This is the best evaporated milk mac and cheese recipe! The easy baked mac and cheese consist of a rich, decadent cheese sauce, topped with a crispy breadcrumb topping. The perfect comfort food dinner and holiday side dish!
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Easy baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk
We all love the comfort food quality of pasta and cheese sauce, right? And there a countless macaroni and cheese recipes out there, from quick and easy (like this simple no-flour mac and cheese) to fancy (such as this Tuscan chicken mac and cheese and Chick-Fil-A mac and cheese).
Still, I always come back to this amazing evaporated milk mac and cheese recipe! The cheese sauce is so luxurious + creamy, and everything is baked to crisp, golden perfection. And it really doesn’t take more effort than preparing a box of the pre-made stuff.
You can serve this easy baked macaroni and cheese as a quick main course (think mac and cheese casserole) or as a side dish. It’s a must-have side for family get-togethers, special celebrations, and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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Reasons to love evaporated milk mac and cheese
- Fantastic flavor: Evaporated milk makes this homemade macaroni and cheese rich, creamy, and flavorful. The crispy, golden topping takes your classic mac to the next level.
- Easy recipe: If you’re a cheese lover and one of your favorite things is pasta, you need to have a great + fool-proof mac and cheese recipe in your back pocket!
- Family favorite: Everyone loves mac and cheese! This delicious evaporated milk mac and cheese is always a big hit for kids and adults alike.
- Make-ahead: Baked mac and cheese can be made in advance and is perfect for freeing up time on busy holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The great thing about evaporated milk mac and cheese is that the ingredients are simple. I bet you probably already have most of them in your kitchen. Refer to the recipe card further down for specific measurements.
- Pasta: While elbow macaroni is the classic pasta for mac and cheese, use your favorite small pasta like penne, fusilli, or farfalle.
- Evaporated milk works great in mac and cheese and makes the sauce rich and creamy.
- Cheese: I used sharp cheddar, but you can work with any cheese that melts well and has a saltier taste, such as Swiss cheese, gruyere, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Havarti, or Fontina.
- Cornstarch helps to thicken the sauce. And no worries, you don’t have to cook a roux for this recipe!
- Butter is needed for the sauce and to toss the cooked pasta. Salted and unsalted butter are both fine.
- Seasoning: I seasoned this dish with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. If you prefer anything extra like mustard powder, hot sauce, chili flakes, nutmeg, or Italian seasoning, go for it!
- Topping (optional): The baked mac and cheese topping consists of breadcrumbs, melted butter, and a pinch of salt. It’s optional – you can always top your dish with more cheese to simplify the recipe.
Why use evaporated milk for mac and cheese?
Evaporated milk provides creaminess and body to the mac and cheese sauce without the fat and heaviness of actual cream. If you never tried a macaroni and cheese recipe with evaporated milk, you should! I’m confident that you’ll fall in love with the creamy texture!
What can I use instead of evaporated milk?
Don’t have evaporated milk? No problem! Simply substitute regular milk or half-and-half instead of evaporated milk. Whole milk is best, but you could also use 2% if you prefer a light cheese sauce.
Can I use pre-shredded cheese?
No, please don’t! For the creamiest, tastiest results, I highly recommend shredding your own cheese from a block of cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in additives that prevent it from sticking together. These additives change the way the cheese melts and can make the sauce grainy.
Can I skip the topping?
Of course! Actually, you can skip the baking if you prefer. The mac and cheese are ready to eat right after tossing the noodles with the cheese sauce. Just be sure to cook the pasta until al dente.
How to make evaporated milk mac and cheese
This macaroni and cheese recipe with evaporated milk is straightforward and beginner-friendly. And because evaporated milk cheese sauce is so simple, it will become a go-to for your family! Here’s a rundown of each step:
Step 1: Preheat oven
- Preheat the oven to 357°F / 180°C / gas mark 4. Grease a 1-quart / 1 l casserole dish with a bit of butter.
Step 2: Make topping
- In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, melted butter, and salt. Set aside.
Step 3: Cook pasta
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt.
- Cook the pasta following package instructions until almost al dente but 2 minutes LESS than the cooking time indicated on the packaging.
Step 4: Drain and toss
- Drain the pasta and transfer it back into the pot. Stir in the butter until melted to keep the pasta from sticking. Set aside.
