Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

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This Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. An incredibly creamy (and easy) vegan cheese sauce gets paired with elbow macaroni, covered in a crispy and buttery breadcrumb, and then baked in the oven.
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins

Today, I’m sharing my Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese!

Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, and there’s so much nostalgia wrapped up into it. Though my mom had never even heard of mac and cheese until well after moving to the U.S., she happily adopted this American tradition.

To be clear, she exclusively made Kraft mac and cheese. And while I still have fond memories of the boxed stuff, my tastebuds have changed, so this recipe was designed with adult tastebuds in mind.

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Why you’ll love this Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

Comfort food heaven. Mac and cheese is always comfort food heaven (cheesy + creamy), but when you throw in crispy and buttery topping, it gets even better. Each bite is packed with flavor, indulgence, and nostalgia.

Textural contrast. While I love mac and cheese, one thing that I don’t love is that it’s one uniform texture. Sure, I’ll eat a bowlful, but the one-note texture can get a bit boring after a while. Hence, this crispy breadcrumb topping. The crunchiness pairs so perfectly with the rich creaminess that you’ll never want to stop eating this meal.

Easy to make. This cheese sauce is incredibly easy to make. The longest part of the recipe is just waiting for the butternut squash to roast, but the prep work takes less than 5 minutes. (you just need to cut the squash in half; no need to peel or dice it). Then, you blend the squash with the other ingredients until liquified, pair the sauce with cooked elbow macaroni, top it with a 2-minute breadcrumb topping, and pop it in the oven.

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Ingredient Spotlight

Butternut Squash. I love using butternut squash as part of the base for a vegan cheese sauce. First, the vibrant color lends this beautiful shade of orange, the color we most associate with mac and cheese. And from a texture perspective, it adds this velvety body to the cheese sauce.

To make this a quicker dish, you can also roast the butternut squash in advance and store the flesh in the fridge for a few days.

And while you can definitely use canned butternut squash puree if you’re in a rush, I do recommend using whole butternut squash since (a) it’ll be fresher and therefore more flavorful and (2) you’ll have a chance to season it with salt and pepper, thereby bringing more flavor to the recipe.

Cashews. If you’re no beginner to vegan recipes, you know that raw cashews that have been soaked in water make for some of the creamiest vegan sauces and dressings.

If you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, you can soak your cashews in boiling water for just 30-60 minutes. However, if you have a standard blender, you’re safer soaking the cashews in cool water for 8 hours or overnight. The longer soak will help fully pulverize all the cashew bits, so the sauce is smooth and not gritty.

Nutritional Yeast. Again, if you’re no beginner to vegan recipes, you also know that nutritional yeast is a potent source of umami and helps mimic the taste of cheese. In order to get this to really taste cheesy, I use a generous ½ cup of nutritional yeast. Not to worry, nutritional yeast itself doesn’t taste “yeasty.”

Dry Mustard Powder. This is technically an optional ingredient but I love adding a bit to my cheese sauce because it yields a sharp tang that not only evokes sharp cheddar cheese but also balances the creamy richness of the cheese sauce.

Miso Paste. One of the reasons people love cheese is that it naturally contains glutamic acid, which is the essence of umami (i.e., a rich savory taste). To bring in more umami without using dairy, I add a bit of white miso paste.

Lite Coconut Milk. Mac and cheese is supposed to be indulgent, so to really amp up the creaminess, I add in some “lite” coconut milk. It has a high enough fat content to bring a lot of creaminess, but it’s not so heavy that it will make the cheese sauce too thick.

To make your own “lite” or reduced-fat coconut milk, mix together 1 part full-fat canned coconut milk with 2 parts water, stir together until well combined. Then measure out 1 cup for this recipe.

Tapioca Flour. This ingredient helps thicken and creamify the cheese sauce and really give it the texture you associate with a cheese sauce. If you don’t have access to tapioca flour, you can substitute with cornstarch with mostly similar results.

Panko. The crispy bread crumb topping utilizes panko, aka Japanese bread crumbs. Their light, flaky texture brings an irresistible snappy crunch to the topping and works much better than standard breadcrumbs.

