Southern Baked Mac and Cheese

Southern Baked Mac and Cheese

Last Updated on September 15, 2021 by Chenée Lewis

An old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese with a secret ingredient! This easy southern baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk and egg is always a hit! And if you like this southern mac and cheese recipe, you’ll want to check out Pressure Cooker Ham Braised in Beer, Puff Pastry Tart with Cranberry and Brie, and Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie!

close up of southern baked mac and cheese
Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

For my family, there are certain foods that are absolutely mandatory for us to have on holidays. You have your hams, your turkeys, and roast beefs, but the stars of the show are definitely the sides and desserts. Cornbread dressing, collard greens, sweet potato pie, and pound cake are never missing from the table, and it just doesn’t feel like a holiday without them. Another absolutely crucial dish is baked macaroni and cheese! Mac and cheese recipes can vary wildly, but for me the best kind has a cheesy custard filling made with egg and evaporated milk, and a topping of even more lightly browned cheese. If you haven’t had this style of southern baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk, you are in for a treat.

scooping creamy baked mac and cheese
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese with Cream Cheese

How do you keep mac and cheese creamy?

Getting creamy mac and cheese can be a challenge, especially when you’re using this custard-based method. That’s why I’m sharing my secrets with you to make this southern baked mac and cheese just as creamy as can be! But before we continue, these are secrets! I’m sure I can trust you guys to keep it on the hush, but just make sure no one is looking over your shoulder while you read this. Ok, if the coast is clear, read on…

Secret #1: Overcook your macaroni

Hear me out! First of all, we’re not in Italy. Unless you are, in fact, reading this from Italy, in which case, ciao! But for the rest of us, forget everything you learned from Giada de Laurentiis and boil your macaroni for two minutes longer than the maximum time listed on the packaging. For example, the macaroni I used instructed me to boil it for 8-10 minutes, so I set my timer for 12 minutes.

So how does this make your southern baked mac and cheese creamier? Well, as your macaroni boils, it absorbs water. So by boiling it a little longer, we’re preventing the macaroni from absorbing too much of the milk while it’s baking, allowing more of the milk to form that creamy, cheesy, custardy filling around the pasta. Trust me– it works!

Secret #2: Mascarpone

OK, forget what I said about not being in Italy, because we’re using a classic Italian ingredient to add to the creaminess of this soul food baked mac and cheese! Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese that adds a smooth, mild soft creaminess to bump up the creamy flavor of the cheese filling even further! I got this idea from my Uncle Glenn, who told me about using mascarpone many Thanksgivings ago when I asked him how his mac and cheese was so amazing!

Secret #3: Coat your macaroni in butter

You may have gathered from secret #1 that the key to making this soul food baked mac and cheese super creamy is keeping the macaroni from absorbing too much liquid as it bakes. That’s what this step is about as well! We’re going to toss the cooked macaroni in butter before adding the other ingredients. This creates a barrier that prevents the other liquids from penetrating the macaroni as it bakes. It should help you to end up with more cheesy custard filling that makes the finished dish delicious!

spooning baked macaroni and cheese from the pan
Baked macaroni and cheese

Not-So-Secret #4: Freshly Grated Cheese

This definitely isn’t much of a secret. But you’d be surprised how many people still use pre-shredded cheese to make their macaroni and cheese! It’s so much faster, but pre-shredded cheese is often coated with cellulose (wood pulp!) to prevent it from sticking together, which dries it out significantly. This dryness will then translate into your dishes, which we definitely don’t want. For this baked macaroni and cheese, you should definitely buy your cheese in blocks and grate it yourself to keep the sauce nice and creamy. It’s an extra step, but makes a huge difference!

A spoon serving southern baked mac and cheese
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

What milk is best for mac and cheese?

