A few years ago, I’d asked my son if he could eat anything his heart desired on his birthday, what would he put on the menu? His answer was, without a moment of hesitation: Mac and Cheese! Really? Really! Apparently, he loves the stuff that much.
Of course, I ended up making him one that year, and then a few times after that, too. In fact, I guess you can say that since that day, I’ve basically been trying to create the The Perfect Mac and Cheese recipe for him. Sadly, I never was entirely satisfied with any of my trials. Until this last one, that is. I think that I’ve finally found exactly what I was looking for!
Lucky for me, I recently stumbled upon this seemingly extremely popular recipe for THE Mac and Cheese. After taking a good look at the pictures and recipe, I thought that it looked very good indeed and decided that I totally needed to take it for a test drive. However, me being me, I also decided to make a few modifications. Just a few… nothing major.
For starters, the original recipe was meant to be extremely simple. The inventor herself said that she wanted to create a very simple mac and cheese, one that wasn’t full of spices or fancy things. While I didn’t want mine to be overly fancy, there are still a few ingredients that I consider an absolute must in Mac and Cheese, namely Dijon mustard, garlic, nutmeg and dry vermouth or white wine, so I just had to have them in my version.
Also too, I used different kinds of cheeses, replaced some of the milk with cream and finally, I threw in a little bit of smokey bacon, because hey, what’s Mac ‘n Cheese without bacon, right? And then I used the bacon fat to cook the panko bread crumbs in (which I used double the amount that the original recipe called for) to make it that much more decadent.
Because Mac and Cheese, despite being such a simple dish, absolutely HAS to be decadent. And this version right here definitely fits the bill.
All in all, this is a Mac and Cheese recipe that’s really simple to make, that offers a very generous amount of silky, creamy, ooey and gooey cheese sauce AND that has a lot of flavor, to boot. It’s The Perfect Mac and Cheese!
Step-by-step instructions with pictures immediately follow recipe
- 454g (1lb) tortiglioni (or other short pasta of your choice)
- 1/2 cup (120g | 4.2oz) butter
- 1/2 cup (75g | 2.6oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 cups (720ml) milk
- 1 cup (240ml) 15% cream
- 1/4 cup (60ml) dry Vermouth (optional)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt (I use Himalayan)
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 3 cups (330g | 12oz) grated sharp cheddar cheese (you can use orange, white or a combination of both)
- 2 cups (220g | 8oz) grated gouda cheese
- 1 cup (110g | 4oz) grated Emmenthal or Jarlsberg cheese
- 6 thick slices (200g | 7oz) smoked bacon, cut into 1" pieces
- 1 cup (70g | 2.5oz) panko bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water, until al dente.
- In a large glass measuring cup combine the milk, cream, vermouth, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix vigorously with a whisk until well combined.
- Melt the butter in large saucepan set over medium heat. Once butter is completely melted, sprinkle in flour and cook, whisking continuously, for about 2 minutes.
- Next, slowly pour in the milk mixture, still whisking constantly, and bring the sauce to a complete boil, then continue cooking for one full minute, to ensure that the flour is completely cooked and reaches its full thickening potential. Remove from heat.
- Drain the pasta and transfer it to a very large mixing bowl (as in, the largest you can find) and then cover it with the grated cheeses. Pour the Bechamel sauce over the hot pasta and cheese, cover the bowl with plastic film and let it sit for about 8 to 10 minutes, to help the cheese melt.
- Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, until well done but not quite crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the bowl containing the pasta, leaving the fat in the pan. Don't forget to place the plastic film back on.
- Return the skillet to the heat source and add the panko bread crumbs. Cook, stirring frequently for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from heat and reserve.
- Delicately stir the pasta, cheese, Bechamel sauce and bacon and then transfer to a 9" x 13" baking dish. Sprinkle reserved panko bread crumbs all over the top, cover with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese sauce is completely melted and starts to bubble around the edge.
- Serve without delay.
STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS AND PICTURES
Before you begin, preheat your oven to 350°F
Next, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water, until al dente.
While that’s happening, combine the milk, cream, Vermouth (if using), Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a large glass measuring cup . Mix vigorously with a whisk until well combined and set aside.
Melt the butter in large saucepan set over medium heat; once the butter is completely melted, sprinkle in the flour.
Cook, whisking continuously, for about 2 minutes…
Next, slowly pour in the milk mixture, still whisking constantly, and bring the sauce to a complete boil.
It’s super important that you whisk constantly here, to avoid the formation of lumps. Hey, at least you won’t have to take pictures of the process, so you’ll have full usage of both your hands!
Continue cooking the Bechamel for one full minute after it’s started boiling. This will ensure that the flour is completely cooked and that it reaches its full thickening potential.
Remove the pan from heat.
See how thick that Bechamel sauce got? That’s what you’re looking for!
Now drain the pasta and transfer it to a very large mixing bowl. As in, really! Get the largest bowl you can find!
Cover the pasta with the grated cheeses.
I chose to use a combination of orange and white sharp cheddar, gouda and Emmenthal, but you could have a little fun and changes things up a bit. Don’t be afraid to play with the cheese varieties, here. So long as you have roughly 6 cups total and choose varieties of cheeses that melt well, you should be fine.
Now pour the hot Bechamel sauce over the hot pasta and grated cheeses…
Cover the bowl with plastic film and let this sit for about 8 to 10 minutes, to help the cheeses melt.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, until it’s well done but not quite crispy. When the bacon is cooked to your liking, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the bowl containing the pasta, leaving all the fat in the pan.
Don’t forget to place the plastic film back on!
Return the skillet to the heat source and then throw in the panko bread crumbs.
Cook, stirring frequently for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the bread crumbs take a beautiful golden brown color. Remove from heat and reserve.
Now stir the pasta, cheese, bechamel sauce and bacon very delicately until well combined…
…and transfer to a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
Sprinkle the reserved panko bread crumbs all over the top, cover with foil and send to the oven.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese sauce is completely melted and starts to bubble around the edge.
Serve without delay: Mac and Cheese is meant to be eaten fresh out of the oven!