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Best Crispy Baked Mac and Cheese Bites Recipe

Need a fun finger food for your next party? This baked mac and cheese bites recipe is the perfect appetizer for kids and adults. Easy to freeze, quick to reheat.

bowl of mac and cheese balls

This is a perfect finger food to keep on your appetizer menu for practically any party you host. It is the comfort food snack you have been looking for.

  • Kid’s birthday parties. Keep the bites simple and small. Make the recipe with all cheddar cheese and no add-ins, just how children like it.

    Scoop the cheesy balls with the smallest scoop before baking. Don’t forget to give the little guests a dollop of ketchup. Then they can dip and eat their fav food with their fingers.
  • Super bowl party. Your football fans are kids at heart, right. They will love your baked mac and cheese bites recipe customized for them.

    Throw in some ground beef for cheeseburger mac and cheese bites. These heartier appetizers are perfect for game day. Remember the hot sauce. It is ideal for dunking.
  • Baby showers. These cute little appetizers are a fun finger food to celebrate a new mom. Add Dijon mustard and blue cheese in place of the green onions to make them a little fancier.

    The guests will appreciate that the bites are baked instead of fried.
  • Dinner party appetizer. Having a few friends over? Nothing keeps hunger at bay like a finger food appetizer. Snack and chat with your guests before serving dinner. Serve with a side of ranch dipping sauce.

Tips, Tricks, and Other Things to Know

  • Are you playing a constant game of hide-the-vegetables with your kids? This is the perfect appetizer to sneak some veggies in. Shredded carrots, zucchini, or pureed butternut squash are absolutely delicious in mac and cheese balls. 
  • If you’re in a time pinch, you can use boxed macaroni and cheese to make this recipe. However, it will lack a bit of the ooey-gooey factor you get with the homemade stuff.

    If you choose to do the boxed route, add an extra tablespoon butter and cheese to the instructions on the package.
  • Best tip for breading: Use your left hand for rolling the balls in the flour, right hand for egg, then left hand again for the breadcrumbs.

    You have one hand that is dry and one that is wet. This will prevent a thick batter from developing on your fingertips. Goodbye gummy mess!
  • What fun is a crispy, cheesy bite like this without dipping sauce? Okay, yes, it’s still pretty fun. But dipping sauce makes anything a little extra enjoyable. Try ranch dressing, honey mustard, barbecue sauce, marinara, or ketchup.
mac and cheese balls (large and small)
  • Use a 1-inch cookie scoop for small balls. Use a muffin cookie scoop for large balls.

Mac and Cheese Bites Ingredients

Macaroni

dry macaroni

Small elbow pasta works best in this recipe. Small shells or noodles are the perfect size to compact into a ball that is a bite-size portion.

Cheese

Any cheese lover will appreciate the varieties of cheese you can use to customize this great recipe. Here are a few.

  • Cheddar cheese. White cheddar (or sharp cheddar) is your go-to cheese for a classic recipe for mac and cheese.
  • Gruyere cheese. This white cheese melts just like cheddar but has its own flavor. It is a popular choice for a traditional mac and cheese recipe.
  • Mozzarella cheese. Now we’re talking. Use mozzarella plus sausage for an Italian version of delicious mac and cheese bites.
  • Blue cheese. This is for an adult version of the little bites. Pair it with a mustard dipping sauce.
  • Parmesan cheese. Shred this hard cheese and mix it with the bread crumbs that will coat the mac and cheese balls.

Cheesy Sauce

The sauce is a simple recipe that starts with a roux (flour and melted butter). Add milk and cream to make the sauce in homemade macaroni.

Sauce Flavorings

  • Mustard powder
  • Nutmeg
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Hot sauce

Add-in Ingredients

bacon

Here is where these mac and cheese cups get interesting. There are all sorts of flavorful ingredients to add to make an exciting side dish.

Keep all the add-ins small. Mince them, so the balls roll together nicely.

green onions on a cutting board
  • Sliced green onions and bacon. I like to used precooked bacon to save time. However, you can also cook the bacon in the oven while the pasta cooks.
  • Cooked ground beef
  • Pesto and minced sun-dried tomato
  • Italian sausage and mozzarella
  • Blue cheese and mustard
  • And of course, the classic chopped hot dog

Breading

Roll the mini mac and cheese bites in flour, an egg wash, and seasoned bread crumbs. Then bake.

  • Flour
  • Egg wash with milk

Dipping Sauce

  • Ketchup – the classic
  • Hot sauce
  • Ranch dressing
  • Spicy mustard sauce
  • Blue cheese dressing

How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese Bites Recipe

If you have leftover macaroni and cheese, skip to Step 5, where you roll the macaroni into balls.

STEP 1: Prep the Ingredients

  • Grate the cheese.
  • Cook and crumble the bacon (if using).
  • Thinly slice the green onion or chives (if using).

