Up your pasta game with this ridiculously cheesy and creamy mac and cheese with half and half. Super simple to make, the easy recipe can be enjoyed baked or from the stovetop. This is a perfect dish to make a hearty meal or add as a side for a holiday or special occasion!
Can you make mac and cheese with half and half?
Yes! Whether you’re a fan of half and half or you’ve run out of regular milk, you can prepare incredibly delicious mac and cheese using half and half. In this post, you’ll learn how to do just that!
I don’t know about you, but to me, mac and cheese is the ultimate love language of comfort food. And this simple mac and cheese with half and half is so perfectly flavorful and has a velvety, creamy texture.
Skip the Kraft mac tonight and whip up something that makes your entire family say WOW. It’s the best companion to any meal, from weeknight dinners to special holidays. Be prepared for clean licked plates and happy faces around the table!
Full of creamy and savory flavors, this mac and cheese with half and half will be a hit with your family! And the best part? The ingredients are basic pantry and fridge staples. Please see the recipe card below for exact measurements.
- Pasta: Use a short pasta such as classic elbow macaroni, rotini, shells, cavatappi, penne, or bow tie noodles. The pasta you see in the photos is called Tortellini.
- Butter: I like to use salted butter, but if you have unsalted, increase the amount of salt used in the sauce.
- All-purpose flour is necessary for making the roux that will thicken the half and half cheese sauce. You can swap in cornstarch or arrowroot powder for a gluten-free version.
- Half and half gives homemade mac and cheese the perfect creaminess and velvety texture without being too rich or heavy. Scroll down to the FAQ section to learn how to make your own DIY half and half from scratch.
- Sharp white cheddar cheese infuses the sauce with a ton of flavor and character. For the best results, freshly shred your cheddar. Pre-shredded cheese doesn’t melt as well since it’s coated with starch. You can also opt for orange cheddar or a mix of different cheeses.
- Seasoning: My recipe combines fresh garlic, paprika, salt, and a few cracks of black pepper. You want to keep them light so they don’t overpower the taste of the cheese.
- Breadcrumbs are optional and only needed when you want to bake your creamy mac and cheese before serving. Topping the dish with more grated cheese is another option if omitting the breadcrumbs.
How to make mac and cheese with half and half
This super creamy mac and cheese will take less than 30 minutes. It’s so delicious and incredibly easy. Let me walk you through the instructions step-by-step:
#1: Cook the pasta
- Following the package instructions, cook the pasta until al dente.
- Drain, then return the pasta to the pot and toss with butter. This will prevent the noodles from sticking, absorbing more liquid, and getting mushy.
#2: Make the cheese sauce
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the flour, garlic, salt, ground pepper, and paprika.
- Whisk constantly for 1 minute until the mixture is combined. Be careful not to burn it. If your stove runs hot, do this step over medium-low heat.
- Very slowly stir in the half and half, whisking as you pour to keep it smooth. Cook for serval minutes, frequently whisking to allow the sauce to thicken.
- Once the sauce is nice and thick, take it off the stove and stir in the cheese until melted.
- If desired, adjust the seasoning to your taste before adding the pasta.
#3: Combine the sauce and pasta
- When the cheese sauce is ready, pour it over the pasta and stir to combine until the noodles are fully coated.
- To serve it like this, stir the pasta over low heat to warm it up, and you are all done. If you want to bake your mac and cheese, keep on reading!
#4: Bake mac and cheese
- For baked mac and cheese with half and half, set your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 and pour the cheesy pasta into a greased casserole dish. Give the mixture a good stir to redistribute the sauce.
- Cover with more cheese and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. As mentioned before, the breadcrumbs are optional.
- Bake for about 18 to 23 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are toasted and the cheese sauce begins to bubble slightly.
- Let cool for 10 minutes and serve warm. Enjoy!
Mac and cheese with half and half is super satisfying, and here are a few tips that will help it turn out perfect!
- Pasta type: The one to consider with mac and cheese is how much cheese sauce the noodles will hold – that’s where the money is! Pasta like Tortiglioni or shells will hold extra sauce inside, so you get more cheese per bite.
- Cook the pasta until just al dente: Overcooking the pasta can lead to mushy noodles, especially if you intend to make baked mac and cheese with half and half.
- Whisk the sauce constantly to prevent burning: Be sure to stir the sauce consistently. You don’t want to overcook the roux or sauce because burned half and half will come through in the flavor.
- Don’t skimp on the fats: Really delicious mac and cheese is all about the good stuff, so use good-quality ingredients like butter, full-fat half and half, and cheese.
