Rub butter across the interior of a 13×9 (or ~3 quart) baking dish to lightly coat. Set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, cook until al dente (5), and drain.
While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet on low. Add 4 tbsp butter and garlic and cook for a few minutes until garlic is frothing and just turning golden brown. Turn off the heat, add the bread crumbs, and mix to combine. Set off to side.
After pasta is drained, return cooking vessel to cook top and set heat to med-low.
Add butter and melt, then add flour. Whisk to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes, bubbling, but not browning.
Pour in the milk ¼ at a time and whisk to combine. Turn heat to medium and cook until just boiling.
Remove pan from the heat and add the cheese, mustard, and cayenne in batches, continuing to whisk to combine and keep smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add pasta back to dish and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.
Pour pasta into the buttered baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake uncovered for ~20-25 minutes until top is light golden brown.
Let rest for 5-10 minutes then serve and enjoy!
You can use any pasta you’d like. Elbow is most traditional but have fun and change it up with fun shapes.
I tried a few different combinations of cheeses and really liked this combo. You can do 1:1 cheddar to gruyere and keep it easy but I think these 4 really balanced each other well. Also, use fresh cheese, don’t use pre-shredded. You’ll be happy you did.
If you were using dry breadcrumbs I’d go with Panko for the crunch. I used fresh sourdough for a little something extra though.
This dish is great for adding small flavor enhancers like cayenne. You can add things like southwest seasoning, creole, etc. to really jazz it up.
We like our pasta soft, and the noodle will keep cooking during the bake. If you want a more al dente finished product, cook to 1-2 min short of al dente, or “super al dente.”
Feel free to also add protein. Chicken, shrimp, sausage, crab, lobster, they all work well in mac and cheese. Same goes with veggies, and especially if you’ve got any leftover you’re needing to use up. Peas, broccoli, the options are endless.