STEP 2: Cook the Macaroni

  • Bring four quarts of water to a boil over high heat in a large pot of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water.
  • Add 2 cups of elbow macaroni or small shells and 1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil. Cook pasta until it is al dente according to package instructions. Usually, 7 to 9 minutes.
boiling macaroni
  • Drain the cooked macaroni and set it aside.
drained macaroni

STEP 3: Make the Cheese Sauce

  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the milk and cream in a small pan over medium-low heat. Be careful to not bring it to a boil.
warming milk
  • In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Turn the heat to low and add the flour to the butter. Whisk until a smooth paste is formed.
making the cheese sauce
  • Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the flour paste gets toasty and starts to brown.
  • Add the warm milk, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens and is smooth.
making cheese sauce
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, nutmeg, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce (optional), salt, and pepper.
mac and cheese sauce

STEP 4: Prepare the Mac and Cheese

  • Spoon macaroni and any add-ins into the cheese sauce. Stir until very well combined.
mac and cheese in sauce
  • Spread the macaroni and cheese onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. The macaroni should be in a single layer.
mac and cheese on a baking sheet
  • Cool about 15 minutes until it is almost room temperature.
  • Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
  • Place in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the refrigerator for one to two hours. Chilling overnight also works. The mac and cheese is ready to roll into a ball when it is very cold.

STEP 5: Roll the Mac and Cheese Balls

  • Scoop the macaroni into well-packed balls. Use a 1-inch cookie scoop or a 3-inch muffin scoop, depending on the size you want the balls.

    If you prefer, you can shape them with your hands. But try to keep them about the same size. The cookie scoop will be bite-sized (25 g). The muffin scoop will make golf ball size (50 g).
freezing mac and cheese balls
  • Place the balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  • Freeze for about 15 minutes. This will firm up the balls before breading.

STEP 6: Prep the Breading Station

Place the three breading components in separate shallow bowls.

Prep the Bread Crumbs

breading for mac and cheese bites
  • Grate the Parmesan cheese.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the panko breadcrumbs and toss quickly until the crumbs are lightly toasted.
  • Transfer to a large bowl and add the grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Prep the Egg Dip

  • Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl.

Prep the Flour Station

  • Pour the flour into a wide, shallow bowl.

Bread the Mac and Cheese Balls

breading station

Pro Tip: Use one hand for the dry ingredients and the other hand for the wet ingredients. This keeps your fingertips cleaner.

breading the mac and cheese ball station
  • Set up the breading station. Flour first, dip in eggs, and roll in the seasoned bread crumbs.
  • Use your left hand. Roll each ball in the flour. Lightly shake.
  • Use your right hand. Dip lightly in the egg.
  • Use your left hand. Roll in the seasoned bread crumbs.
  • Place the mac and cheese balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Alternately you can spray with nonstick cooking spray.
mac and cheese bites on a cookie sheet

If you prefer, bake the mac and cheese balls in a regular sized muffin tin for the larger balls. Or use a mini muffin tin for small balls. Spray mini muffin tin, so the mini mac and cheese balls don’t stick to the pan.

mac and cheese balls in muffin pan

Bake the Mac and Cheese Bites

mac and cheese balls ready to be baked
  • Preheat the oven to 415° F (210° C).
  • Bake the mac and cheese bites for 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.
  • The appetizers are done when they are a light golden brown.
  • Cool slightly before serving with your favorite dip.

Mac and Cheese Bite Variations

inside of mac and cheese ball

Once you’re comfortable with this recipe, you can easily make it your own. Change up add-ins or seasonings. Seasoning can go into the macaroni and cheese or into the panko breading.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Add 1 tablespoon (or more if you want) of hot sauce.
  • Add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 2 ounces of blue cheese.
  • Omit the bacon and green onion but add some pesto and minced sun-dried tomato.
  • Use finely crumbled Italian sausage or chorizo instead of bacon.
  • Whisk some anchovy paste and chili powder into the butter before mixing with the panko breadcrumbs.
  • Add grated carrots, corn, peas, finely chopped cauliflower, or broccoli.

How to Store Leftover Macaroni Cheese Balls

mac and cheese balls on a plate

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will last 3 or 4 days. However, the longer they chill, the drier they will be. On day 4, you will really appreciate the dipping sauce.

Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese Balls?

The next time you make a huge batch of these little bites, you may have leftovers. Try freezing them if you need to store them longer than a couple of days.

Flash freeze them first. This will keep them from sticking together.

  • Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Put them in the freezer.
  • Freeze for an hour.
  • Remove them from the freezer and place them in an airtight freezer container or a freezer zip-top bag.
  • Return them to the freezer and freeze completely.

You can take out whatever amount you need instead of thawing all the leftovers.

No need to thaw before reheating. Pull a few out of the freezer and heat in a toaster oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

How to Reheat Mac and Cheese Balls (from the fridge)

  • Reheat in oven at 350° F (175° C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Reheat in the toaster oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Avoid the microwave. If you microwave, you will lose all the crispy goodness.