Step 5: Cook sauce
- Combine the cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper in a medium saucepan.
- Add the evaporated milk, water, and butter.
- Stirring constantly, heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
- Boil for 45 seconds to 1 minute. This will activate the cornstarch and thicken the sauce.
Step 6: Add cheese
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the shredded cheese until mostly melted. If desired, season with more salt or pepper according to your taste.
- Next, mix in the pasta.
Step 7: Bake
- Pour the mac and cheese into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the bread crumb topping and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
- If the top isn’t golden enough, broil for 2 to 3 minutes, keeping an eye on it.
Step 8: Serve
- Remove the baked mac and cheese from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Tips for the best mac and cheese
After many years of making this recipe, I’ve assembled a list of helpful tips for making perfectly creamy mac and cheese with evaporated milk!
- Always cook the noodles in salted water to avoid bland pasta and give the dish flavor right from the start.
- Undercook the pasta: The pasta in baked mac and cheese is cooked twice. Make sure to slightly undercook the pasta and drain once the noodles are about turn al dente (still firm and with some bite). Doing so prevents the pasta from becoming too soft or mushy when they bake in the oven.
- Minimize dirty dishes: After draining, return the pasta to the pot where you cooked the noodles in.
- Toss with butter: To prevent the noodles from sticking together, toss them with butter or some oil until coated.
- Don’t boil the sauce after adding the cheese: Don’t return the pot to the heat after adding the cheese to the sauce. Otherwise, the sauce might split or get grainy. The cheese will melt as the dish bakes.
- Avoid overbaking: Overbaking will make the noodles bloaty and mushy. For a golden, super crispy topping, broil your baked mac and cheese with evaporated milk for a few minutes.
Make-ahead & storage instructions
Making evaporated milk mac and cheese ahead of time
To make this recipe ahead of time, prepare the mac and cheese as directed, but don’t bake it or add the topping. Instead, transfer the pasta and cheese into the baking dish, let it cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap (cling film), and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
When ready to serve, allow the dish to come to room temperature before baking, for about 20 minutes. If the pasta seems too dry (cold mac and cheese usually does), stir in a few tablespoons of milk until the texture becomes creamier. Then add the topping and bake. Easy!
How to store evaporated milk mac and cheese
Store leftover evaporated milk mac and cheese in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 3 to 4 days. Make sure the dish is entirely cooled before refrigerating.
Reheat evaporated milk mac and cheese
Before reheating, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons evaporated milk to loosen the pasta. Then cover and reheat in the microwave in short bursts until heated through.
Can I freeze this?
Yes, you can freeze baked mac and cheese. Transfer the cooled mac and cheese into an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
You can also keep it in the baking dish, covered tightly with foil. When it’s time to eat, bake the frozen mac and cheese, covered with foil for the first 40 minutes, at 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 for 1 hour.
Should I cover mac and cheese while baking?
No, it isn’t necessary to cover evaporated milk mac and cheese as it bakes. In fact, baking uncovered is a must because we want the topping to get crispy and golden brown.
What is the best cheese for mac and cheese?
You have many great options for mac and cheese! My favorites are sharp cheddar, gruyere, Monterey Jack, Fontanini, and gouda. I used sharp white cheddar because it’s rich, melts well, and gives a smooth flavor.
What’s the best pasta for mac and cheese?
Any short noodles that hold the sauce work. Elbow macaroni, farfalle, penne, small shells, rotini, and cavatappi would be all good options.
Why did my baked mac and cheese come out dry?
Mac n cheese with evaporated milk can dry if baked for too long, so follow the recommended cooking time. If the topping isn’t golden by the time the baking time is up, simply put it under a broiler to toast the breadcrumbs.
Another reason for dry mac and cheese is using more noodles than the recipe calls for. There needs to be enough cheese sauce to generously coat every bit of pasta.
What can you serve with evaporated milk mac and cheese?
Evaporated milk macaroni and cheese go well with so many things! It’s a great side for meat, chicken, and turkey and pairs well with veggies like roasted broccoli or Brussel sprouts.
To transform your baked mac and cheese into a full meal, add 2 cups cooked vegetables, 1 cup shredded chicken, or diced ham to your mac and cheese before baking.