Watch! How to make Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

How to make this Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese 

Roast the butternut squash halves for 45-55 minutes, or until completely fork tender and lightly browned. Then scoop out 1 ½ cups of butternut squash flesh.

Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni, toss well to coat. Then transfer the mac and cheese to a 3-quart baking dish and spread out evenly.

For the topping, mix together the panko, nutritional yeast, salt, paprika, and melted vegan butter.

Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping over the mac and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping is crispy and golden brown.

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Tips for making this recipe

1. If you find it difficult to slice the butternut squash, pop it in the microwave for 60-90 seconds to help soften.

2. Taste the cheese sauce before you pour it onto the macaroni. Add more salt, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, mustard powder, or miso paste as needed.

3. If you want your mac and cheese to almost solidify into a mass (see photos below), allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes before slicing into it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I substitute arrowroot powder or cornstarch for the tapioca flour?

  • Yes, though I find the texture is best with tapioca flour.

Can I make this baked mac and cheese ahead of time?

  • Yes, for the most part! You can make all three components – cheese sauce, macaroni, and topping in advance. I would wait until the day of to assemble and bake though, as the topping looses some of its crispness after being refrigerated. That said, the leftovers are still very tasty after several days – you just don’t get the same crispiness you do on the first day.
  • This cheese sauce can be made several days in advance and stored in a glass jar or airtight container. You can also bake the butternut squash a few days in advance.

Can I substitute the coconut milk?

  • Mac and cheese is supposed to be a decadent treat. It is not supposed to be a “health food.” So if you’re not allergic to coconut, please use the coconut milk! It makes for the creamiest and dreamiest mac and cheese.
  • If you are allergic to coconut, substitute with a creamy, full-fat milk, such as oat milk or cashew milk. I don’t recommend almond milk – it’s too thin. I also don’t like using soy milk because even the unsweetened versions are slightly sweet, which is off putting to my tastebuds.

How do I make this recipe gluten-free?

  • Use gluten-free macaroni (or any small-medium pasta shape you can find)
  • Use gluten-free panko-style bread crumbs like this.

If you give this Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below.

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Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

5 from 46 votes
This Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. An incredibly creamy (and easy) vegan cheese sauce gets paired with elbow macaroni, covered in a crispy and buttery breadcrumb, and then baked in the oven.
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Diet Vegan
Keyword: gluten-free, mac and cheese, vegan cheese
Serving size: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 small-medium butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds or 1 kg)
  • Olive oil or avocado oil, for roasting and tossing pasta
  • 1/2 cup (~70g) raw cashews, soaked in cool water overnight or in boiling water for 1 hour and then drained*
  • 3/4 cup (60g) nutritional yeast (makes for an extra cheesy flavor, but you can use 1/2 cup or 40g and it will still be good)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional but adds a nice sharp tangy flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon mellow white or yellow miso paste
  • 1 (13.5 ounce/ 400 mL) can “lite” coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca flour (see the “frequently asked questions” section for substitutes)
  • 12 ounces (340g) elbow macaroni (see the “frequently asked questions” section for notes on how to make this recipe gluten-free)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Crispy Topping

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (60-65g) panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Use a very sharp knife to slice the butternut squash in half, then scoop out the seeds using a spoon.
  • Bake the squash. Place each squash half, cut side up, on a baking sheet and rub each with a bit of the olive oil or avocado oil and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the flesh is completely fork tender and lightly browned.
  • Meanwhile, make the crispy breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, salt, paprika, and melted vegan butter until well combined.
  • Meanwhile, cook the elbow macaroni. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook the pasta according to the box directions until al dente and drain in a colander. Toss with a little bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Once the squash is done roasting and cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Measure out 1 1/2 cups (310-330g) of the flesh. Reserve the rest for another use, such as a curry, soup, or side dish.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (205°C). Lightly grease a 3-quart/3-liter baking dish with oil or melted vegan butter.
  • Make the cheese sauce. In a high-powered blender, add the 1 1/2 cups (310-330g) of the squash flesh. Add in the soaked and drained cashews, nutritional yeast, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, miso paste, tapioca flour or cornstarch, lemon juice, lite coconut milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides as you go. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly, adding more salt as needed, more miso paste for more umami, more nutritional yeast for more cheesiness, or more lemon juice for more acidity.
  • Return the cooked and drained pasta back to its saucepan and pour in the cheese sauce. Toss until well combined. Transfer the mac and cheese to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the crispy breadcrumb topping evenly over the top.
  • Transfer to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the topping is crispy and brown. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes to help set up, then slice into it and serve.

