This is the best mac and cheese with cream cheese recipe: comforting macaroni baked in an ultra-creamy, smooth, cheesy sauce. Ready in under an hour.
Creamy mac and cheese with cream cheese, Gouda, or Cheddar and panko breadcrumbs. The pasta is smothered in the creamiest, tastiest, cheesiest sauce possible and topped with crunchy, rich-tasting panko. All you need are 6 ingredients and less than one hour.
Homemade macaroni and cheese is delicious! Like always! Satisfaction is guaranteed regardless of how you make it or the cheese you choose. The ultimate comfort food! However, this baked mac and cheese with cream cheese recipe brings macaroni and cheese to a new level!
Why should you use cream cheese in mac and cheese?
The main reason is that it makes the dish creamier than it would ever be without it. And that’s particularly important when baking this dish.
A stovetop recipe is always creamy, even if you don’t bother making a flour roux or adding cream, but that’s not always the case when making baked macaroni and cheese. Cream cheese will save the day!
For another easy mac and cheese recipe made with cream cheese, check out Mac and Cheese without Milk.
- Pasta: Elbow macaroni noodles are the standard choice. However, any kind of short pasta is wonderful.
- Cheese: Sharp cheddar cheese, Gouda, or a combination of both. Use whatever you have or like best; the dish will be delicious and creamy either way.
- Cream cheese: Full-fat cream cheese.
- Sometimes I use Philadelphia, but often enough, I use another brand or no-name, cheaper cream cheese. The recipe works perfectly, no matter the cheese I use. The most important thing for me is using pure cream cheese without additives or stuff.
- Breadcrumbs: Panko breadcrumbs are best for this recipe; they are larger and thus become crispier and more delicious. However, regular breadcrumbs are a good alternative, either plain or seasoned.
- Butter: Salted or unsalted butter, but adjust the salt accordingly.
- Whole milk or semi-skimmed milk (minimum 1.5% fat).
- Other ingredients: All-purpose flour, fine sea salt, and ground black pepper.
How to make mac n cheese with cream cheese?
You will need a round casserole dish or a cast-iron pan of about 9 inches/23cm. Or a square/rectangular casserole dish of similar capacity. If using a casserole dish, butter it well before adding the cheesy noodles. A cast-iron pan doesn’t need to be buttered, but you can do it if you wish.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
- Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions (al dente).
- In the meantime, make the cheese sauce.
- Melt the butter in a large pan (1). Add the flour and whisk until it is lightly golden, 1-2 minutes (don’t let it get dark) (2).
- Slowly pour in the milk. Whisk constantly to break up the clumps (3).
- Continue to whisk on medium heat until the sauce starts to simmer and thickens slightly (4).
- Turn the heat down to very low and add cream cheese, grated cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir well until you have a smooth and creamy cheese sauce (5).
- Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Stir to combine (6).
- Assemble the dish: Transfer the contents of the pan to the buttered baking dish (7).
- Melt the butter needed for the topping in a small pan. Add the breadcrumbs and extra grated cheese. Stir to combine. Spread the mixture on top of the casserole. (8).
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top.
Variations on the recipe
- Turn this into a stovetop recipe. In this case, you will not need the panko topping.
- Additions: Cooked and crumbled bacon, cooked green peas, fresh garlic (grated), steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets, cooked and chopped chicken breast, etc.
- Add some spices like garlic powder, chili powder, Italian or Cajun seasoning, and red chili flakes or cayenne pepper for heat.
- Don’t use pre-shredded cheese; its additives prevent it from melting well, and the sauce will be grainy. The best cheese for melting is freshly grated from a wedge.
- Cup measuring: I googled about measuring 1 cup of grated cheddar/Gouda in grams. The answers went from 83.5 g to 113.5 g to 235 g! So I measured out of curiosity, and 1 cup of freshly grated cheese (grated on a box grater) weighed 93 g/ 3.3 oz. I rounded up 2 cups to 200 g/ 7 oz.