For me, evaporated milk is the way to go. Making southern baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk is second nature to me. And I think it produces the creamiest results! Evaporated milk also works with the egg to create that custard filling that I just love. Here’s everything else you’ll need:

Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • elbow macaroni – you’ll need 8 ounces of macaroni (or small shells, or cavatappi, or whatever similar pasta shape you prefer. I find elbow macaroni is best for holding all that yummy cheese). So it’s about half of a one-pound box.
  • butter – I use salted, but you can use either salted or unsalted and adjust your seasonings accordingly.
  • extra-sharp aged cheddar cheese – This cheese forms is the largest portion of the flavors in this soul food mac and cheese, so be sure to get the good stuff! I like to use a really good quality white cheddar that’s been aged at least 12 months for the most flavor. It should come in a block for you to grate yourself — trust me, it makes a big difference in this southern mac and cheese recipe!
  • mild cheddar cheese – you can also use any mild, melty cheese you like. Mild cheddar, gouda, jack, mozzarella, or fontina all work! Again, in block form for you to grate yourself.
  • whole milk – you can also use low-fat milk, and it still works well.
  • evaporated milk – if you don’t have evaporated milk, you can use a cup of heavy cream and omit the butter.
  • salt – you can adjust the amount of salt to your taste, along with the seasonings below, before adding your egg.
  • cajun or creole seasoning – I like the flavor boost from creole seasoning in this southern baked mac and cheese, especially with the blend of cheeses. I like Tony Chachere’s.
  • dry mustard powder – adds a slight tangy flavor that goes so well with the cheese.
  • ground nutmeg – I always have whole nutmeg on hand to grate fresh, but in this recipe ground nutmeg works great too.
  • egg – beaten well.
  • cracked black pepper – to add to the top before baking. You can also add paprika or more cajun seasoning.
overhead view of a pan of mac and cheese with a spoon, and a small plate with a portion of mac and cheese on it
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

How do you make southern mac and cheese from scratch?

This mac and cheese is so easy to make! This video shows you how to put it together, step by step!

  1. First, cook your macaroni until it’s nice and tender, drain it, and stir in some butter.
  2. Then you’ll combine your milks and mascarpone in a bowl and whisk it to make sure it’s all smooth.
  3. Add in your grated cheeses and seasonings, then stir in your buttered macaroni.
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish, then top with more cheese and bake!
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Equipment

The first tool you’ll need is a cheese grater. Then all you’ll need is a a 3-quart casserole pan or 9×13 baking pan and a stock pot to boil your pasta!

Tips and F.A.Q.

Why do you put eggs in baked macaroni and cheese?

It’s a matter of texture. In this recipe, we’re going for a creamy, yet slightly firm custard-like filling. It’s a texture that is distinct from stovetop macaroni and cheese. Many baked macaroni and cheese recipes use a roux to make a cheese sauce on the stovetop, and then transfer the mac and cheese to a dish, add more cheese and/or breadcrumbs, and bake it.

In my experience, the texture is different in a roux-based mac and cheese than with a custard mac and cheese. So making our southern baked mac and cheese with egg and evaporated milk makes it come out a bit firmer and more casserole-like, but still able to achieve that rich creaminess that we all love!spoon with southern mac and cheese recipe

Why use evaporated milk in mac and cheese?

If you’ve ever made a pumpkin pie, a flan, or my Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie, you may be familiar with evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is simply milk where some of the water has, well, evaporated. Because of the missing water, it has a higher protein content than regular milk. That makes everything creamier without adding extra fat (the way heavy cream would). It’s perfect in baked goods when you want to create a custard made from eggs and milk, because it adds extra creaminess compared to regular milk.

What is the difference between evaporated milk and regular milk?

Evaporated milk has more protein than regular milk, but less fat than heavy cream, which gives this easy baked macaroni and cheese a thick, creamy filling without too much greasiness. Evaporated milk is also not refrigerated in most places, so you can get it in the baking aisle or on Amazon!

What cheese should I use for mac and cheese?

This is really up to you! I usually use at least one block of cheddar, sometimes one block of sharp cheddar and one block of mild cheddar. Other times, I switch it up and replace one of the cheddars with monterey jack, gouda, or mozzarella. Any semisoft cheese works great in this recipe.

Can I make this southern baked mac and cheese ahead of time?

