Easy Baked Mac and Cheese

Crunchy on the outside and full of creamy, cheesy goodness on the inside, this homemade baked mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.

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.