I think we all grew up eating the mac and cheese out of the blue box right? It was one of the only things my mom knew how to make really well. (My Oma did most of the cooking, but mom was a master at the KD!).
My older son eats mac and cheese at least once a week. We have a constant supply of the boxes in our pantry for just such a situation. I’ve tried teaching him several times how to make it himself (he’s 24 and still not good at cooking for himself, luckily he has a 21 year old brother who knows how to order anything online thanks to “Uber Eats” and “Skip The Dishes”. I’m pretty sure neither one of them will ever learn to cook for themselves when life is becoming easier and easier to get delivery.)
A while ago I decided I would try and make mac and cheese from scratch. I also needed a make ahead recipe as I’m not really one to stand at the stove at 5:30 making dinner while everyone is coming home from work. I prefer to have things ready and that can just be popped in the oven or that my husband can finish off on the stove top when he gets home from work (he works longer hours than any human should!).
My first attempt was good, not great, but good. Definitely a success, but needed more sauce and less noodles. I was quite satisfied with my attempt though.
I tried a few more times, just to get it to where I love it. Read a few more recipes online, taking advice from a few. So if you want a super cheesy (and I mean cheesy) make ahead baked mac and cheese this is the one for you!
Start off by boiling your noodles for only 4 minutes, we’re going for barely cooked, they’re gonna still be kinda crunchy inside. So definitely not al dente, we want them before they hit al dente. Drain and I just pour a bit of olive oil into the pot and stir them around and then set aside to cool.
Next up is the cheese sauce. This starts with your basic béchamel.
Warm your milk in the microwave (yes I said microwave – it’s quicker and less dishes). I go for 3 minutes total, 1 minute intervals.
Over medium heat, melt your butter and allow it to bubble and foam, then sprinkle over your flour, and using a whisk, whisk the flour into the butter and allow this to cook for 1 minute, constantly whisking. Then slowly, I do this in 6 additions, slowly pour a bit of milk into the flour/butter paste. Whisk to combine. Repeat 5 more times, slowly adding milk and whisking. You want to ensure you don’t get lumps, so you need to do this slowly.
Once all the milk has been added, continue whisking over medium heat for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture has thickened and can coat the back of a spoon. When you run your finger down the middle (be careful though this is hot stuff) it will leave a line.
Next up is to add your salt and pepper. (I definitely add more pepper than most, but we like our mac and cheese a little more peppery – you can definitely reduce the pepper if you want, but I wouldn’t go without. If you don’t like the black flecks use white pepper).
Next up with the cheese. Take the pan off the heat (yeah, I was busy making sure I took photos and didn’t – don’t be like me – take the pan off the heat or hey – turn the heat off!) This again will be added in smaller portions, continually whisking to ensure the cheese melts evenly.
Once all the cheese has been incorporated, give it a quick taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Then set this aside, covered and allow to cool for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. (Remember this make ahead!)
Once the cheese sauce has cooled (it might still be slightly warm but that’s okay no need to let it cool completely), pour the macaroni noodles into the cheese sauce and mix everything together. Then pour into a greased pan (yes I use a disposable pan – easier clean up, which in my opinion is the way to go here).
Sprinkle the top with more cheese!!! Yes, more cheese. Now most recipes call for a bread crumb topping, but we’re all about the cheese here. So if you want the bread crumb topping I can’t help you, we want ooey gooey cheese.
Then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until about an hour before you’re ready to eat.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F, place the pan (remove the plastic wrap please) into the oven and bake until the edges are bubbling and the centre is hot. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 50 minutes, depending on your oven. So check on it. I’m okay with the crispy edges, in fact I love them.
Here’s the best part, this mac and cheese is still amazing the next day, heated up in the microwave. So not only do you get dinner, but you get lunch the next day! How awesome is that! I thought it was, so did my husband. My kid, not so much. He loves it fresh from the oven, but leftovers are not his thing. Just wait till he has to cook for himself, he’ll change his tune about leftovers. That or he’ll still come home for dinner (not that I’m complaining cause I love my boys!).
MAKE AHEAD MACARONI AND CHEESE
(makes enough for 4 dinner servings or 8 side dish servings)
1 3/4 cup macaroni noodles
1 splash (1 to 2 tsp.) olive oil
3 cups medium cheddar
60 gr. butter (preferably unsalted, but if you only have salted it’s okay, that’s all I have)
50 gr. flour (just regular all purpose)
3 cups milk, warmed in the microwave (3 minutes – 1 minute intervals)
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups cheddar/mozzarella
- First up, boil your noodles, in salted water please, for 4 minutes. Drain and then toss with a splash of olive oil (or veg oil, your choice). Set this aside to cool completely.
- Next up is to make the cheese sauce. **Warning this is a cheesy cheese sauce** In a pan (I use a sauté pan, which makes this go fairly quickly as there is more surface area than in a pot).
- Measure out your milk and warm it in the microwave. (I suppose you could do this in a pot, but I’m trying to reduce the amount of dishes my husband has to clean – see I’m a nice person). I warm it for 3 minutes, 1 minute intervals.
- Over medium low heat (think 4 on your dial), melt your butter, until it bubbles and foams up, then sprinkle in your flour and whisk together. Continue whisking as you don’t want any of this to burn.
- After the minute, slowly, in 6 to 7 additions, pour in the warmed milk. The first addition is usually the smallest, and whisk this together. You want a smooth sauce so ensure that you do this in smaller additions. If you pour in too much (which I have done) you can end up with lumps in your sauce which is kinda gross.
- Once the sauce has come together and has cooked for a couple of minutes, and can coat the back of a spoon (wow, high school food studies is coming back to me now!) you can add in your salt and pepper.
- Then turn off the heat and remove the pan from the hot surface and slowly add in the cheese, I do this in smaller additions as well, as I want the cheese to melt evenly.
- Once all the cheese has been added (this is a lot of cheese – 3 cups of cheddar!), give the sauce a taste, just to make sure it doesn’t need anything else. Then cover and let cool for about 40 to 50 minutes. It will still be slightly warm when you combine it with the noodles, but you don’t want it hot.
- After the sauce has cooled and the noodles have cooled, prepare your pan (I use a disposable pan to make clean-up easier – though if I’m honest my husband still washes up the disposable pan! I tried.) by greasing – either with butter or oil, your choice.
- Combine the noodles with the cheese cause, making sure they are incorporated fully and there are no pockets of noodles stuck together, then pour into your prepared pan. Spread everything out evenly. Then top this off with the 1 to 1 1/2 cups of mozza/cheddar mix. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for a couple of hours, or even 24 hours.
- When your ready to bake, take the pan out of the fridge and start to pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Once your oven is pre-heated, pop the pan in (make sure you’ve removed the plastic wrap – I say this only because my husband has been known to keep packaging on food when he puts it in the oven). Bake for anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes or until it is hot in the middle.
- Allow to cool slightly so you don’t burn your mouth on all that cheesy goodness, then serve it up!