Yes! You can prepare your mac and cheese the night before and bake the following day. Just complete all the steps except the last one (baking), and place in the fridge covered with plastic wrap. The next day, bake in preheated oven as normal, although you may need to add 5-10 minutes to the cook time. 

Can this baked mac and cheese be frozen?

Yes, this southern baked mac and cheese freezes very well! Just cool the mac and cheese completely, cover tightly with plastic wrap and foil, and freeze for up to 2 months. Allow to thaw, still wrapped, in the fridge before baking as usual. I actually use this method to make my mac and cheese ahead of time for most Thanksgivings!

Related Recipes

This easy baked macaroni and cheese is somewhat unique as it’s one of only a handful of savory recipes here on my blog. That’s mainly because I don’t have many go-to savory recipes. But the ones I do share are definitely my faves! That definitely holds true for this Spicy Shrimp Pasta Salad. It’s another one inspired by my Uncle Glenn’s delicious recipes, and it’s SO easy!

If you’re looking for a main dish to make with this southern baked mac and cheese, you have got to try my beer-braised Pressure Cooker Ham. Like this mac and cheese, it’s based on a family recipe, but the Instant Pot makes it so quick and easy! Try it for your next family dinner!

close up of southern baked mac and cheese

Southern Baked Mac and Cheese with Evaporated Milk

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An old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese with a secret ingredient! This easy southern baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk and egg is always a hit! Give this southern mac and cheese recipe a try!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine :American
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 463kcal
Recipe Source: Chenée Lewis

Equipment you may need

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 3-quart casserole dish or 9×13 pan with butter or spray with cooking spray.
  • Cook macaroni according to package directions, adding 2 minutes to the maximum time listed on the package. Drain; stir butter into macaroni until butter is melted.
    8 oz. elbow macaroni, 2 tbsp salted butter
  • While macaroni is boiling, shred both cheese blocks using a box grater. Combine shredded cheese until evenly mix, then set aside about half of shredded cheese mixture for later.
    8 oz extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, 8 oz mild cheddar cheese
  • In a large bowl, whisk together mascarpone and evaporated milk until smooth (there may still be some lumps, which are okay).
    8 oz mascarpone cheese, 1 13 oz. can evaporated milk
  • Mix in the whole milk, followed by the salt, creole seasoning, mustard powder, and nutmeg. Stir in half of the shredded cheese mixture.
    1½ cup whole milk, 1½ tsp. salt, 1 tsp cajun or creole seasoning, ½ tsp dry mustard powder, ⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Taste mixture to see if seasonings are to your preference and adjust if necessary. Stir in beaten egg.
    1 large egg
  • Add buttered macaroni to milk/cheese mixture and stir to combine. Pour the whole mixture into your prepared casserole dish.
    8 oz. elbow macaroni, 2 tbsp salted butter
  • Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top, followed by some fresh cracked pepper, if you like.
    fresh cracked pepper
  • Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until cheese on top is melted and browned, and filling is bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.

Video

Notes

Make-ahead instructions: You can prepare this baked mac and cheese the night before and bake the following day! Just complete all the steps except the last one (baking), and place in the fridge covered with plastic wrap. The next day, bake in preheated oven as normal, although you may need to add 5-10 minutes to the cook time. 
Freezing: This soul food baked mac and cheese freezes very well! Just cool the mac and cheese completely, cover tightly with plastic wrap and foil, and freeze for up to 2 months. Allow to thaw, still wrapped, in the fridge before baking as usual.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 serving | Calories: 463 kcal | Carbohydrates: 28 g | Protein: 24 g | Fat: 28 g | Saturated Fat: 17 g | Cholesterol: 107 mg | Sodium: 872 mg | Potassium: 435 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 12 g | Calcium: 628 mg | Iron: 1 mg
Nutrition Disclaimer
Tags: black folks mac and cheese, old fashioned mac and cheese, soul food baked mac and cheese, soul food baked macaroni and cheese, soul food mac and cheese, southern baked mac and cheese, southern baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk, southern baked macaroni and cheese, southern mac and cheese, ultimate mac and cheese
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