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
4.9 from 143 votes

Today, I’m sharing my vegan spin on the ultimate comfort food: Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese!

This recipe features an easy cheese sauce that is ridiculously creamy and cheesy (and even secretly wholesome…hi, butternut squash!). Once mixed with elbow macaroni, it gets topped with a buttery bread crumb topping and baked until crunchy and browned. The textural contrast of creamy and crispy is irresistible and every bite is packed with flavor, indulgence, and nostalgia.

baked mac and cheese on a plate

What you need to make the best Vegan Mac and Cheese

Butternut Squash. Butternut squash adds a velvety body to the cheese sauce and (2) it brings that nostalgic orange-yellow color you associate with mac and cheese.

Cashews. Soaked raw cashews, when blended up, rival the creamiest of dairy sauces. I’ve tried vegan cheese sauces without them and they never compare.

Nutritional Yeast. A potent source of savory flavor 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.

Miso Paste. One of the reasons people love cheese is that it naturally umami. To bring in more umami without using dairy, I add a bit of white miso paste.

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

Tapioca Flour. This ingredient helps thicken the cheese sauce and give it the texture you associate with a mac and cheese sauce. 

Panko. The light, flaky texture brings an irresistible snappy crunch to the topping and works much better than standard breadcrumbs.

sliced of crispy baked vegan mac and cheese on plate

How to make Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese 

Coat the butternut squash halves with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 425ºF for 45-55 minutes, or until completely fork tender and lightly browned. Scoop out 1 ½ cups of butternut squash flesh.

Add the butternut squash flesh to a blender with the soaked cashews, miso, nutritional yeast, spices, coconut milk, and tapioca flour. Blend until thick, creamy, and smooth.

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 at 400ºF for 15-20 minutes until the topping is crispy and golden brown.

tray of vegan mac and cheese with crispy topping

Tips for making this recipe

How to easily slice butternut squash

If you find it difficult to slice your butternut squash in half, pop it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes to help soften and make it easy to slice.

How to soak cashews

If you have a high-powered blender, you can soak your cashews in boiling water for just 30 minutes. But if you have a standard blender, soak them in cool water for 8 hours or overnight so the sauce is smooth and not gritty.

Taste the cheese sauce

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. If you’re planning to use this cheese sauce to make regular mac and cheese (i.e., not baking it), omit the tapioca starch. It’ll taste chalky if not cooked.

Let the mac and cheese rest

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

crispy vegan baked mac and cheese

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I substitute the tapioca flour?

You can sub in cornstarch (or arrowroot powder) with fairly similar results, but I find that tapioca flour works best.

How to store and reheat leftovers (and make ahead of time)

If you want to save time, you can make the cheese sauce and macaroni 1-2 days in advance, and toss them together in the baking dish; cover and refrigerate. On the day of serving, take it out of the fridge so it’s not super cold and make the topping (takes 2 minutes). Sprinkle the topping on and bake it off.

Or, you can just make the cheese sauce 2-3 day ahead of time and store it in an airtight container. Or even just roast the butternut squash 2-3 days in advance and store the flesh in the fridge.

Once baked, allow to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat, add your mac and cheese to an oven-safe dish. If very thick, add a spoon or two of plant milk and toss to combine. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375ºF for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through. If desired, take off the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.

Can I substitute the coconut milk?

For me, mac and cheese is an indulgent treat, not a health food, which is why I use coconut milk. But, if you’re allergic to coconut, substitute with full-fat oat milk or cashew milk. Almond milk is too thin IMO and soy milk (even unsweetened varieties) leaves a subtle but strange sweet aftertaste.

How can I make this vegan mac and cheese gluten-free?

  • Use gluten-free macaroni (or any small-medium pasta shape you can find) and gluten-free panko-style bread crumbs like this.
  • Can I use use something besides butternut squash?

    You can use (1) canned pumpkin puree or (2) canned butternut squash puree if you’re in a rush. That said, using whole butternut squash adds more flavor, as it’s fresher and gets more flavor baked into it with the roasting and the salt and pepper.

    Can I make vegan mac and cheese without the nutritional yeast?

    My answer would be no, as it brings a significant amount of the cheesy flavor. Otherwise, it’ll be more of a creamy pasta bake (delicious but won’t have the mac and cheese flavor).

    Watch! How to make Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese


    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.

    Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

    4.9 from 143 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
    Serving size: 6


    • 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


    • 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.

    Calories: 538kcal | Carbohydrates: 80g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Sodium: 845mg | Potassium: 1045mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 17907IU | Vitamin C: 36mg | Calcium: 113mg | Iron: 4mg

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    197 comments on Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

    1. Adriana

      5 stars
      This is a really great recipe, and I will definitely make it again some time! The butternut squash worked beautifully in this recipe, and the coconut lite did not give it a coconut flavor. I can’t wait to make more of your recipes!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Awesome, Adriana. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

    2. Stacy

      5 stars
      Okay, this is delicious. First time leaving a review for anything. I used nacho nutritional yeast and it was SO great. An instant hit in my house. Next time I’ll use precut squash cause that’s the hardest part.