- Double batch: Use a larger casserole dish.
- Make ahead: Combine cooked pasta and cheese sauce, transfer to the baking dish, and cover tightly. Refrigerate for 1-2 days. Only combine the ingredients for the topping and top the dish before baking. If you bake the mac and cheese with cream cheese directly from the fridge, increase the baking time a little bit. Or let the dish come to room temperature before baking about 30 minutes.
The combination of roux, cream cheese, and good quality freshly grated cheese.
Sure. Try mild Cheddar, smoked Gouda, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Pepper jack, Colby, or a combination of different cheeses.
Only if you ensure that the cheese is NOT made with animal rennet. Gouda is usually made with artificial rennet, but Cheddar is often made with animal rennet. Always check the label to ensure that the cheese is vegetarian.
Refrigerate cream cheese mac and cheese in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Reheat before serving.
Freeze in freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator. Defrosted mac and cheese tends to be a bit grainy, not as creamy as it was before freezing.
Reheat the creamy macaroni in the oven to keep the topping a bit crispy (it will still not be as super crispy as freshly baked).
You can use the microwave, but the topping will lose its crispiness completely.
How to serve?
- Main course: Serve with salad or roasted or steamed vegetables on the side. As a main dish, the recipe will serve 4 people.
- Side dish: A perfect side dish for Roasted Chicken, Hot Lemon Pepper Wings, Baked Curry Chicken Wings, Air Fryer Turkey Meatballs, or Air Fryer Pork Roast. As a side, the recipe will serve 6-8 people.
- For more serving suggestions try What to Serve with Mac and Cheese: 30+ Quick Dishes.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes
- Creamy Ricotta Mac and Cheese
- Simple Mac and Cheese without Flour
- Mac and Cheese Burger Recipe
- Old-Fashioned Baked Mac and Cheese
- Gouda Mac and Cheese (5 Ingredients)
Give my quick recipes a try for your next family meal! Feel free to reach out if you need any assistance!
Mac and Cheese with Cream Cheese
- Round casserole dish or a cast-iron pan - 9 inches/23cm (Note 1)
- Large skillet
Mac and cheese:
- ½ lb elbow macaroni 9 oz/ 250 g, Note 2
- 2 ½ tablespoons butter 35 g, Note 3
- 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour 20 g
- 2 ½ cups milk whole or semi-skimmed (min. 1.5% fat) 600 ml
- 2 cups Gouda or sharp Cheddar grated, 200 g
- ½ cup cream cheese 110 g
- a few gratings of nutmeg
- fine sea salt and ground black pepper
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs 45 g
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup Gouda or Cheddar grated, 30 g
Mac and cheese:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter the casserole dish (no need to butter a cast-iron pan).
- Cook macaroni: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt generously and cook ½ lb pasta (250 g) according to package instructions.
- In the meanwhile, make the cheese sauce.
- Roux: Melt 2 ½ tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Sprinkle 2 ½ tablespoons of flour on top and whisk until the flour is lightly golden, 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour 2 ½ cups milk (600 ml) into the mixture while constantly whisking to break up the clumps. Whisk on medium heat until the sauce starts to simmer and thickens slightly.
- Add cheese: On the lowest heat possible, add ½ cup cream cheese (110 g), 2 cups of grated cheese (200 g), a few gratings of nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir well until smooth. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper.
- Combine: Drain macaroni. Add them to the pan and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
- Combine topping ingredients: Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan. Add the ¾ cup breadcrumbs (45 g) and ¼ cup grated cheese (30 g). Stir to combine. Cover mac and cheese with the mixture.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.
- Baking dish: You can also use a square/rectangular casserole dish of similar capacity. If using a casserole dish, butter it first.
- Pasta: Any other short pasta is excellent.
- Butter: Salted or unsalted; adjust the salt accordingly.