Baked macaroni and cheese isn’t a particularly difficult dish to make, but something extraordinary requires a few extras. While I enjoy the creamy stovetop version, my definite favorite is when it’s poured into a casserole dish, topped with buttery breadcrumbs, and baked until crunchy and golden on the top.
The type of pasta you use is up to you, but I like the classic elbow macaroni. Cheese is also somewhat a matter of personal preference. I don’t really care for sharp cheeses, so I tend to go with a mild cheddar. However, there’s no reason a white cheddar or even a specialty blend wouldn’t work here. If you pick what tastes good to you then you can’t go wrong.
A can of evaporated milk is the best. It just doesn’t seem to work the same with regular milk and I think heavy cream is too much. The addition of dry mustard might seem unusual, but it’s a key ingredient in macaroni and cheese. I keep a can of Colman’s mustard powder in the refrigerator, not just for this, but also when making Chinese Hot Mustard Sauce for my vegetarian egg rolls!
Fresh bread crumbs are what you really want to use here. You can make your own by tearing small pieces of day-old bread and pulsing them in a food processor until you get crumbs. If your bread is really fresh, place it on a baking sheet and dry it out in a low temperature oven for a few minutes before making crumbs. In a pinch you can also use dried unseasoned bread crumbs or panko.
Don’t forget the little splash of Tabasco! It brings together all the flavors and perks up the dish, but you won’t taste the heat.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (from about 1 1/2 oz bread)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
8 oz elbow macaroni (2 cups dried)
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (12 oz pkg)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
12 oz can evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp Tabasco
black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Add the crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a small dish or plate so that they don’t continue to cook.
Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Cook the macaroni al dente to package directions. Drain and return to the saucepan along with the shredded cheese and the 1/4 cup butter. Heat on low, stirring until completely melted.
Whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, sea salt, dry mustard, Tabasco, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Pour over the pasta and stir until well combined. Scrape everything into an 8″x8″ square baking dish.
Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Bake until hot and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. If you want the top extra crispy broil for an additional minute or two, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.