This baked vegan mac and cheese is made with al dente pasta, creamy vegan cheese sauce, and topped with buttery breadcrumbs. It's a rich and creamy comfort food rivals the traditional mac and cheese you grew up with!
Mac and cheese is always a family favorite for dinner or a staple buffet side dish at the holidays. Keep your favorite dish on your menu, but swap out the dairy for a luscious creamy sauce with tons of cheesy flavor. Save this recipe for the next time you need a vegan or dairy-free side dish (hint Thanksgiving).
The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It's rich and creamy, full of carbs, and often topped with crispy bread crumbs for the best texture. This easy vegan mac and cheese recipe delivers all of those things, sans the dairy.
We hear from so many that they're dairy-free for so many reasons and we wanted to bring you a dairy-free and vegan option that rivals the classic mac n cheese. This recipe is the real deal, even picky eaters (like our toddler) love it. Here are a few reasons we love this recipe:
- It's made with real, plant-based ingredients and no extra additives, gums, or fillers.
- Make everyone happy because it's dairy-free and delicious! No matter if someone is vegan, dairy-free, or not, they will drool over this recipe.
- It's the ultimate comfort food and will hit the spot for your cheesy cravings.
Here are the key ingredients for the best vegan mac and cheese recipe, including brands and swaps. Jump down to the recipe card for exact measurements.
- Pasta: we used gluten-free macaroni, but traditional macaroni or penne pasta are good options.
- Vegan butter: this adds a lot of flavor to the cheese sauce and buttery breadcrumbs, but can be swapped for olive oil. You can find any vegan butter at the grocery store, but our favorite is Myokos.
- Seasonings: we're using real garlic, garlic powder, salt, smoked paprika, and salt to add flavor to this recipe.
- Flour: this is a key ingredient to thicken the cheese sauce. Swap this for a measure for measure gluten-free flour. We tested this with Bob's Red Mill 1:1 flour and it worked well.
- Dairy-free milk: any unsweetened plant milk works including soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, or cashew milk. I don't recommend using oat milk because it can become gummy when heated (similar to oatmeal).
- Nutritional yeast: this deactivated yeast looks like yellow flakes and has a mild flavor that resembles parmesan cheese. It's the best ingredient for vegan cheese sauces, which is why we're using it in the sauce (twice) and topping. We're using almost an entire cup of nutritional yeast, so I don't recommend swapping this for anything else!
- Raw cashews: blend cashews with warm liquids for a thick cashew cream. It's our favorite way to make a vegan cheese sauce, like in our vegan queso, because of the mild taste and creamy texture. No need to use soaked cashews, because they're getting mixed with a hot sauce to break them down. Swap this for raw sunflower seeds for a nut-free option.
- Arrowroot flour: this is another thickening agent we're using at the end of the sauce instructions. It creates a stringy texture that resembles real cheese. You can swap this for tapioca flour or omit it if you don't have it on hand (but I recommend it!).
- Panko breadcrumbs: we used gluten-free panko breadcrumbs for the buttery topping!
How to Make Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese
Here are the step-by-step instructions to make the best baked vegan mac and cheese, including photos! Skip down to the recipe card below for the full recipe and video.
- Make a roux: melt the vegan butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant then sprinkle the flour on top and whisk well until it creates a thick paste.
- Add the milk: slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly, until it's all combined. Turn the heat up and continue to whisk while it bubbles and thickens. Stir in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, and smoked paprika.
- Vegan parmesan cheese: pulse the raw cashews, garlic powder, salt, and remaining nutritional in a high-powered blender or food processor until it resembles parmesan cheese. Remove ¼ cup of the mixture for the topping.
- Blend the cheese sauce: add the cheese sauce to the cashew parmesan cheese mixture and blend on high until really smooth, 2-3 minutes.
- Finish the sauce: pour the cheese sauce back into the saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix the arrowroot flour with the remaining almond milk until dissolved then whisk it into the sauce to thicken slightly.
- Add the pasta: drain the pasta from the water, if you haven't already, then pour it into the skillet with the cheese sauce. Stir it well to coat the pasta in the sauce then pour the mac and cheese into a greased baking dish.
- Buttery breadcrumbs: melt butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat then add the vegan parmesan cheese and panko breadcrumbs and toast until golden brown.
