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Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese

Updated on June 11, 2018

Baked Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

Ingredients for Baked Mac and Cheese

  • 1 lb Cavatappi Pasta
  • 1/2 lb Sharp Cheddar, Shredded
  • 1/2 lb Mozzarella, Shredded
  • 1/2 lb Pepper Jack, Shredded
  • 2 Jalapenos, Diced
  • 1/2 lb Peppered Bacon, Diced
  • 1 1/2 Sticks Butter
  • 1 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Cup Flour

3 Cheese Mac and Cheese

How to Boil Pasta

The first thing to do before making this delicious dish is to prepare all of your ingredients. You can do many things at once in order to save time: boil your water, dice your jalapenos and bacon, and shred your cheese. Remember to salt your water before you boil the noodles to give them a bit of flavor. No one likes a bland noodle. When you cut your jalapenos make sure to take out the seeds and membranes. If you fail to do this your mac and cheese will be incredibly spicy, which isn't always a bad thing, but you'll have less of a jalapeno taste and more of an overall heat. Also, if you're sensitive to the heat of peppers you may want to cut your jalapenos while wearing gloves. Once you've prepped your ingredients you can boil your noodles, drain them, and set them aside. If your noodles typically stick, you can boil them with a drizzle of olive oil and they won't stick anymore, although this will also make it more difficult for the cheese to stick to the noodles as well.

Bacon Jalapeno

Shredding Cheese

If you want the best quality product, you have to use quality ingredients. Don't use the vacuum sealed bacon you find at grocery stores, specifically ask your butcher for some quality cuts. You'll know the difference immediately. Good quality bacon is thicker cut and feels far less slimy. This is far easier to cut and will brown up quicker. It also can be flavored and seasoned to your liking. I personally went with a peppered version. Secondly, you want to buy fresh bricks of cheese and grate it yourself. The shredded bags of cheese you find in the stores often have preservatives added to keep them fresh, which results in a waxy coating on your mac and cheese. When you buy fresh cheese and grate it yourself you don't have to worry about this happening. It's also a much cheaper route, you can choose various types of cheese, and control the size and amount you use better without waste.

Cheddar, Pepper Jack, and Mozzarella

Rendering Bacon and Jalapenos

While your water is beginning to boil you can start the process of making the best cheese sauce you've ever tasted. Throw your bacon and jalapenos into a pan and begin to cook them down. The flavor and spice of the jalapeno will mingle with the rendered fat of the bacon, mixing the two flavors together. Cook the bacon until it is crisp and brown, then spoon out the contents, draining as much grease as possible, into a bowl. There is no need to drain the bacon grease; it will be the base for a roux.

How to Make a Roux

Good quality bacon will also produce less fat than the packaged stuff. It typically holds more meat than fat.
Good quality bacon will also produce less fat than the packaged stuff. It typically holds more meat than fat.

Making and Using a Roux

Many people make mac and cheese by simply boiling the noodles in milk and getting their creaminess from that, but by using a roux your mac and cheese can become far more cheesy, sticky, and creamy than any other method. A roux is simply flour, butter, and/or grease. Take the drippings from your bacon and throw in about three tablespoons of butter. Melt the butter down and thoroughly mix it with the bacon grease. Begin to incorporate your flour slowly, whisking it in until the butter and flour mixture slowly becomes a loose paste. If the mixture is runny, add more flour and continue stirring. If the mixture becomes dough-like, add some milk and whisk again until the mixture becomes the right consistency. Once the consistency is similar to pancake batter your roux is complete.

How to Make a Roux

How to Make Homemade Cheese Sauce

The most important part of mac and cheese is the cheese! The purpose of the roux is it acts as a thickening agent and it incorporates flavors of butter and bacon fat into the mix. Make sure your roux is hot and then add three cups of milk slowly. Always remember "Hot roux, cold milk, no lumps". To keep a creamy and smooth cheese sauce you need to mix the milk slowly, whisking as you go, and making sure no lumps are left. Once the milk is incorporated and you're sure the mixture is smooth, you can begin to add your cheese to the mixture along with your cayenne and any other spices you'd like. Remember, cayenne isn't only for heat, it also enhances flavor like salt does! Throw your cheese in a handful at a time, mixing it thoroughly so all the cheese melts. Leave one large handful of cheese for later, and mix the rest in.

Making Homemade Mac and Cheese

Now that your cheese sauce is complete, you can take your drained noodles and return them to your pot. Pour the cheese over the noodles and begin to mix them so that each noodle is entirely coated. It's much easier to mix in the pot than in a baking pan. I used a wooden spoon, but I think a good rubber spatula would be ideal to make sure that all the cheese makes it into the pot, instead of being wasted.

Gooey Cheese

Panko Bread Crumbs

Once you transfer your mac and cheese into a buttered baking sheet, you're almost ready to bake. The only missing part of your mac and cheese is that glorious, golden, crunchy crust that makes amazing mac and cheeses. You'll need to take the remaining butter you have, about a half stick, and melt it until it is bubbling and almost browned. Take a cup of panko breadcrumbs, which can be found in most Asian aisles at the grocery store, and throw them into the butter. Cook the panko until it browns and then spread it evenly over the top of the mac and cheese with the last handful of your remaining cheese. Bake the mac and cheese for twenty minutes at four hundred degrees Fahrenheit. You can brown and crisp the top of your mac and cheese even more once the baking is completed by broiling the top of your dish for another three to five minutes. Once you are happy with the look and crispness of your mac and cheese you should let your dish cool or five to ten minutes before serving. Now there's nothing to do but enjoy!

Panko is the Crispiest Breadcrumb Ever

Baked Mac and Cheese

Questions, Comments, or Criticisms?

Let me know in the comments below what you think this would pair well with, or any praise or criticism of the dish! I look forward to reading and responding to any questions as well! Also, please be sure to keep an eye out for any new recipes I post or pair with this dish! And as always, keep eating good!

What is your favorite type of mac and cheese?

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© 2018 Jesse Unk


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