This 4-ingredient mac and cheese is a simple stovetop recipe made with macaroni elbows, heavy cream, cheddar cheese, and American cheese.
Creamy mac and cheese is classic comfort food and one of my favorite comfort foods at that. But making it from scratch can seem intimidating, with all the different types of cheeses and sauces out there.
This 4-ingredient mac and cheese recipe simplifies the cooking process while still delivering deliciously creamy pasta. No roux or flour here! This is stovetop mac without the hassle.
This was one of my favorite meals as a little kid. Nothing tops homemade macaroni.
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Serve as-in for a great vegetarian recipe. Mac and cheese can be a side dish alongside BBQ meatballs or chicken thighs, or it can be served as the main course for a delicious dinner. You can add grilled chicken breasts or pulled pork to make it even more satisfying.
- Easy recipe: This is an easy no roux/no flour recipe that you can make with just a few ingredients in one pot.
- Simple ingredients: Only four ingredients (plus salt and pepper to taste).
- 15-minute meal: Get food on the dinner table in no time.
- Elbow macaroni: Uncooked macaroni noodles. You can use any small cuts of pasta such as shells.
- Heavy cream: Heavy whipping cream is a rich, high-fat dairy product that is used to add richness and creaminess to dishes.
- Shredded cheddar cheese: Sharp cheddar has a strong, tangy flavor. Pre-shredded cheese works great but shredded your own block of cheese will be even creamier.
- American cheese: American cheese is smooth and creamy in texture with a mild flavor.
- Salt and pepper: To taste
See the recipe card for quantities.
Pour the uncooked elbow macaroni into a large pot. Add just enough water to cover the macaroni. This will help the water become more starchy. Salt the water.
Bring to a low boil (medium heat) and cook, stirring frequently until the macaroni is near al dente (but not quite fully cooked). Most of the water will be absorbed or evaporated at this point.
Pro tip #1: Test the noodles for doneness as the pasta cooks! You don't want to overcook the pasta because you continue to cook it in cream after this.
Add heavy cream and bring to a low simmer, stirring continuously until the noodles are fully cooked and the liquid is reduced.
Once the noodles are fully cooked (al dente) much of the cream will be absorbed, but the noodles should still be slightly liquidy. This will be the base of the cheese sauce.
Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside on the stove top. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and American cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce becomes slightly thick. The creamy cheese sauce will thicken slightly as the macaroni cools. If needed, add another splash of cream or milk if the sauce is too thick.
Pro tip #2: Separate the American cheese slices so they melt more easily. I like to bury several slices on the bottom of the pot under the hot noodles so they melt easier.
Substitutions and Variations
- Cheese: Use your favorite type of cheese or mix different cheeses to create a unique flavor profile. White cheddar, American cheese, or parmesan cheese are great alternatives to sharp cheddar cheese. Also, mozzarella and Monterey Jack are great melting cheeses.
- Dairy: Heavy cream is the fattiest option followed by half-and-half. Evaporated milk can also be substituted for heavy cream. Whole milk is another option, though the finished product will not be as creamy.
- Mustard powder: Adding a pinch of mustard powder to the sauce can give it a tangy kick.
- Leftover meat: You can add leftover chicken, bacon, or ham to the mac and cheese for a more filling main course.
- Hot sauce: For spice lovers, adding a splash of hot sauce, red pepper flakes, or chili powder can add some heat to the dish.
- Gluten-free: I do not have experience with gluten-free pasta, so cooking times may vary. Otherwise, since this is a no-flour recipe, as long as the noodles, cheese, and dairy are all gluten-free, this can be made into a gluten-free mac and cheese.
This 4-ingredient mac and cheese is a versatile side dish that pairs well with many main courses, such as grilled chicken, steak, or fish. You can also serve it with a side salad for a balanced meal.
This is a one-pot meal, so all you need is a large pot. You will want a large pot or a Dutch oven.
To store leftover mac and cheese, first allow it to cool down to room temperature. Then transfer it to an airtight container. Leftover mac and cheese should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within 3 to 4 days.
To freeze, portion the mac and cheese into smaller containers or freezer bags and seal them tightly, removing as much air as possible. Frozen mac and cheese will keep for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat it, simply thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and reheat it in the microwave.
Note that reheated mac and cheese may not have the same texture as freshly made mac and cheese, as the pasta can become mushy and the sauce can separate.
Don't forget to stir frequently as the macaroni elbows cook so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
Yes, you can boil heavy cream, but it's important to keep a close eye on it and be careful not to overheat it. When heated too high or for too long, cream can curdle, or separate. Heavy cream is more forgiving than milk which has a lower fat content.
Mac and cheese typically includes pasta, cheese, milk or cream, butter, and flour, but this easy recipe only includes four ingredients: pasta, cream, cheddar cheese, and American cheese.
4-Ingredient Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow macaroni uncooked
- 1-½ cups heavy cream
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces American cheese 12 slices
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pour the uncooked elbow macaroni into a large pot. Add just enough water to cover the macaroni. This will help the water become more starchy. Salt the water.
- Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring frequently until the macaroni is nearly al dente. Most of the water will be absorbed or evaporated at this point.
- Add heavy cream and bring to a low simmer, stirring continuously until the noodles are fully cooked and the liquid is reduced.
- Remove from the heat and add the shredded cheddar cheese and American cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce becomes slightly thick. The sauce will thicken slightly as the macaroni cools. If needed, add another splash of cream or milk if the sauce is too thick.