- Shred your own cheese: Please skip the pre-shredded cheese from the supermarket. I know it’s an extra step, but freshly shredded cheese melts much better. And as a bonus, cheese blocks are often cheaper than pre-shredded and will save you some cash.
- Soften the breadcrumbs: My recipe makes the breadcrumbs extra crispy. If you prefer them softer, toss your breadcrumbs with a few tablespoons of melted butter before spreading them on top of the mac and cheese.
What is half and half?
Half and half is equal parts of whole milk and heavy cream. The texture is thicker and more luscious than regular milk, but still less decadent and rich than cream. It’s the perfect middle ground and makes everything tastes creamier.
I don’t have half and half. What can I do?
If you don’t have a carton of half and half in your fridge, simply pour equal amounts of milk and cream into a jar, shake well to combine, and use it. You can find a detailed guide on how to make half and half here.
For this recipe, you’ll need 2 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy cream. Of course, feel free to adjust the ratio to your liking and use less cream for a lighter sauce.
Can I use fat-free half and half in mac and cheese?
Absolutely not! Despite the name, fat-free half and half is milk thickened with additives and corn syrup. It looks the same, but tastes completely different and will not work in this mac and cheese recipe.
What about dairy-free half and half?
A mixture of half coconut cream and half soy milk or almond milk makes a good dairy-free substitute for half and half. The taste will differ depending on the plant milks used, but the texture will be nice and creamy.
Mac and cheese with half and half tastes fantastic the next day. Here is how to store your leftovers to enjoy later:
- Store: Once it has cooled, store your mac and cheese in a sealed airtight container in your refrigerator. It will last up to 4 days!
- Reheat: Go ahead and reheat this in the oven for a couple of minutes until it’s heated through. Alternatively, zap individual portions in the microwave (stirring occasionally) until heated through.
- 1 lb / 450 g short pasta (e.g., macaroni, shells, penne, cavapati, etc.)
- 6 tbsp 85 g / 3 oz salted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup / 35 g / 1.2 oz all-purpose flour
- 4 cups / 950 ml / 32 fl oz half and half
- 2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 4 cups / 480 g / 17 oz sharp white cheddar, freshly shredded, divided
- 1 cup / 140 g / 5 oz breadcrumbs
- Prep work. If planning to bake the mac and cheese, preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4. Grease a 2-quart baking dish or a 9 x 13-inch / 23 x 33 cm casserole dish with a touch of butter. Set aside. Skip this step for stovetop mac and cheese.
- Cook pasta. Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Drain well and toss with 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and set aside.
- Make roux. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, garlic, salt, black pepper, and paprika, and constantly whisk for 1 minute (still over medium heat) until the mixture thickens.
- Add half and half. Slowly pour the half and half into the pot, whisking consistently to ensure no clumps occur. Heat over medium-low flame, and stir until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Melt cheese. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add 3 cups of the grated cheese, and stir until melted. If the cheese doesn’t fully melt, return the saucepan to the stove, using low heat until melted. You can serve your mac and cheese like this or continue to the next step of baking.
- Assemble. Transfer the mac and cheese to the prepared baking dish and toss to ensure the sauce is evenly distributed. Sprinkle with the reaming cup of shredded cheese and breadcrumbs.
- Bake mac and cheese. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly, the cheese on top is melted, and the breadcrumbs appear golden brown.
- Serve. Remove the mac and cheese from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes. Serve warm, and enjoy!
- Store. Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 4 days.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 516Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 100mgSodium: 649mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 2gSugar: 5gProtein: 19g
Reasons to love simple mac and cheese with half and half
- Cheesy and SO creamy: Half and half in mac and cheese is a really great base for the sauce. Adding it to the dish adds a rich, velvety texture and lets the flavor of the cheese shine.
- Easy to customize: Many pasta shapes work well; you can even make the noodles gluten-free if needed. While I used white cheddar in this recipe, you can swap out the cheese to make it your favorite.
- Stove top or baked: If you love your mac and cheese creamy and delicious, enjoy your mac and cheese straight from the stove. And if you prefer a gooey, breadcrumb-topped version, pop it in the oven and bake it. Either way is fabulous!
- Convenient to meal prep: Creamy macaroni and cheese is a tasty option for warmed-up meals in the middle of the week. Make it and eat off of it for several days. I also love making a big batch ahead of holidays and big family gatherings.
More mac and cheese recipes
Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food! It’s so full of pasta and cheesy goodness! I have put together a few more of our favorite mac and cheese recipes that you’ll love for dinner and the holiday season.