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39 comments on Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

  1. Michelle Reeves

    5 stars
    Amazing!!! Going to my go-to cheesy macaroni recipe for life. Simply delicious. Thank you

  2. Valentina

    5 stars
    It’s the best mac n cheese recipe I’ve ever made! I’ve been making vegan mac n cheese for the 10 years I’ve been vegan – this is the best one!

  3. Maren

    5 stars
    My favorite Mac recipe, kids love it too!

  4. Chrys

    5 stars
    This is so good even my nonvegan family enjoyed it! Thanks for this!

  5. Chrys

    How did you prepare it if not baked? It has been one of the best mac and cheese recipes for our family. And the lite coconut milk was definitely needed. It was a little too sweet when I used regular coconut milk.

  6. Alison

    5 stars
    This was hands-down the BEST mac and cheese, vegan or otherwise, EVER!!! The crispy topping is delightful, and the pasta underneath is so creamy! The butternut squash in the sauce especially adds a wonderful texture and taste. Thank you so so much for this amazing recipe, it’s a keeper for sure!

  7. Dani

    5 stars
    My favorite Mac and Cheese recipe!

  8. Alba Stefani

    5 stars
    The best mac and cheese ever! I have tried about 3-4 types of vegan mac and cheese over the years from different vegan cooks and this one is by far the best.

  9. Abbie

    5 stars
    Yum!! There’s a decent amount of prep work involved but oh was it worth it! It was creamy with a delicious umami flavor! I used the 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast but I think it would be even better with 3/4.

  10. Jackalyn Divine

    5 stars
    This is such a great “grown up” take on mac & cheese! I’ve made it twice so far this holiday season and it’s perfect cold-weather comfort food.

  11. Ian Black

    5 stars
    Made this for my 20 year old “bro diet” brother and he told me afterwards it was the best Mac n Cheese he’s ever eaten. This is a winner!

  12. Reshma

    5 stars
    Let me start by saying that I LOVE mac and cheese… and that definitely includes the cheese component of it. I tried out this vegan mac and cheese and I have to say that it was incredible. It was indulgent with a dose of veggies added in. If you love mac and cheese as much as I do, I highly recommend this recipe.

  13. Shuvya

    5 stars
    The sauce is so delicious I could eat it like soup!

  14. Fiona Lazar

    5 stars
    Ooo I loved this Mac and cheese so much I made it twice in three days! So sooo good!! The second time I stirred some steamed cauliflower and peas through the pasta before mixing with the cheese sauce. So good!

  15. Kim

    5 stars
    I surprised my daughter and made her this for Christmas Eve dinner. I used gluten free penne pasta. The recipe was a hit!

  16. Kerry

    5 stars
    One of my favorite vegan mac & cheese recipes! I cooked it for my family’s Christmas dinner with cavatappi pasta. When I make it again, I’ll double the topping and briefly bake on higher heat to make it crispier before serving. Absolutely LOVE the creamy cheese sauce!

  17. Pamela James

    5 stars
    Excellent dish! The entire family loved it, even the non-vegans. Leftovers were gone in a day. This will be in our monthly rotation!

  18. Jamie Zimmerman

    5 stars
    This was the first vegan dish I made and I was hooked. Hooked on the recipe, Nisha and the vegan journey. Thanks Nisha for showing the way! just purchased the insta pot cookbook and excited to some of those recipes as well. Keep up the excellent work and guidance. Thanks for all you do!

