Baked Macaroni And Cheese

It’s probably obvious that I’m on a comfort food kick lately.  Despite the warmish weather, the eventuality of winter brings it out in me.  I love macaroni and cheese.  A lot.  Oddly, this is my first attempt at making it from scratch.  I guess there are just so many easier ways to get it that I haven’t had the inclination.  After making it, I now realize that it really couldn’t be easier.

Macaroni and cheese has two parts: pasta and sauce.  The pasta is a no-brainer.  I used elbow macaroni, but you could use any variety of pasta.  The sauce is usually a Mornay sauce, which is a Bechamel sauce with cheese melted into it.  Bechamel is a roux-based white sauce that is one of the basic sauces in French cooking.  A roux is a way to thicken other liquid ingredients.  It’s generally made with equal parts flour and fat, whether it be butter or oil or something else.  Knowing how to make these basic elements will really help you expand your cooking repertoire!

This recipe fits comfortably in a 3 quart dutch oven or baking dish.  I have not tried to make this recipe healthy in any way, which will be obvious from the ingredients…

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 8 tbsp butter
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 12 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp Ancho chile powder
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

First, get the macaroni cooked.  You don’t want them to be cooked through because they’ll cook some more in the oven..  I cooked mine for about five minutes, until they were “not done”.  I took them out and ran some cold water over them, and set them aside.

Preheat your oven to 375° F.

In a medium saucepan, melt six tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.  Once it’s melted, whisk in the flour a bit at a time.  It’ll turn into a slightly bubbling white blob that you’ll need to keep stirring. This is a roux!  We’re only cooking it for a few minutes here, but if you cook it longer it will get darker and develop a nuttier flavor.  That is the kind of roux that is commonly used to thicken Cajun gumbo.

After about five minutes, stir in the milk.  This is also when you should season it.  I added black pepper, salt, garlic, and chile powder.  You can add any combination of spices that you can come up with.  Bring it to a simmer for about ten minutes, then turn down the heat.  It should thicken up considerably.  Hey, you’ve got a Bechamel sauce!

If you haven’t tempered egg before, this might be the only tricky part.  Tempering is bringing one liquid to the same temperature as another.  With egg, you need to temper so the egg doesn’t scramble when it hits the hot liquid.  To do this, you take a small amount of the sauce, one quarter to one half of a cup, and whisk it slowly into the beaten egg.  If the egg scrambles, try it again with another egg.  The result should be smooth and still liquid.  Now pour the tempered egg into the sauce and mix it together.

This is where the sauce gets interesting.  Add the cheese.  I added a handful at a time, adding another when all the cheese had melted.

This is a good time to taste it.  Does it need more salt?  Any other spices?  Add them now.

Now to assemble the dish for the oven.  Put the pasta into a baking dish.

Add the sauce to the pasta.  I poured half of the sauce into the dish and mixed it together with the pasta, making sure that the pasta was well coated.  Then I added the rest of the sauce and gave it a quick stir.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a pan.  Once it’s melted, add the bread crumbs.  Make sure the bread crumbs are all coated in butter, then sprinkle them on top of the macaroni.

Place the dish into your preheated oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes.  Keep an eye on it and take it out when the bread crumbs are nicely browned.  If they aren’t browned to your liking after 20 minutes, give it a minute or two under the broiler.

I probably could have browned mine a bit more, but it looked fantastic.  Not to mention the taste.  This result of this recipe is a pretty basic cheese taste.  If your taste buds crave excitement, then by all means add some more spices!

2 thoughts on “Baked Macaroni And Cheese

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