This Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese is creamy, cheesy, and finished with an irresistible crispy, buttery breadcrumb topping! It makes great leftovers, and it works as both a side dish and a plant-based entree!

Bowl of baked vegan mac and cheese

One of the most common sentiments I hear from vegetarians who are hesitant to go vegan is: “but I love cheese!” 

I get it! Believe me, I loved cheese too. But there are so many incredible vegan cheeses out there these days, and you don’t even need to go to the fancy expensive grocery store to find them. You can make them at home!

The cheese sauce at the heart of this baked vegan mac and cheese recipe is the perfect example. It combines an assortment of easy-to-find ingredients that, when put together, create the creamy, smooth, umami-rich cheese flavour you know and love.

Toss it with elbow noodles, top it with buttery breadcrumbs, and you have yourself a classic mac and cheese dish—no dairy needed!

Overhead view of baked vegan mac and cheese ingredients with labels

Notes on Ingredients

Please note that this is important information on the ingredients and instructions and the FULL recipe with amounts and details can be found DOWN BELOW (scroll to it) in the recipe card.

For the vegan mac and cheese:

  • Elbow macaroni – If you prefer, you can use a different pasta shape, but make sure it’s one that “holds” creamy sauces well like shells, rotini, or cavatappi!
  • Oil – Any oil will work, but I typically use olive oil.
  • Carrot
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • Raw cashews – Soak these in water overnight, then drain and rinse them before starting the recipe. 
  • Sea salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Dry ground mustard
  • Lime juice
  • Soy sauce, liquid aminos, tamari, or lite soy sauce
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Paprika
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Vegan milk – You can use any variety, but I recommend canned full-fat coconut milk because it’s so creamy.

For the breadcrumb topping:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Melted vegan butter or oil

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a common ingredient in vegan dishes because it has a natural cheesy flavour. It’s also a great source of protein, vitamins (including vitamin B12, which is hard to find in plant-based foods), and minerals, so it gives your recipes a nutritional boost, too! This species of yeast grows on molasses, but it’s inactive, so you can’t use it to make bread or beer.

The nutritional yeast in this recipe is key to the flavour in the cheese sauce, so there’s really no way to omit or substitute it and still get the same results. Once you have it on hand, you can also use it in my Vegan Quiche Muffins with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach and Roasted Garlic Bread.

Overhead view of cashews soaking in water

What Can I Use Instead of Cashews?

The cashews create a phenomenal creamy texture and flavour for this vegan baked mac and cheese, but if you can’t use them, you can try subbing tofu, almonds that have been soaked overnight (with the skins removed), or sunflower seeds. It won’t taste exactly the same, but it will give you a similar base. 

How to Make Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

Instead of making a roux like you would for traditional mac and cheese, this recipe starts by cooking carrots and pureeing them into a creamy sauce! Here’s what you’ll need to do.

Pasta in fine mesh sieve

Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Overhead view of cooked carrots and onions in skillet

Cook the veggies. Place the oil in a pan set over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions, and garlic; stir to coat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cover and cook until the carrots are tender, which should take about 10 minutes.

Overhead view of vegan cheese sauce in blender

Make the sauce. Let the veggies cool, then transfer them to a high-speed blender. Add the cashews, salt and pepper, ground mustard, lime juice, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, paprika, ground nutmeg, and almond milk. Blend for 3 minutes on high speed, or until the sauce is completely smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Add the pasta. Place the cooked macaroni in a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Stir in the sauce, making sure it’s evenly coated.

Make the breadcrumb topping. Stir together the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and oil or butter in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese.

Vegan baked mac and cheese in pan, garnished with thyme sprigs

Bake. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then broil for a few minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.

Tips for Success

I’ve made this recipe so many times, I have a lot of hints and tips to share! 

  • Simple substitutions. You can use garlic powder and onion powder instead of fresh garlic and onions if you want to keep your prep work to a minimum. I’ve also made this without carrots and added extra paprika and turmeric for colour.
  • No high-powered blender? No worries! Just boil the cashews, which will soften them up enough that a regular blender will be able to puree them into a smooth sauce.
  • Use a cast iron skillet if you have one. The mac and cheese will get crusty and crispy on the edges—so good!
  • Making the sauce extra-cheesy. For that authentic cheese “pull” and texture, add a tablespoon of tapioca starch to the sauce before blending.
  • Adding flavour to the breadcrumbs. Garlic powder and herbs are a great addition to the breadcrumb mixture!
Baked vegan mac and cheese in skillet with wooden spoon

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. They can be reheated in the microwave or in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.

Can This Recipe Be Frozen?

You can freeze baked vegan mac and cheese for up to 3 months. Wrap it well, or transfer leftovers to an airtight container. I recommend letting it thaw in the refrigerator and then reheating it in the microwave or oven, as this will result in more even heating.

Vegan mac and cheese on wooden spoon

Enjoy friends! If you make this baked vegan mac and cheese recipe, please snap a photo and tag #jessicainthekitchen on Instagram! We’d also love it if you would leave a comment below, and give the recipe a rating! Thanks so much!

Bowl of baked vegan mac and cheese

Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

This Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese is a comfort food classic. You'll never believe the rich, creamy sauce is made with cashews and carrots!
5 (from 46 ratings)

Ingredients

Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese

  • 3 cups elbow macaroni, (12 oz/340g)
  • 1 tablespoon oil, any oil works, I love olive oil here (12.5g)
  • 1 large carrot, chopped (112g)
  • 1 small yellow onion, halved and chopped (72g)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup raw cashews,  soaked in water overnight, then drained
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, or liquid aminos or tamari or lite soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups vegan milk, you can use any, I love canned full fat coconut milk cause it's so creamy

Breadcrumb Topping

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, gluten free if needed
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons melted vegan butter or oil

Instructions 

Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese

  • Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
  • Prepare elbow pasta according to package directions. You can do this while the carrots are being cooked. Drain in a colander until ready to use (You can use the same pan as below – just leave the pasta in a colander, then after carrot mixture has been made, add to pan).
  • In a pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Once hot, add in the carrots, onions and the garlic, stirring to combine. Lower heat to medium low. Cover with lid and allow to steam/roast until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • In a large high speed blender add the carrot mixture, cashews, salt and pepper, ground mustard, lime juice, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, paprika, ground nutmeg, and almond milk.
  • Blend together for about 3 minutes on a high speed, until sauce is completely smooth and incorporate. If you need to blend longer that's fine, just blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  • Add the macaroni to a cast iron skillet or other similarly sized oven safe pot or oven sized container (mine is about 8" to 9"). Pour the sauce over the macaroni. Stir to combine until fully combined and all the macaroni is coated with sauce.
  • Mix breadcrumbs, salt and pepper to taste and vegan butter in a small dish with a small whisk or fork until combined. Sprinkle over the top of the Mac and cheese, covering completely.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until Mac and cheese is set, then broil for a few minutes until top is golden brown.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly then serve and enjoy!

Notes

How to store: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. They can be reheated in the microwave or in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.
How to freeze: You can freeze baked vegan mac and cheese for up to 3 months. Wrap it well, or transfer leftovers to an airtight container. I recommend letting it thaw in the refrigerator and then reheating it in the microwave or oven, as this will result in more even heating.
Calories: 480kcal, Carbohydrates: 58g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 23g, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 4g

Disclaimer: Although jessicainthekitchen.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Jessicainthekitchen.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.