  19. Sindy Mundy

    5 stars
    Tastes just like the real thing! I actually tricked my teenagers that it was regular mac and cheese. Didn’t tell them it was vegan until they went for seconds! The miso, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice give the sauce such a kick. I haven’t had mac and cheese for decades and this just brought back so many good memories (guilt-free coz it’s healthy).

  20. Megan

    5 stars
    I actually completely forgot the cashews and this was still the best vegan mac and cheese I’ve ever made (and I’ve made MANY) by far. My whole family loved it!

  21. Lydia C. Diaz

    5 stars
    I’ve made more than a dozen yellow cheese sauces in my short time eating whole food plant based and this is the best recipe by far. It’s so tasty and the flavors don’t fight eachother.. Thank you for sharing with us!

  22. Lana

    5 stars
    Oh. My. Gosh.
    I just made this tonight and it is *slammin.* I’ve tried a few mac n cheeze recipes before and none of them compare to this. This is the closest to real mac n cheeze. Even my (very honest) omni partner said it was great. I used full fat coconut milk and I’m not sorry about it.

  23. Sam

    5 stars
    This is my favorite vegan comfort food! Reminds me so much of the mac n cheese I used to have as a kid

  24. ANNETTE HETH

    5 stars
    This was so, so delicious! My husband is very picky, not Vegan, and he loved it!!

    1. Yay, always a success when you can please the picky, non-vegan husband!Thanks for sharing, Annette!

  25. Sunny White

    5 stars
    This is the best of all the many vegan mac and cheese recipes I’ve tried and I have tried a lot. I would like to be able to copy and paste a picture of it on the recipe I printed out but can’t do that with Pinterest pictures. I have this problem with all your recipes. Is there any way to work around this?

  26. Liron Blecher

    5 stars
    This is just… OMG !!!
    It’s soooooo delicious.
    Hi really can’t believe how got this is – I found myself licking the entire blender after making the sauce :)

    You are awesome for developing this recipe and sharing it with the world !

    Thank you

  27. Ann Salazar

    Can I substitute the butternut squash for spaghetti squash?

    1. Hi Ann, they don’t really have the same texture, so the sauce probably won’t be as velvety. A better option would be canned pumpkin puree.

      1. Shannon

        I only have a pound of butternut (used the rest for a different recipe)… so just do a pound of pumpkin then?

        1. Shannon

          5 stars
          Nevermind I missed the final amount of squash which is actually exactly how much I had! Holy cow this is by FAR the best vegan Mac I’ve ever had!! I’m hoping my kids don’t like it so I can eat it all myself ;) great job

        2. Yep, pumpkin works well!

  28. Caroline

    5 stars
    One of my absolute favorites!

  29. Gail F Nalven

    5 stars
    I made the stovetop version. very yum! There are two of us, and we had two huge portions, with a bit left to fight over.

    We will definitely make it again.

  30. Rose

    5 stars
    This is so yummy! Vegan-izing cheese related dishes is usually something I avoid. But this was honestly so great.

    I added some sautéed veggies and mushrooms. Instead of the crust in the recipe I used crispy onions because I had some that needed to get used. I also didn’t do even 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast. I’m not a huge fan of the flavor. I did put in about 2 table spoons and I think three would have been perfect (for my taste buds at least.)

    Thanks for sharing this!

  31. Chantelle

    5 stars
    Hands down the best mac & cheese we’ve had, vegan or not! Even non-vegan family members have fallen in love.

  32. Cynthia Smith

    5 stars
    I love your mac and cheese! I’m not vegan but dairy is not always my friend:) Do you have the nutritional facts on hand? Sorry if they are posted and I missed them. Just curious how the calories and fats compare to dairy MnC. 😘Cindy

  33. Stephanie

    5 stars
    Favorite Mac and cheese recipe!

  34. Matthew

    5 stars
    Genuinely incredible. I’m not vegan but I made this for my vegan flatmate and it was honestly just so good. I wouldn’t say it tastes like Mac and cheese, it kind of tastes better? I’m making this a second day in a row!

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