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Stacy, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

    3. Papiya

      3 stars
      This was nearly amazing. Texture was perfect. I will try it again and use an alternative to coconut milk though. I did use a light unsweetened coconut milk from a can (TJ reduced fat coconut milk, that is light right?), but the natural sweet coconut flavor did not work with the other flavors for me. I added a little tomato ketchup to temper the sweetness. Everything else was fantastic and I know it will be amazing with a less sweet milk option!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Papiya, so interesting you thought the coconut milk was sweet, because the whole can only contains 6g of sugar. Tomato ketchup seems like it would add additional sweetness, so maybe in the future you can try using thinned out cashew cream. Acidic ingredients help cut the sweetness in meals as well!

    4. Anne

      5 stars
      Although I like butternut squash, I was a little skeptical that it would taste weird added to “cheese” sauce. But this was soooooo good. I’ve made multiple different vegan cheese sauces, and this is definitely going on the “really good-make again” list. I omitted the vegan butter from the topping because I try to be oil free, and it came out fine

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        So glad you loved the recipe, Anne!

    5. Kelly Holguin

      Something wasn’t quite right… I used gluten free Panko bread crumbs and almond milk instead of coconut – maybe that’s why? Still good but not moist. Should I have covered up when putting in the oven?

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Kelly, in the FAQ section Nisha mentions almond milk is too thin for this recipe. If you’re allergic to coconut, in the future you should substitute with full-fat oat milk or cashew milk. Hopefully next time you try it out it goes more smoothly!

    6. Jessie

      5 stars
      This recipe is incredibly delicious! We make a lot of recipes from Nisha in this household and each of them have never failed to impress. We love this mac and cheese version! You definitely cannot taste the coconut milk if you use the correct one. We use brown rice macaroni pasta and it works wonderfully! So easy to make and so yummy! We will be making this again and again. Thanks, Nisha!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Awesome, Jessie. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

    7. Adam

      Sounds like a silly question but will Frozen cut-up Butternut Squash work? Cutting squash can be tough on my knife.

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Adam, yes it should! We suggest you defrost it in the fridge overnight though, and drain off excess liquid before you cook with it. Enjoy!

    8. Gina

      3 stars
      I think everything works well in this recipe except the use of coconut milk. The coconut flavor doesn’t fit with the other flavors and detracts from the dish as a whole. Otherwise I think it works really well! I think I will try this again using oat milk!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Gina, did you use lite coconut milk from a can? Sorry you didn’t love it. Hopefully you like it better next time!

    9. anna

      hi nisha!!!
      can you freeze the cheese sause?thanks a lot!love your videos

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Anna, yes! So glad you love the recipes. Enjoy the cheese sauce!

    10. P

      4 stars
      I thought 3/4 cup of nutritional yeast was a bit too much, maybe 1/2 cup would be better, but the breadcrumb topping was nice

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Sorry to hear you weren’t a huge fan of the nutritional yeast, glad you liked the recipe otherwise!

    11. Joe

      5 stars
      Yo. Not a review, I’m a new vegan, prof chef, with a pretty severe nut allergy. I’m a little stumped on a sub for the cashews. I’d love to hear back. Loving a lot of your recipes.

      1. Cristina

        She has a nut free cheese sauce recipe.

    12. Jb

      This sounds delicious! I have kind of a weird question. Can you make a guess about how much that butternut squash is once it is out of the skin? Our store sells packages with it already cut up (and peeled, of course) that weigh 20 oz. Do you think that will be enough?

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi JB, 1 kg is 35 oz, so we suggest using 1.5 packages. Otherwise, you can definitely just halve the recipe! We hope you get the chance to try it!

    13. Food lover

      This is delicious!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!


      5 stars
      Made this for the second time this week. Instant favorite. Never eaten butternut squash before but it, along with all the other yummy stuff, is quite good.
      My kiddo is autistic so I wasn’t sure he’d eat it, but he did! And had seconds! Now I’m going to have to double the recipe just so we have enough leftovers. Thank You!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for the lovely feedback, Celicia!

    15. Sara

      5 stars
      Thank you for this deliciousness—it’s so good!! My husband & I are non-vegans but enjoy experimenting with plant based meals, and we both loved this. The flavor and texture are both great, and it all exceeded our expectations. We’ll definitely be making it again in the future :)

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Awesome, Sara. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

    16. Jay

      3 stars
      I really wanted to like this. From watching the recipe, it looks like it would taste amazing. The texture was very nice. However, I can’t say the same about the flavor. The butternut squash gives the sauce an off putting, nutty and sweet taste. It tasted like someone put sugar into mac and cheese. Had to toss it unfortunately.

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Sorry to hear you didn’t like it, Jay. We appreciate your feedback nonetheless.

    17. Ashley

      Yummmm! I did change things up a bit based on what I had. I used sweet potato instead of butternut squash because it’s what I had on hand, and threw in a few extra cashews. I left out the Nutritional yeast and sprinkled some of top of mine since hubby doesn’t like it (????). Also sprinkled red pepper flakes. I’ll be honest I didn’t bake this because I was tired and starving but it was so so good! Ate it with a side of broccoli and it definitely hit the spot.

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for sharing, Ashley!

    18. Aaron

      5 stars
      This mac & cheese is fantastic – even for a non-vegan. We have a cashew allergey in the household, so I used blanched, skinned almonds in place of the cashews and it worked great. Thanks for the recipe!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for sharing, Aaron!

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