Amazing Baked Mac and Cheese

Rich, decadent, and creamy, this amazing mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.  It's full of creamy, cheesy goodness on the inside and has a crunchy topping!

Set an oven rack to the medium position and preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter or coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add all of the topping ingredients: Panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, thyme and melted butter. Mix well to combine and set aside.

Fill a medium pot with water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Add elbow pasta and under cook by 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions (be sure to read the instructions on the box, each brand is slightly different). 

The pasta should be cooked to al dente - tender but still firm to the bite, as it will continue cooking in the oven. Once done, rinse under cold running water and drain well; set aside.

In a medium saucepan (2.5 quart), set over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter bubbles, add the flour. Whisk the flour for 2 minutes to cook off any raw flour taste.

Keep a constant eye on the pan as this will scorch easily. While whisking slowly add the warm milk. Continue cooking and whisking constantly until the mixture becomes thick and smooth; about 3-5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese, 3/4 cups gruyère and reserved elbow pasta. Mix well to incorporate and pour into the prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup gruyère cheeses. Top off with the reserved panko bread crumbs.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top.

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve immediately.