Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Classic (Make-Ahead) Macaroni and Cheese

I have posted several fun variations on macaroni and cheese here, but I have actually never posted my favorite:  just a classic mac & cheese.  If you are anything like me, you have searched far and wide for the perfect recipe.  For me, this one is it.  There are always problems with other recipes I've tried:  the cheese sauce is too rich, there isn't enough cheese, it's grainy, or it's dry.  This recipe solves all of those problems.

It does use quite a bit of cheese (1 1/2 pounds), but it is thinned out by a combination of milk and chicken broth.  You also prepare more sauce than you think you need.  Since the noodles are only cooked halfway,  they finish cooking in the oven, thereby absorbing the excess cheese sauce.  This also uses a combination of extra sharp cheddar and Colby Jack to avoid the graininess.  When using cheddar alone, the sauce can be grainy, but the colby jack leaves it silky-smooth.  And finally, the flavor is amped up by the addition of garlic, mustard, and just a pinch of cayenne.

This version is topped with a fresh breadcrumb topping, but I also use ritz crackers when I don't have access to a food processor.  Both are great, but I personally prefer the breadcrumbs.

I have made this macaroni and cheese so many times that I pretty much have the recipe memorized by now. I have made it and served right away, and stored to bake later.  There is no deterioration in flavor, and I love it either way.   It really is one of my favorite dishes of all-time, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
serves 6-8
barely adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Make-Ahead Recipes
  • 1 recipe Toasted Bread Crumb Topping (follows)
  • salt
  • 1 pound pasta shapes
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 6 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 1 pound colby jack cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • 8 oz extra-sharp cheddar, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring water to a boil in a large dutch oven set over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in the colander.

Wipe the pot dry, and add the butter, and set it over medium heat until melted.  Stir in the garlic, mustard, and cayenne, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk, and bring to a simmer.  Whisking often, cook until large bubbles form on the surface and the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses until completely melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce, breaking up any clumps, until well combined.  Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish and sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake uncovered, until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are crisp, 25-35 minutes.

To store and serve later:  Wrap the dish tightly with foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.  To serve, bake in a 400 degree oven until the filling is hot throughout, about 40-45 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to cook until the crumbs are crisp, 15-20 minutes.

Bread Crumb Topping
  • 4 slices white sandwich bread, quartered
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. 

Pulse the bread and butter in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 6 pulses.  Spread the crumbs out over a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden and dry, 20-30 minutes.  Let the crumbs cool, then toss with parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Annie said...

I'm always up for a new mac and cheese recipe, especially a classic like this. If it's a CI recipe AND Josie-approved, I'm guaranteed to love it.

Cool Chic Style Fashion said...

Molto gustoso ☺ ciao

Jenny said...

Looking forward to trying this one!

Unknown said...

I can't wait to try this, we never turn down the opportunity to try another mac & cheese recipe :)

notyet100 said...

will try this,..;-)

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to try this! I agree with the grainy cheese sauce comment-hate that! Yours looks delicious and creamy!

Ashlee said...

you read my mind.. i was craving homemade mac and cheese...
i know what we are having for dinner tomorrow :D

Sara said...

I love the crunchy topping on mac and cheese, and the fact that you can make this ahead is even better!

Vanessa Fortich said...

This is a great idea. I've never expected to learn making macaroni and cheese this way. I love the cheese sauce. This is really perfect! Thanks for sharing. Vanessa

Ashley said...

looks wonderful!

Kim @ Feed Me, Seymour said...

I love a good mac and cheese recipe. This one just looks fab. It could be an entire meal instead of a side! Great party dish, perhaps?

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

Uh oh - looks like I'll be trying this one! It's my favorite food, and this is your favorite all-time recipe, I must try it!

Mellybrown said...

The cheese sauce to noodle ratio is kinda freaking me out right now, but I trust that all will bake up wonderfully tomorrow. Hmmmm, the sauce is divine!

Ana said...

Looks delicious! Have you tried this with all cheddar by any chance? (I have 2 lbs in my fridge!).

Josie said...

I don't think it would work as well with all cheddar - it doesn't melt as well as Monterrey Jack, so the sauce would probably be grainy.

The Mama said...

I made this for my son's 1st birthday party this weekend and it was a HIT! Parents and kiddos both loved it. This is my new go to mac & cheese recipe. Thanks for sharing.

Ana said...

Thanks Josie! Guess I'll wait until I have all the right ingredients.

Jade said...

Josie, I made your mac and cheese for dinner tonight. It was my first homemade mac and cheese your recipe is fabulous! I was worried my Velveta loving husband would have issues with homemade mac and cheese, but he loved it. Thank you so much!!

Jess said...

Hi! This looks delicious! So if I am making this ahead i would not bake it until the day of, right? Thanks so much!

Josie said...

Jess, that's right. Just prep up to the point of baking, then cover and chill until you're ready to bake it. Hope you enjoy!

Nicole said...

I've attempted more mac and cheese recipes than I would like to admit, all of which have been edible, but not what I was looking for. This one did it for me. The search may in fact be over. Thanks for the stellar recipe!

Valerie said...

Hi Josie! Do you think that rather than combining the sauce & noodles, you could store the cheese sauce in the fridge until ready to make? I'm considering making this ahead of time for a beach trip and am thinking a jar might be easier to transport than a dish of noodles! Thanks :)

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