Looking to serve a little something extra? Elevate your classic baked mac & cheese with deep flavors of roasted garlic and browned butter. Originally published October 2017. Last updated August 2022.
This dish is all about flavor, y'all. I took two detours from an otherwise standard baked macaroni & cheese recipe and the result is well worth the little bit of extra effort. Browning the butter takes just a couple minutes and adds no extra steps to the mac-and-cheese-making process. Roasting the garlic takes a bit of care but can be done ahead of time, so don't even worry about that. The flavor impact of these two things is definitely worth it!
If you love soul food style baked mac & cheese, check out these recipes, too!
- Three Cheese Mac with Crumbled Bacon
- Single-Serve Baked Mac & Cheese
- Soul Food Recipes for the Holidays
What does it taste like?
I love the normal taste of garlic in my cooking but roasting it mellows it out to something deeper, less biting, and just slightly sweet. Plus, you can avoid the strong garlic-breath factor afterward.
And browned butter has a slightly nutty or toasted aroma and the flavor is richer than that of normal melted butter. While brainstorming this recipe, I worried that there would be too much going on because mac & cheese is wonderful on it's own, after all. But the finished dish has the creaminess of classic mac with a subtle, unforgettable something extra going on flavor-rise. Let's get into it.
This is southern-style mac & cheese with a twist and reminiscent of the baked soul food mac just like my Grandma used to make. I like surprising the family with a dish of this to make a regular weeknight dinner more indulgent. And you'll be proud to take this to a Friendsgiving gathering or steal the show at your family Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know what else to say--it's just good. This is one of my favorite cheesy macaroni recipes of all time. And if you're getting ready for holiday dinners, download my guide for all the recipe and planning help you'll need to make this season a success!
What You'll Need for this Recipe
You might be tempted to hold back on your typical seasonings and such due to the flavor profile of this dish but don't skimp on the salt and pepper. My first attempt at this recipe needed more s&p and more cheese. The final recipe you see today should be ooey and gooey (in the best way) with a bit of crunch. I love good old fashioned mac & cheese with a crispy top!
- Cheddar Cheese
- Dried Pasley
- Elbow Macaroni Pasta
- Fresh Garlic
- Olive Oil
- Panko Bread Crumbs
- Sea Salt
- Unsalted Butter
- White Pepper
As you can see, this is a simple yet flavorful garlic mac and cheese that calls for under a dozen ingredients. When it comes to necessary kitchen tools, keep those simple too.
- I make lightning quick work of shredding cheese in my food processor. Just use the shred disc attachment and you'll have all the shredded cheese you need for this recipe in under a minute!
- You'll need a good sharp knife to cut your garlic with before roasting.
- Grab a large skillet/saucepan to make the bechamel cheese sauce and a deep pot to boil your pasta. Don't forget your kitchen spoon!
- Lastly a glass or ceramic baking dish to finish the roasted garlic browned butter mac & cheese in the oven.
Three Simple Steps to Roast Garlic
Roasting garlic is easy and provides delicious depth of flavor to any savory dish. The flavor is still garlicky but a bit mellowed out and develops a touch of sweetness from being caramelized in the oven. I love what it does in this macaroni & cheese. Here's how to roast garlic, the easy way.
- Use a sharp knife to cut off the top of a head of garlic, exposing the cloves.
- Drizzle head of garlic with olive oil then wrap up in aluminum foil.
- Place in oven to roast for about 40 minutes.
For a visual, watch me prepare the garlic to roast on video.
How to Brown Butter Easily
Browned butter adds rich, caramelized, nutty flavors to just about anything from roasted fish to vanilla cake. And, low-key, butter already gets halfway browned when making bechamel (roux-based) sauce for mac & cheese. This process takes about five extra minutes and no additional steps. Here's how I put the browned butter in brown butter roasted garlic mac & cheese. And watch me brown butter on video!
- Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring regularly (every 30 seconds or so). The butter should bubble but not pop. If it starts popping, turn the heat down a little until it stops.
- Look for milk solids that will form in the butter. They look like small white bits and should turn light brown as the butter continues to caramelize.
