Crispy Baked Mac and Cheese Bites
These easy baked mac and cheese bites are creamy on the inside and deliciously crispy on the outside—no deep frying necessary! Just roll chilled macaroni and cheese into bite-sized balls, coat with panko breading, and bake. A fun finger food appetizer, and a great recipe to revamp leftover mac and cheese!
Mac and cheese is one of the great loves of my life—ever since I was a kid and Kraft was my main food group. But these mac and cheese balls take my favorite comfort food to a whole new level. With that crispy panko breading, they’re like a baked mac and cheese casserole in bite-sized form! Almost like the macaroni version of pizza rolls.
So many of us fall in love with mac and cheese as kids because it’s simple, comforting, and it brings us joy. As I heal my relationship with food, I realize the importance of feeling that joy with food—because when I enjoy what I eat, I actually feel satisfied. And I love how these adorable macaroni and cheese bites reconnect me to that joy & awe with food that I felt as a kid.
Ingredients for Baked Mac and Cheese Bites
- Cold Mac and Cheese. Use your favorite, or try my easy 15-minute homemade mac and cheese! You can really use any leftover mac that you want: homemade, restaurant leftovers, frozen, even Kraft or Velveeta. The only requirement is the macaroni has to be cold before you roll it into balls. So this is a great recipe to use leftover macaroni straight from the fridge, or you can chill freshly made macaroni until it’s nice and cold.
- All-Purpose Flour. To help the breadcrumb coating adhere, you’ll first need to roll your mac and cheese balls in flour. I find all-purpose flour is the most reliable, but you could also use wheat flour or a gluten-free flour if needed.
- Eggs. After the flour, you’ll roll each bite in a whisked egg mixture to help the breadcrumbs stick.
- Panko Breadcrumbs. Coating your baked mac and cheese bites with panko breadcrumbs lets you enjoy the crispy comfort of a baked mac and cheese topping in every single bite! For extra crispiness, I recommend toasting your breadcrumbs for a few minutes beforehand.
- Salt. Add a dash of salt with your breadcrumbs so every macaroni bite is perfectly savory & seasoned.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Bites
On a lined baking sheet, add panko breadcrumbs in a flat layer and toast them for 5-6 minutes at 400°F (200°C), stirring halfway. When they’re golden-brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool to the touch.
This step is optional, but it will make your breaded mac and cheese bites extra crispy & delicious!
Roll Cold Macaroni and Cheese into Balls
Using leftover mac and cheese straight out of the fridge, portion the cold macaroni with a cookie scoop (#40 or 1.5-Tbsp) and roll it into balls with your hands. Aim to keep the balls about the same size so they’ll cook evenly.
What if I don’t have leftover mac and cheese?
You can make this leftover mac and cheese bites recipe with a freshly cooked batch of macaroni if needed—whether it’s boxed, frozen, or homemade mac and cheese. Once it’s cooked, just chill your macaroni in the fridge for at least an hour to firm it up before rolling it into balls.
Freeze Mac and Cheese Balls Until Firm
Arrange your rolled mac and cheese balls in muffin tins or on a sheet pan and freeze them for 15-20 minutes. Once they’re nice and firm, they’ll be much easier to coat with the breading.
Set Up a Dredging Station
Lay out 3 shallow dishes for your breading ingredients: fill the first dish with flour, the next with whisked eggs, and the last with toasted breadcrumbs & some salt.
Coat Macaroni Bites with Breading Ingredients
Using your frozen macaroni and cheese balls, dip each ball into the flour, then the whisked eggs, and then the toasted breadcrumbs. Be sure to coat the balls completely with each ingredient, and really press the breadcrumbs with your hands to help them stick.
Bake Mac and Cheese Bites Until Browned & Crispy
Once coated, transfer your breaded macaroni balls to a baking sheet with a wire rack on it and spray the tops with cooking spray to help them brown in the oven. Then, bake for 20-25 minutes at 400°F (200°C), until they’re browning around the edges.
Can I cook mac and cheese bites in the air fryer?
Yes! You can use this same recipe to make air fryer mac and cheese bites for an extra crispy twist—and they’ll cook even faster. Once they’re breaded, air fry the mac and cheese bites at 350°F (180°C) for 10-15 minutes. It’s best to cook in smaller batches (8-12 bites at a time), so the air fryer isn’t overcrowded.
Storage & Reheating
After baking, let any leftover mac and cheese bites cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-7 days. I find these are best enjoyed fresh, or reheated within 2-3 days.
To reheat your baked mac and cheese balls, place them on a lined baking sheet and heat them in the oven or toaster oven at 350°F (180°C) for 5-7 minutes, until they’re warmed through.
Can I freeze mac and cheese balls?
For longer-term storage, you can also freeze any leftover baked mac and cheese bites. First, freeze them on a baking sheet for about 1 hour. Then transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for 1-2 months. You can reheat straight from the freezer without thawing—just reheat for a few extra minutes.
But, if you want the best, crispiest texture when reheated, I recommend freezing mac and cheese bites before baking them.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Balls Ahead of Time
If you’re prepping a batch of party appetizers or hosting a holiday gathering, there are a few ways to make these easy mac and cheese bites ahead of time:
- Cook the macaroni and cheese a day (or a few) in advance. Remember, the macaroni needs to be cold before you roll it into balls, so using leftover mac and cheese is a great way to save time!
- Assemble, but don’t bake. If you’re prepping 1-2 days in advance, you can roll & coat your mac and cheese balls in the breading, but wait to bake until the time of serving. Store the unbaked bites in a covered container in the fridge until then.
- Assemble & freeze. If you want to prep even further in advance, freeze the unbaked bites on a tray for about an hour, then transfer the frozen bites into a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready, you can bake them straight from frozen—just add 5 minutes or so to the recipe bake time.
What do you eat with mac and cheese bites?
Like every great finger food appetizer, these baked mac and cheese bites are best served with tasty dipping sauces! These are some of my favorites:
- Ranch Dressing or Ranch Mayo Dip.
- BBQ Sauce
- Marinara Sauce
- Honey Mustard or Spicy Mustard
- Hot Sauce
Baked Mac and Cheese Bites
- 3 cups mac and cheese, cold
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs, toasted
- ½ tsp salt
- ranch dressing, (or your favorite dipping sauce!)
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add breadcrumbs in a flat layer. Toast for 6 minutes, stirring halfway, until golden in color. Remove from oven & allow to cool on baking sheet.
- Use a cookie scoop (#40 or 1.5-Tbsp) to portion cold mac and cheese. Roll each scoop into a ball with your hands, keeping them about the same size so they cook evenly.
- Transfer rolled macaroni balls to a mini muffin tin or sheet pan and freeze for 15-20 minutes. (To help them firm up before coating them.)
- Lay out 3 shallow dishes to set up your dredging station: Fill one dish with all-purpose flour, another with whisked eggs, and another with breadcrumbs & salt.
- Dip chilled mac and cheese balls into flour, then whisked eggs, then toasted breadcrumbs, tossing to coat completely with each ingredient. Press with your hands to help the breadcrumbs adhere.
- Transfer coated balls to a baking sheet with a wire rack on it. Repeat until all bites are assembled. Spray the tops with cooking spray before baking (to help them brown).
- Bake mac and cheese bites for 20-25 minutes at 400°F (200°C), until browning on the edges.
- Yields 24 mac and cheese bites (portioned with a 1.5-Tbsp or #40 cookie scoop).