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Ugh, so very delicious Ella. Couldn't get enough of this.
Annabelle November 4, 2018
I was skeptical but this was SO good — probably the best Mac n cheese I’ve ever made. I cooked the pasta a wee bit longer and baked it in a regular casserole, skipping the pumpkin seeds. Deeeeelicious.
Author Comment
Ella Q. November 4, 2018
Hi Annabelle,

I'm so happy to hear that! Thanks for sharing.

Barbara C. November 1, 2018
Doesn’t spreading it out on a sheet pan to bake dry it out?
So S. November 24, 2020
Super late, but I think the super high temp (475F) allows just the top to dry out so it gets crunchy and brown while allowing the rest of it underneath to stay creamy