A good homemade mac and cheese recipe is the holy grail for home chefs. Macaroni Cheese is the ultimate easy-to-make home meal. Yet, like most 'easy' things, it is hard to get it right, and make the perfect macaroni cheese that is not boring, lifeless or soggy.
If you yearn for a delicious and distinctive recipe that ticks all the boxes, and rates the perfect 10 stars, read on to discover the secrets.
What makes a mac cheese dish stellar and special? This article summarizes the best tips and advice from the top mac cheese chefs.
There are several classic recipes, which are the best ever for creamy baked and stove-top mac cheese of various styles.
You can add your own variations to make your perfect macaroni cheese at home.
You can even make your own pasta or get something special made using a 3D printer. Enjoy!
► The mornay or béchamel sauce should be rich, creamy and flavored with specialty cheese such as sharp cheddar, Gruyere, pecorino Romano, goat's cheese and other cheeses with distinctive tastes.
Better still use three or more quality cheeses that blend well together.
► The sauce-to-pasta ratio must be just perfect, so that the macaroni or other pasta is not too dry, nor too soggy and limp, after baking the dish or stove-top cooking.
► The pasta should be a variety that soaks up the sauce and provides interest and intrigue.
There are many options apart from 'macaroni' which means 'Dumpling' and is a variety of dry pasta made with durum wheat.
But, there are many shapes and sizes apart from the common hollow tubes and 'elbow macaroni' which is the most popular.
You can use wholemeal varieties or other hollow shapes such as shells others with interesting shapes (see that table opposite).
Soon you will be able to order custom pasta made using 3D printing techniques.
► The mac cheese dish should not be overcooked. This applies to both the baked and stove-top recipes.
► The pasta should be al dente at the end of the process - not when the pastas itself is boiled.
The pasta should be a little chewy rather than soggy and limp.
Finishing the cooking in the sauce means that the pasta soaks up flavors from the sauce.
► The quest for creamy pasta should extend to the pasta itself. Cook your pasta in milk instead of water. The starch from the pasta thickens the milk, which gives the al dente pasta a creamy taste.
► Add a new dimension to a baked macaroni cheese recipe by replacing the boring breadcrumb topping with flavorsome and nutty wholemeal bread or even croutons.
Pre-toast the real, freshly made bread crumbs, for extra flavor. The topping should be exciting rather than a mere after-thought.
Add the milk and salt to a large pan. Add the pasta and cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously until the pasta is tender (just al dente), (generally about 10-15 minutes).
Remove from heat, and then add the cheese and stir until it melts through the pasta. Serve immediately.
Boil the pasta by bringing about 4 quarts (4 liters) of water to the boil over high heat. Add the pasta with 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook until the pasta is not quite al dente (generally about 8 minutes). Note that the pasta will stay cooking while the dish is being prepared. You want the pasta al dente at the end. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Prepare the simple cream sauce (no a béchamel in this case for simplicity). Start warming 1 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk the flour with 1/2 cup of milk until the flour has dissolved and there are no lumps. Heat until just before the mixture starts to boil. Then whisk in the milk and flour mixture that was set aside. Keep whisking gently until the sauce thickens to the consistency of heavy cream (generally 3-4 minutes).
Then, gradually add cup fulls of cheese into the milk sauce until all the cheese is dissolved. Blend in the salt and mustard powder. Taste and adjust the seasonings using salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove the sauce from the stove and set aside.
Combine the pasta with about half of the cheese sauce in a serving bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to coat all the pasta with sauce. Pot the rest of the sauce on top and add any extras such as extra cheese such as Parmesan, crispy bacon pieces, chopped ham, hers and vegetables.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Cut the cheese into small cubes. Cook the pasta by boiling in water with a little salt until just before the al dente stage (it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain and set aside.
Pulse the bread crumbs and nuts in a food processor until well combined. Then transfer the crumbs to a skillet in which 1 tablespoon of butter has been melted. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring regularly, until the crumbs have started to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Using a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Then add the mushrooms and cook until they start to become tender and release their juices (about 5 minutes). Add the wine and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the pan, using a slotted spoon, and set aside. In the same pan add the flour and whisk to cook for about 1 minute over medium heat. Add the milk slowly while whisking until the flour has dissolved and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from the stove, and mix in the Brie style cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese has melted and combined with the sauce.
Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and mix in the reserved mushrooms and any other ingredients you want to add such as herbs and spices. Pour the pasta into a greased casserole dish or 6 oven-safe serving bowls. Top with the toasted breadcrumb mixture and a little extra sharp cheese. Bake the individual bowls for 15 minutes, or the combined mixture in a casserole dish for 30 minutes, or until the mixture below the breadcrumbs starts to bubble.
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup general-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated or ground)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 1/2 cups milk (fat reduced can be used)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or red pepper flakes)
4 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar or similar firm tasty cheese
1 pound (500 g) Elbow Macaroni or other tubular macaroni variety
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
6 slices good-quality wholemeal bread, crusts removed, broken into small pieces
1 1/4 cups pecorino Romano or 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese, grated (or other similar tasty cheeses)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a large casserole dish or a similar baking container with butter, and set aside. Put the bread pieces into a medium bowl and pour 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top, and mix to combine well. Spread the breadcrumbs over a baking sheet and toast them under the griller or in the oven until they brown slightly. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until hot and set aside.
Make the bechamel by melting 6 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat, until it butter bubbles. Then add the flour and cook while stirring constantly for about 60 seconds. Slowly add the hot milk, a little at a time into into the flour mixture while whisking continuously. Keep mixing until all the milk has been added and the Bechamel has started to thicken an bubble slightly. Make sure the sauce is mixed thoroughly right to the bottom to prevent sticking and darkening. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, nutmeg, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 cup pecorino Romano cheese (or 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese). Keep mixing while it cools a little, then set aside.
Boil the macaroni in salted water for about 2 - 3 minutes less than you would otherwise. The inside of the pasta pieces should be slightly under cooked. Remember that the past will keep cooking while the dish is baked. Drain and rinse the macaroni under cold running water. Then mix the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce.
Pour the macaroni and cheese mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and follow with the breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven until browned on top and the sauce below starts bubbling (generally about 30-40 minutes). Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool before serving.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Boil the pasta until not quite al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander, and rinse with cold water to stop the pasta over-cooking, and set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan or skillet. Then add the dry mustard, pepper, flour, salt and smoked paprika. Stir to cook the flour over medium heat for 3 minutes. Gradually pour in the milk while stirring constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. Remove from heat, and mix in 2 cups of the cheese, Keep stirring until the cheese has melted and the sauce is well combined. Pour the sauce over the cooked and drained pasta and mix well all noodles are covered. Transfer half the mixture to a large casserole dish or similar. Sprinkle over half of the rest of the cheese. Add the rest of the pasta and sprinkle cheese on top. Lightly dust with smoked paprika and any variations you want to add. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the mixture starts to bubble. Cool a little before serving.