Baked Macaroni is an American Classic.
Macaroni and Cheese lovers have many differing opinions on what is the perfect way to make this classic dish. Some prefer the Stove-top version, while others stick to a Box-Mix. Different skill levels are needed to make each version, with the Baked generally being the most complicated and time consuming to prepare. But it’s oh so good!
This recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese is based on first making a white sauce (in French it’s called béchamel), then adding shredded cheese. There are some simpler “baked recipes” which do not require making a white sauce first, but personally,I have yet to find one I like.
I’ll go over some of the many recipe variations on Baked Macaroni and Cheese at the end of this post.
This version will take approximately 30 minutes to prepare and another 30 minutes to cook.
There are several steps necessary to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese. You will need to be able to:
Chop an onion
Make fresh bread crumb topping
Be sure to get all the ingredients measured and prepared before turning on the stove!
A complete list of ingredients is in the recipe; here is a photo of what you will need:
Preparing the ingredients
a) Measure out the macaroni: 8 ounces = 2 cups = 1/2 box
Shred 12 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese
c) Mince (that means to chop really fine) 1/2 cup of yellow onion
d) Measure (precisely) 3 Tablespoons of flour, 3 Tablespoons of butter, 3 cups of milk, 1 tablespoon of powdered mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
The flour, butter and milk must be measured accurately. Those three ingredients are the base of a béchamel (white sauce) to which we will then add the mustard, salt and pepper and the cheese. The ratio of the flour, butter and the milk will affect the outcome of your Mac and Cheese. (Too much milk and it will be runny, too much flour and it will too dry)
Bread Crumb Topping
Make the bread crumb topping by trimming off the crusts of 4 slices of bread, and then cut the bread into crumbs.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter.
In a medium bowl, combine the butter and bread crumbs.
Set this aside for now.
Cooking the Macaroni
Follow the directions on the box of the macaroni YOU purchased. Elbow style is traditional, but any small-to-medium size pasta would work as well. To review how to cook pasta, check out my video on How to Cook Pasta.
Putting it all Together
While the pasta is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over very low heat in a separate medium size pot.
Whisk in the flour and…
…keep it moving for about one minute, making sure it’s free of lumps.
Whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper, milk…
…and the minced onion.
Simmer for about seven to ten minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth, stirring often.
The next step-adding an egg- can be a bit tricky. You need to “temper” the egg first. That means to warm it up so that it does not just turn into scrambled eggs when you add it to the thickened, hot, milk mixture (béchamel).
The egg will make the Mac and Cheese smoother and creamier. I have tried this recipe with and without adding the egg and it does affect the texture of the final recipe.
In a medium bowl, beat one egg.
Warm the egg by drizzling in, very slowly, 2-3 Tablespoons of the thickened milk mixture. Continue to wisk the mixture as you drizzle. (You can use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop out the sauce from the pan.)
Now add the egg mixture to the pot. Stir in the cheese.
Fold the cooked and drained macaroni into the mix
Pour everything into a 2-quart casserole dish. (My dish is a Pyrex dish measuring 8 inches square by 2 inches high.) It should be very “soupy” at this point. Don’t worry, it will firm up in the oven.
Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.
Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree preheated oven. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.
As I said at the very beginning, there are many variations to this classic dish. Many recipes use a combination of three or four cheeses. Each affects the final taste and texture. (One very famous recipe uses American cheese for a smoother consistency. That recipe was, by far, MY least favorite as I found the American cheese flavor overpowers the entire dish.)
There are also many options on the type of bread crumbs which you can use. I use fresh bread crumbs as it is the most traditional. Japanese-style Panko crumb topping seems to be gaining quite a bit in popularity.
There are many people who like to add extras like: salami, ham, browned ground beef, hot dogs (which I’m told kids love), crumbled cooked bacon, hot sauce, paprika, parsley, chopped canned tomatoes, butternut squash, salsa, etc….