Mac and cheese, a beloved comfort food that can be satisfyingly rich, creamy, and oh-so-cheesy. Whether served as a main course or a delectable side dish, this classic dish never fails to bring a sense of warmth and nostalgia to the table. In this article, we will unveil the secrets to creating the best mac and cheese recipe, from cooking tips for baked mac and cheese to variations of this indulgent dish. We will also explore the convenience of making mac and cheese ahead of time and the proper techniques for storing it. Furthermore, we will delve into the important question of what type of cheese to use and provide suggestions on what to serve alongside your delectable baked mac and cheese. So, get your aprons ready and prepare to embark on a journey of cheesy goodness!
HOW TO CREATE HOMEMADE MAC AND CHEESE
If you haven't experienced the joy of making mac and cheese from scratch, the task can appear to be a bit intimidating. However, there's no need to worry, as we will guide you through the process step by step!
- Begin by boiling the pasta and draining it when it's ready.
- Next, prepare the cheese sauce by combining a fat (such as butter) and a starch (such as flour). Whisk in the milk products to create a smooth mixture.
- Cook the sauce until it thickens to your desired consistency.
- Add shredded cheeses to the sauce and stir well to incorporate them.
- Combine the cheese sauce with the cooked pasta.
- Transfer half of the mac and cheese mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle it with more shredded cheese.
- Layer the remaining mac and cheese on top and add another generous layer of shredded cheese.
- Bake the dish in the oven and prepare for a truly satisfying experience!
TIPS FOR COOKING BAKED MAC AND CHEESE
- Preparing the Pasta: It is best to cook the pasta for a shorter duration than usual. Personally, I prefer boiling elbow pasta for around 4 to 5 minutes. Remember, the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so you want to avoid it becoming too soft and mushy.
- Using Room Temperature Liquids: Whenever possible, try to use liquids at room temperature. Cold liquids tend to take longer to thicken than warmer ones. As the water for the pasta is boiling, I usually leave the milk and half and half out to reach room temperature.
- Selecting the Cheeses: Feel free to choose your favorite cheeses! In this recipe, we love the combination of cheddar and gruyere, but you can get really creative with your cheese selection. Mozzarella, gouda, smoked gouda, swiss, monterey jack, colby jack, colby - the possibilities are endless. You can find plenty of comments from readers below the recipe discussing the cheeses they used!
- Shredding Your Own Cheese: While it may be a bit of an inconvenience, I highly recommend shredding your own cheese instead of using pre-shredded cheese in bags. These bags of cheese often contain a starchy substance that prevents the cheese from clumping, but unfortunately, it also impedes its melting ability.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO PREPARE MAC AND CHEESE
- Bacon: If you're a bacon lover, feel free to add some crispy, crumbled bacon either as a topping or mix it into the mac and cheese.
- Stovetop Method: If you prefer not to bake your mac and cheese, you can simply prepare it on the stovetop. Boil the pasta until it reaches al dente, following the recommended cooking times on the packaging. You'll only need about 3 to 3 1/2 cups of cheese for this method. Instead of layering the pasta and cheese, just add all the cheese to the sauce, then combine it with the pasta.
- Varying Toppings: While I personally enjoy a crispy cheese layer on top, you can also try topping your mac and cheese with a mixture of 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Alternatively, you can crush 1 cup of Ritz crackers and mix them with 2 tablespoons of butter for a delicious topping option.
- Adjusting Baking Times: Although the recipe specifies a lower baking temperature and time, I usually adjust it based on my family's preferences. I like to bake the mac and cheese at 350°F for 30 minutes, then broil it for 2-3 minutes to achieve that glorious cheesy "crust".
PREPARING MAC AND CHEESE IN ADVANCE
- Follow the recipe instructions as usual, but instead of baking the dish, transfer it to a baking dish and allow it to cool completely. Cover the dish tightly with foil and refrigerate it 1-2 days ahead of time.
- Prior to baking, let the dish sit on the counter for 30 minutes to come to room temperature.
- Bake at the recommended temperature for 25-35 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is hot and bubbly.
However, it's important to note that making mac and cheese ahead of time can cause a slight decrease in its creaminess compared to when it is prepared and baked right away. If you decide to make it ahead, I suggest increasing the amount of sauce slightly for the best results.
STORING MAC AND CHEESE
Leftover mac and cheese should be refrigerated and tightly covered. It can be stored this way for 3-4 days. To reheat, simply stir in a small amount of milk or cream and microwave the dish partially covered with plastic wrap. Stir frequently as it reheats.
Choosing the Right Cheese
This classic mac and cheese recipe calls for cheddar cheese, and personally, I enjoy using medium or sharp cheddar. However, any type of cheddar cheese will work well. If you're looking to create a more indulgent mac and cheese or impress a crowd, feel free to use a combination of different cheeses. Just make sure to select cheeses that melt easily, such as white cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, brie, goat cheese, mozzarella, or fontina.
Ingredients for Baked Mac and Cheese
Here's what you'll need: Cheese, butter, and pasta. All the essential food groups covered!😂
For the pasta, macaroni (also known as elbow pasta) is usually used. However, any short pasta, such as penne, ziti, or twirls, will work just fine.
For the cheese, a combination of gruyere and mozzarella is recommended. Gruyere provides superior flavor and excellent melting qualities for creamy sauces like this. Mozzarella is added for that satisfying cheese pull effect. However, any cheese that melts well, such as cheddar, tasty, colby, swiss, pepper jack, or emmental, will work perfectly with mac and cheese.
And, the best part? No cream is required in this recipe. The butter and cheese create a rich enough sauce, and adding cream would make it overly heavy and difficult to consume more than a few spoonfuls. How disappointing!
Serving Suggestions for Baked Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is a substantial dish that can be enjoyed as a meal on its own. Simply pair it with a fresh green salad or a simple vegetable side. Avoid serving heavy accompaniments, as macaroni cheese is already quite rich!
As a side dish, it pairs well with almost any non-Asian main course. Whether it's baked pork chops, steak, roast chicken, or crispy garlic chicken thighs, the mac and cheese will complement these dishes beautifully. The only type of main dish that might not work as well is a very light and summery option, such as tuna tartare. The flavors might contrast too much.
And of course, don't forget about festive gatherings! Mac and cheese is a must-have for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or any occasion when you're serving a glorious roast turkey, roast pork with crispy crackling, or a perfectly cooked prime rib. These combinations will surely make your holiday feast complete. Holidays simply wouldn't be the same without this delicious mac and cheese! - Nagi xx
In conclusion, mastering the art of making the best mac and cheese is not as daunting as it may seem. With these cooking tips, variations, and ideas for making ahead and storing this ultimate comfort food, you can easily create a delicious and satisfying dish for any occasion. Whether you prefer the gooey, cheesy goodness of a classic recipe or want to experiment with different types of cheese and accompaniments, baked mac and cheese is sure to please even the pickiest eaters. So go ahead, grab your apron, and indulge in the irresistible pleasure of homemade mac and cheese.