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 1 hour
Cook 15 minutes
Total 1 hour 15 minutes
4.9 from 182 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 182 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 hour
    Cook Time: 15 minutes
    Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
    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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    273 comments on Crispy Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

    1. Made this last night. Absolutely delicious. Will never make it any other way again!

      5 stars
      Absolutely delicious! Will never make it any other way again.
      My son is vegan and rates every one of your recipes as superlative. Thank you!
      P.S. May I also add, you are a very personable young lady .

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thank you for the wonderful review! It’s great to hear the recipes are well loved :) This one is a favorite of mine as well!

    2. B

      4 stars
      Great recipe. Definitely will try again. My dad and I both had second. My sisters said that I didn’t add enough salt but that’s because I forgot to add salt to the sauce. I could barely taste the squash which is great for me. I loved the breadcrumb toppinby

      Vegan cheesy recipes tend to be a hit or miss for me but this, along with the vegan queso and the feta are so great.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thank you for your lovely comment, B! It makes us happy to know that everyone enjoyed the recipe. This is definitely a tasty one!

    3. Katia

      Why the quantity are different in the vidéo for the spices ?

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Katia, we’re not entirely sure, but the recipe here in the recipe card is accurate.

    4. Keagan Chronister

      5 stars
      Made this twice now and love it! Second time I didnt have mustard powder but used dijon to balance the flavors and worked just as well! Thank you!!

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Keagan, Thank you so much for such a fantastic review! Appreciate you taking the time!

    5. Perry Albertson

      5 stars
      This recipe was a pretty good project for the likes of me! I had to correct a couple of boo-boos I made, which I was fortunate to catch in time! In retrospect, it was fun and rewarding. I found it to be very tasty!!
      I will definitely make this again! Thank you, Nisha!

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        We’re over the moon to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Perry. Thanks for your kind words!

    6. Jen L

      5 stars
      So delicious. Made this last night-so savory, creamy and full of umami. The panko breadcrumbs were crunchy and golden. Had to use frozen butternut squash, still turned out excellent. And you’re getting extra vegetables. Served it with warm cabbage salad, thanks for your great recipes!

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Jen, Thank you for your thoughtful review! We’re so happy to hear that you enjoyed the mac and cheese.

    7. Rebecca

      Hate to do this… (can’t do cashews)… but the mild creaminess that they would give I can totally see. Have you or any of your followers tried subbing hemp seeds or walnuts succesfully? The dish coming out of the oven all crispy on top looks amazing! Thanks to you or any of your followers who may have a suggestion.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Rebecca, I’m sorry that this recipe can’t work for your intended needs! Unfortunately, hemp seeds or walnuts would not provide the same kind of creaminess and would add a more distinctive taste (we’ve tried making “hemp cream” and “walnut cream” and they taste pretty off).

        I will say that we have tried hemp seeds in our cilantro crema recipe and that works well because the strong flavors (cilantro, spices, jalapenos, etc.) mask the hemp seed taste. I don’t know if the flavors in this cheese sauce are strong enough to do that here. I know some folks have used a combination of boiled/steamed russet potatoes (peeled) and white beans (drained and rinsed very well), so maybe a combination of hemp seeds and potatoes might be better than all hemp seeds.

    8. Nicoline Wagener

      5 stars
      I made this recipe this evening and my husband and 14 year old son loved it. It is totally delicious. Thank you, Nisha, for your tips, tricks and really really delicious recipes.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Your positive feedback is the best reward for our hard work. Thank you, Nicoline!

    9. Danielle Marshall

      5 stars
      made this and my brother in law said it was delicious without even realizing it was vegan!! so yummy!!

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        That’s a win, Danielle! Thanks for sharing :)

    10. Carey

      My daughter is vegan ( I’m vegetarian) she asked me to make this. Even whilst following the recipe, I feared it wouldn’t be reminiscent of macaroni cheese. However it was spectacularly effective, and tasted wonderful. She was delighted with the result. For my part- it tasted delicious. Will definitely make again.❤️

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for the lovely feedback, Carey! :) 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!

    11. Novy O'Connell

      5 stars
      Fantastic dish!

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Novy, we’re so happy you enjoyed it! Thanks for leaving a review :)

    12. Novy O'Connell

      This was super tasty and not too difficult to make, especially as I roasted the squash and cooked the pasta the day before. My boyfriend doesn’t like mac and cheese but he really likes this dish! Great served with some peas and leafy greens.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Novy, we’re so happy both of you enjoyed this recipe and we’re looking forward to you trying even more! :) 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.

    13. Suma Cherukuri

      5 stars
      It was a wonderful dish. Loved the panko bread crumbs!! So crispy.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Suma, it’s great to hear you had success with the recipe. Thanks for the review!

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