Can You Make Mac and Cheese Balls Ahead?

It is easy to make this baked mac and cheese bite recipe early.

  • Use leftover mac and cheese. Make the macaroni early and chill until you are ready to shape into balls.
  • Make but don’t bake. Assemble the whole recipe, but don’t bake it. Store it in the refrigerator, covered in aluminum foil for one or two days.
  • Assemble, then freeze. Freeze the mac and cheese balls on a tray. When you are ready to bake them, transfer the frozen balls onto a baking sheet. Add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

What to Serve With Mac and Cheese Bites

Sure, the cheesy bites are the perfect comfort food. But there are countless things to combine them with. Here are some of my favorite things to pair with them.

  • Side salad. A crisp garden salad is a perfect side dish for any baked mac and cheese bites recipe. This menu is ideal for a quick Sunday lunch.
  • Mashed potatoes. Mac and cheese + mashed potatoes. Comfort food at its finest.

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Yield: 20 (2-inch) balls

Best Crispy Baked Mac and Cheese Bites

mac and cheese balls on a plate

Need a fun finger food for your next party? This baked mac and cheese bites recipe is the perfect appetizer for kids and adults. Easy to freeze, quick to reheat.

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces of Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 4 slices of thick-sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 4 green onions, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) of elbow macaroni or small shells
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1⅛ cups of whole milk
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
  • ½ teaspoon of dry mustard
  • salt to taste (usually ½ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Breading

  • ⅓ cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of panko bread crumbs
  • 1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of milk

Instructions

  1. GRATE the cheese.
  2. COOK and CRUMBLE the bacon (if using).
  3. THINLY SLICE the green onion or chives (if using).

Cook the Pasta

  1. BRING four quarts of water to a boil over high heat in a large pot of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water.
  2. ADD 2 cups of elbow macaroni or small shells and 1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil. Cook pasta until it is al dente according to package instructions. Usually, 7 to 9 minutes.
  3. DRAIN the cooked macaroni and set it aside.

Make the Cheese Sauce

  1. HEAT the milk and cream in a small pan over medium-low heat while the pasta is cooking. Be careful to not bring it to a boil.
  2. MELT the butter over medium-low heat In a large skillet. Turn the heat to low and add the flour to the butter. Whisk until a smooth paste is formed.
  3. COOK for 2 to 3 minutes until the flour paste gets toasty and starts to brown.
  4. ADD the warm milk, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens and is smooth.
  5. REMOVE from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, nutmeg, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce (optional), salt, and pepper.

Prepare the Mac and Cheese

  1. SPOON macaroni, green onions, and bacon into the cheese sauce. Stir until very well combined.
  2. SPREAD the macaroni and cheese onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. The macaroni should be in a single layer.
  3. COOL about 15 minutes until it is almost room temperature.
  4. COVER with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
  5. FREEZE for 15 minutes or chill in the refrigerator for one to two hours. Chilling overnight also works. The mac and cheese is ready to roll into a ball when it is very cold.

Roll the Mac and Cheese Balls

  1. SCOOP the macaroni into well-packed balls. Use a 1-inch cookie scoop or a 3-inch muffin scoop, depending on the size you want the balls. If you prefer, you can shape them with your hands. But try to keep them about the same size. The cookie scoop will be bite-sized (25 g). The muffin scoop will make golf ball size (50 g).
  2. PLACE the balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  3. FREEZE for about 15 minutes. This will firm up the balls before breading.

Prep the Breading Station

  1. GRATE the Parmesan cheese.
  2. MELT the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. ADD the panko breadcrumbs and toss quickly until the crumbs are lightly toasted.
  4. TRANSFER to a large bowl and add the grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  5. WHISK the eggs and milk together in a bowl. Set aside.
  6. POUR the flour into a wide, shallow bowl.

Bread the Mac and Cheese Balls

Pro Tip: Use one hand for the dry ingredients and the other hand for the wet ingredients. This keeps your fingertips cleaner.

  1. Use your left hand. ROLL each ball in the flour. Lightly shake.
  2. Use your right hand. DIP lightly in the egg.
  3. Use your left hand. ROLL in the seasoned bread crumbs.
  4. PLACE the mac and cheese balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Alternately you can spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Bake the Mac and Cheese Balls

  1. PREHEAT the oven to 415° F (210° C).
  2. BAKE the mac and cheese bites for 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.
  3. COOL slightly before serving with your favorite dip.

    Notes

    All images and content are ©TheTastyTip.com. If you want to use this recipe and techniques, please take your own photos, write your own description, and link back to this page. Thank you.

    Nutrition Information

    Yield

    20

    Serving Size

    1 ball

    Amount Per Serving Calories 142Total Fat 9gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 24mgSodium 231mgCarbohydrates 12gFiber 1gSugar 1gProtein 6g

    Nutrition information is an estimate only and may vary based on individual ingredients added and cooking methods used.


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