- Continue stirring every 30 seconds or so until butter is light brown in color and emits a rich, nutty aroma. Remove from heat so as not to burn the butter!
And real quick, a few pro tips on browning butter:
- Cut your butter into small pieces so that they melt evenly
- Don't use frozen butter because it will pop. Room temperature butter is great for this.
- Use a light-colored skillet, if you have one, so that you can easily see when the butter darkens.
Tips for Making Good Baked Mac & Cheese
- Can I used bagged shredded cheese for in macaroni cheese? Short answer, no. Shredded cheese from the dairy section of your local grocery store has been coated with an anti-caking agent that keeps the shreds from sticking to each other and the bag. This coating makes the cheese melt in a weird way and it won't coat your macaroni noodles well either. I know it can be tempting to use pre-shredded cheese when making mac & cheese but I promise it doesn't take long to shred your own, especially if you run it through a food processor.
- What kind of pasta to use for southern-style mac & cheese? Elbow pasta is the standby and works really well, especially when you mix it thoroughly with the cheese sauce so that cheese gets into every nook and cranny. Shells also work, as does cavatappi pasta, or even a combination!
- Will plant based milk work in this recipe? Yes, you can use non-dairy milk to make mac & cheese. I have had success with almond, walnut, oat, and dairy milk.
- Do I need to boil pasta for mac and cheese? Yes. Boil mac & cheese pasta in salted water al dente or "to the tooth". This will ensure that it stands up to the thick and creamy cheese sauce without falling apart and has enough texture for a satisfying finished dish. Most packaged pasta you'd find at the grocery store includes accurate instructions for cooking al dente on the package. That's how to cook pasta for mac and cheese.
- Should mac & cheese be baked? Yes, yes, and yes. That is assuming we're talking about how Black people make mac & cheese. Baking mac & cheese in the oven helps med all the ingredients together and adds different textures to the mix, between the creamy, gooey bottom and the golden, crispy top of the dish.
- How to get mac & cheese to brown on top? Baked your macaroni and cheese uncovered to help it brown on top. A quick trick to brown the top of mac & cheese is to place it under the broiler for just a few minutes. Check it often because it can go from from browned to burnt quick, fast, and in a hurry.
I hope you and your loved ones enjoy this buttery, garlic-flavored mac & cheese this holiday season and beyond. And sharing is caring so be sure to pin this holiday mac and cheese recipe over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
Browned Butter & Garlic Mac and Cheese Recipe Video
Brown Butter Roasted Garlic Mac & Cheese
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 head garlic
- 2.5 cups milk
- 3.5 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- sea salt to taste
- white pepper to taste
- 1 pound elbow macaroni pasta boiled in salted water and drained
- ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 ½ tablespoons dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Roasted Garlic
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the top ¼ of the head of garlic and discard. Place garlic, cut side up, onto a piece of foil then drizzle olive oil over top and wrap garlic in foil. Place in oven to roast for about 40 minutes. Remove garlic from oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees. When garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins into a bowl (should flow out easily). Mash garlic with a fork to form a paste. Set aside.
For the Browned Butter
- In a large saucepan, melt three tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, stirring every 30 seconds or so. The butter should bubble (but not pop) and white solids will form in the pan. Continue stirring until butter darkens to a golden color and emits a nutty aroma (total process is about 5 minutes).
For the Macaroni and Cheese
- Add flour to browned butter and stir to form a roux. Cook for about two minutes.
- Slowly whisk in milk to ensure mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Bring mixture to a light boil then stir in sea salt, white pepper, and roasted garlic paste.
- Add 2 ½ cups cheese to the pan, about ½ cup at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir until all cheese is melted and sauce is uniform in texture and color.
- Add in cooked pasta and mix until it is evenly coated with sauce. Transfer into a 9 by 9-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cup of cheese over top.
- In a small bowl, melt remaining 3 tablespoon butter (I just pop in the microwave), bread crumbs, and parsley to form a crumb mixture. Sprinkle this mixture over top of mac and cheese in baking dish.
- Place dish in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is lightly browned and mac & cheese is bubbly.