BAKED MAC AND CHEESE

BAKED MAC AND CHEESE
The ultimate classic Baked Mac and Cheese, with an insane cheesy sauce and topped with an irresistible golden, buttery breadcrumb topping. Prepare yourself for the heart-stopping moment in the recipe video when I pull this bubbling beauty out of the oven…..and the stretchy cheese shot!
An epic, classic Baked Mac and Cheese! Perfect in every way, this has a glorious cheesy sauce, and a beautiful crunchy, buttery topping. A great one for serving at gatherings because it won't dry out and go stodgy because of the extra step of tossing the macaroni in butter (stops it from bloating) and because it's extra saucy out of the oven. 

Ingredients
Macaroni:
  • 250 g / 8 oz macaroni (elbow pasta)
  • 1 tbsp / 15 g unsalted butter (or 2 tsp oil)
  • Topping:
  • 2/3 cup / 40g panko breadcrumbs (Note 1)
  • 2 tbsp / 30 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Sauce:
  • 60 g / 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup / 50g flour , plain / all purpose
  • 3 cups / 750 ml milk , warmed (low or full fat)
  • 2 cups / 200g shredded cheese (favourite is gruyere, next is cheddar and Colby) (Note 2)
  • 1 cup / 100g shredded mozzarella cheese , or more other cheese of choice (Note 2)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
Seasonings (optional):
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp mustard powder
Instructions
Pasta:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add macaroni and cook per packet directions MINUS 1 minute.
  2. Drain, return pasta to pot, add butter and toss until melted. Set aside to cool while making the Sauce (Optional - Note 3).
Topping:
  1. Mix together Topping. Set aside.
  2. Sauce (video is helpful):
  3. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
  4. In a large saucepan or in an ovenproof skillet (I use my 26cm/9" Lodge cast iron skillet), melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  5. Add about 1 cup of the milk and mix to dissolve the paste into the milk. Then add remaining milk and mix until lump free (use whisk if required).
  6. Mix in salt and Seasonings if using.
  7. Cook, stirring/whisking regularly, for 5 - 8 minutes until thickened to a cream consistency. When the Sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon, you should be able to draw a path with your finger.
  8. Remove from stove, add cheese and stir - cheese doesn't need to melt.
  9. Adjust salt to taste.
Assembling:
  1. Pour Sauce into pot with Macaroni. Stir quickly, then pour back into the skillet (I did this) or a baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumb topping.
  2. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is light golden. Don't bake too long otherwise you'll bake away the Sauce!
  3. Serve immediately! I sprinkled mine with a bit of fresh parsley.
Notes
1. Panko breadcrumbs are larger pieces than normal breadcrumbs which creates a really nice extra crunchy topping. It can be found in the Asian section of supermarkets here in Australia. Can sub with normal breadcrumbs.
2. Always grate your own cheese for cheese sauces. Store bought shredded cheese have anti caking agents which don't melt so can give the sauce a slight powdery texture.
The Main Cheese (2 cups) should be a flavoured cheese. My favorites are: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, provolone and Gruyere (I used this in the video). Gruyere is my favourite, you can use any melting cheese. 
I like to use mozzarella for the 2nd cheese (1 cup). It melts really well into the sauce, has that nice stretch, and isn't as oily like other cheese can tend to be. However, you can just use more of the Main Cheese. 
3. Tossing the cooked pasta with butter provides a light coating that helps prevent it from bloating while baking in the sauce. This is also the reason why I let the pasta cool before mixing in with the sauce. You could just make the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
4. PREPARE AHEAD: Mac and Cheese is best made fresh but if you need to make ahead, this is the best way: Cook pasta and toss in butter, cool. Make cheese sauce per recipe, then cool with LID ON (important, to avoid evaporation). Make topping. Store all components separately in the fridge until required. Mix sauce and pasta, top with topping then bake per recipe.
5. REHEATING LEFTOVERS: Best way is to microwave to make warm then spray top with oil (or butter) and crisp under grill/broiler.
6. Baked Mac and Cheese nutrition per serving (6 BIG servings!).

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