- Bake: top the vegan macaroni and cheese with the toasted breadcrumbs and bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The majority of plant-based, vegan mac and cheese recipes are made from almond milk, nutritional yeast, and cashews. We thickened this sauce with a traditional roux and added seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika for the perfect creamy vegan cheese sauce. Alternatively, some recipes call for blending tender carrots, butternut squash, or potatoes to create a creamy vegan cheese sauce.
this is a flaky deactivated yeast that grows on molasses. It's used in many vegan dishes as a cheese substitute because of its cheesy flavor and yellow color. It's a great source of vitamins and minerals. You can buy it at any grocery store in the spice section. Bragg's and Bob's Red Mill are two popular brands.
Swap the cashews in the cheese sauce for tofu or sunflower seeds. They won't yield the same flavor, but you should get the same creamy texture. Don't forget to use nut-free vegan butter and milk!
We tested this recipe without soaking the cashews, and in fact, don't recommend soaking them for the vegan parmesan cheese that goes in the topping. If you have a high speed blender, soaking them isn't necessary because they're being mixed with a warm sauce that helps break them down. If you don't have a lot of confidence in the speed of your blender you can soak your cashews for up to 12 hours in advance to help break them down.
Technically no, you don't have to bake this recipe, although it helps all the flavors meld together. You can stop once the cheese and mac are mixed for a stovetop version.
- Use a high sped blender to get the cheese sauce really creamy. If you don't have one, you will need to blend it a little longer to achieve the same result.
- Cook your pasta to al dente. We're baking the cooked pasta, so overcooking them can result in mushy pasta (no one likes mushy pasta).
- Pay attention to the temperature of your stovetop. Turn the heat up to allow the cheese sauce to bubble and thicken, but not so high that the sauce burns.
Store this dairy-free mac and cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Warm it in the microwave or bake it at 350°F until warmed through. Add a splash of dairy-free milk if it looks too dry. I don't recommend freezing this dish.
If you make this recipe, I’d love for you to give it a star rating ★ below. You can also tag me on Instagram so I can see it!
More Vegan Side Dishes
- Air fryer spaghetti squash
- Dairy-free green bean casserole
- Air fryer butternut squash
- Panera autumn squash soup
- Spinach artichoke pasta bake
Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese
Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 10-12 ounces of macaroni or penne pasta (gluten-free if needed)
- ¼ cup vegan butter
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free if needed)
- 3 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk (or other non-dairy milk) divided
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ⅔ cup nutritional yeast divided
- ¾ cup raw unsalted cashews
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
- 1 cups of Panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free if needed)
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Large Pot and/or Skillet
- 1.5 Quart Baking Dish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 1.5-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1-2 tablespoons of salt and make the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander when it's done.
- While it's boiling, make the vegan cheese sauce. Add the vegan butter to a deep skillet over medium-high heat and swirl it around to melt. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Turn the heat down to medium and sprinkle the flour on top and whisk it well to create a thick paste, also known as a roux.
- Slowly whisk in 3 cups of dairy-free milk, stirring frequently, until thickened and smooth. Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high and allow the mixture to bubble to help thicken it. Continue to whisk well, especially around the edges of the pan, to keep the cheese sauce smooth. Stir in ⅓ cup of the nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, and onion powder, and remove the sauce from the heat.
- Add the remaining ⅓ cup nutritional yeast to a high-speed blender with the cashews, garlic powder, and salt. Pulse it a few times into small bits, like parmesan cheese. Remove ¼ cup of the mixture to save for the topping.
- Carefully pour the prepared cheese sauce into the blender with the remaining cashew mixture and blend until smooth, 1-2 minutes. It may take longer to blend smoothly if you don't have a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix).
- Pour the cheese sauce back into the skillet over medium-low heat. Mix the arrowroot flour with ½ cup of milk in a separate small bowl to dissolve it. Pour it into the cheese sauce and turn the heat up to medium-high to bubble then turn it down and simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, to thicken the sauce. The arrowroot gives it a stringy, cheese-like consistency. Whisk in more milk a few tablespoons at a time if it looks too thick. Remove from the heat.
- Drain the pasta from the water, if you haven't already, and add it to the skillet with the cheese sauce and mix to coat it all. Pour it into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
- To the same pot, or a new clean skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of vegan butter over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs, salt, and the reserved vegan parmesan cheese. Stir frequently for 3-4 minutes to toast until golden brown.
- Sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the vegan mac and cheese and bake in the preheated oven, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes.