BAKED MAC & CHEESE
This is a recipe that I’ve worked on a number of different times over the past two years. I wanted to write up a new post for this since I’ve reworked some of the techniques throughout the cooking process and also adjusted various ingredients to give it a rich flavor. So without further ado, here it is: classic baked mac & cheese.
Baked Mac & Cheese
Makes 6 – 8 servings
~ 1/2 – 2/3 box of macaroni (normally comes in 16 oz.)
~ 1/4 cup butter
~ 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1/2 tsp dried basil
~ 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
~ 3 cups milk
~ 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
~ 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1/2 tsp black pepper
~ 1/2 tsp garlic powder
~ 2-1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
~ 1/2 tsp Chipotle Tabasco or Sriracha sauce (optional)
~ 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
~ 1 tbsp butter
~ 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Cut up your butter into smaller pats in order to help it during the melting process.
- Measure out and divide up your dry ingredients into mini holders in order to help make cooking on the stovetop smooth. Wet ingredients I would add in directly during the cooking process.
Stovetop / Oven:
- Take a large pot that you’ll be using to cook the macaroni in and fill it with water. Add in a bit of salt and then set it aside on the stove without turning on the heat. You can potentially time it just right so that your macaroni and sauce finish cooking around the same timeframe.
- Melt your butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam up, stir in your flour with a whisk.
- Keep the saucepan at medium heat and cook out the starch from the flour, which takes about 3 to 4 minutes. If you’re using white flour, the color should be more of a pale yellow. If you’re using whole wheat flour (darker brown), then the color should be a lighter brown.
- Once the flour is done cooking, add in your basil and cayenne pepper and combine. Let it cook on medium heat for another 30 seconds, and then whisk in 1 cup of milk. Get everything to be nice and combined before adding in the rest of the milk. After you’ve done that, go ahead and start to preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Here is where you’ll need to take out a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to use, since you’ll need to know if the milk is thickening up (a whisk probably isn’t going to be helpful for that). Add in your nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, Chipotle Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stir.
- At this point, turn on the heat to your pot of water to get it boiling for the macaroni. Keep an eye on it and pour in the macaroni to cook when ready.
- Bring your saucepan’s heat up to high, as this is the key part of making the sauce. Remember the smooth feeling of running your spoon through the milk now, as you’ll need to compare that to how the milk feels in a few minutes to see if it has thickened at all.
- Continuously stir the milk the entire time it is on high, being sure to scrape the inside corner of the saucepan to pick up any residuals that might have settled. I think it might take approximately 4 – 6 minutes for the milk to thicken, but I did it mostly on a “feel” basis.
- Once the milk has thickened up, lower the heat down to medium and then begin to add in your shredded cheese a few handfuls at a time. Stir in everything so that it blends well together; the sauce will continue to thicken with the addition of the cheese, but the consistency should be relatively smooth and not clumpy.
- This is now essentially the finished sauce; go ahead and taste it to see if you need to make any flavor adjustments to it.
- Drain out the macaroni when that is done cooking and set that aside. Take out a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish and let’s begin to start assembling things together. Transfer your macaroni into the casserole dish and then pour your cheese sauce over it, distributing it around the pan evenly and stirring it up so that all the pasta is coated. Don’t worry if it seems like there is too much sauce compared to the pasta, as some of it will evaporate when it bakes in the oven.
- The last component to make for the dish is the breadcrumb topping that will be sprinkled over everything. Put your panko breadcrumbs into a small bowl, pushing the breadcrumbs out from the middle to make a small depression in the pile. Melt down the tablespoon of butter and pour it right into the depression. Mix that all around with a fork until it looks like all the panko breadcrumbs have been coated.
- With the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar, sprinkle that over the top of the macaroni / cheese sauce mixture before sprinkling the breadcrumb topping over that. Cook that in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the bread crumbs and cheddar cheese topping are golden brown.
- Take the dish out of the oven when finished and garnish it with some parsley before serving.
I really like this particular rendition of the mac & cheese over my previous ones because I think the cheese sauce has been improved. Previous times there was still a bit of a grainy texture to it that I wasn’t quite able to eliminate, but did with this version by cooking out the starch of the flour. The mac & cheese itself is not full-on liquid creamy, but the pasta is infused with cheese flavor by absorbing the sauce. It’s a tasty dish to make for a side or a main course, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll be going back to get seconds.
Mmmm…tabasco or hot sauce is great with mac and cheese. I cook mac and cheese pretty much the same only I don’t mix the panko with butter, I just sprinkle the crumbs right onto my pasta and sauce and then top with grated cheese. I tend to undercook my pasta a little as it continues cooking in the oven.