Extra Sharp Macaroni and Cheese

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I’ve been trying to perfect my macaroni and cheese recipe for years. I think this may be my go-to recipe (of course, until I try another one and that becomes my favorite).

Some baked mac and cheese recipes just use hot noodles + milk + cheese and throw it in the oven – no sauce involved. Those types of recipes usually depend on processed cheese (shout out to Velveeta) to create that creamy / smooth consistency. This recipe starts with a white sauce (a.k.a. bechemel – once you add cheese it becomes a “mornay” sauce) that pretty much guarantees that great creamy consistency without having to use “cheese product.”

I’ve also found that the stronger the cheese, the better the results. Even if you’re not a fan of extra sharp cheddar on it’s own (some find it too pungent), try it in this recipe anyway.

the typical mac and cheese lineup: milk, noodles, flour, spices, butter and cheese.

the typical mac and cheese lineup: milk, noodles, flour, spices, butter and cheese.

My cheese of choice from Trader Joes - extra extra new york sharp cheddar and a white cheddar and gruyere mix. Use what you like, I just recommend a hard,  pungent cheese.

My cheese of choice from Trader Joes – extra extra new york sharp cheddar and a white cheddar and gruyere mix. Use what you like, I just recommend a hard, pungent cheese.

Melted butter;  melted butter + flour for a quick roux; melted butter + flour + milk + cheese = mornay. Then mixed with the super al dente noodles then topped with the rest of the cheese. Yee!

Melted butter; melted butter + flour for a quick roux; melted butter + flour + milk + cheese = mornay. Then mixed with the super al dente noodles then topped with the rest of the cheese. Yee!

Fresh out of the oven, bubbly, golden brown and delicious. The croutons make it and are best the day of, but even the  cold soggy croutons are delicious the next day.

Fresh out of the oven, bubbly, golden brown and delicious. The croutons make it and are best the day of, but even the cold soggy croutons are delicious the next day.

Extra Sharp Macaroni and Cheese

adapted from Martha
makes 12 servings in about 1 hour

 

Ingredients

6 slices potato bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
3 1/2 cups milk
2 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) extra extra sharp cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated white cheddar + gruyere (or just all gruyere)
1 pound elbow macaroni

 

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk and cream. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

2. Slowly pour hot milk and cream into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups white cheddar + gruyere.  Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup white cheddar + gruyere ; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

 

Notes

You don’t have to use potato bread, that’s just the kind of sliced bread I have in the house. Use whatever kind you have handy.

You also don’t have to use milk AND heavy cream. You can just use 5 1/2 cups of milk and call it a day… I just always look for an excuse to add heavy cream into a recipe. Don’t judge me.

I also tried this recipe with a little smoked mozzarella replacing 1 cup of the extra extra sharp cheddar. It adds a nice creaminess and a smoky flavor that’s reminiscent of having bacon in the recipe. Ooh bacon would be good in this.

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