We’ve done historic, we’ve done stove top; now it’s time for a baked mac and cheese! Why not go to one of the tried and true recipistas? That’s right, straight to Martha Stewart. And hey, before you scoff, her street cred shot up a notch of two after she served hard time (heh heh). You know it to be true, even if you won’t admit it in public. Martha Stewart now has an edge! But back to her mac and cheese…
I don’t know what it is about bread crumbs on mac and cheese, but since I didn’t grow up eating mac and cheese with bread crumbs, I have a snobbish aversion to them. It’s like you’re taking something so simple, pure and good and trying to fancify it up unnecessarily. Like taking a burger and dressing it up with a bun covered in edible gold. Why would you do that? No need, it is fantastic just the way it is! So, whenever I see a recipe calling for bread crumbs on mac and cheese (and there are so, so, so, so, so many out there) I want to personally reach out and nose-flick (thoink!!!) the person who created the recipe. Most of the time I’ll just leave the bread crumbs off, but in the case of this recipe (and since it is Martha’s) I made it as-is. Well, pretty much. I adjusted some of the spices but left the bread-crumbs alone. Okay, maybe my curiosity just got the better of me and I had to try a mac and cheese adorned with bread crumbs for myself…so shoot me.
I gathered my ingredients and began my prep. First, the gorgeous Macrina brioche slider buns were torn up into teeny, tiny little pieces to become bread crumbs. And I may have sampled one of the leftover buns. I just couldn’t resist.
I coated the brioche crumbs in some melted butter (can I tell you, the combination of warm brioche crumbs and melted Kerrygold butter smelled so amazing that I had to just take a moment and inhale. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh) and set the bowl aside.
Setting the cheeses aside, it was time for the roux. I melted the butter in a large pot:
And once it was melted and bubbling, added the flour and whisked madly.
Once the butter and flour were incorporated and living happily in sin, in went the milk. I whisked and whisked until my whisker was sore (sorry, too many Dr. Seuss books lately, I guess). The sauce thickened nicely and after it started to bubble I took it off the heat. Next, I added salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Martha’s recipe calls for nutmeg but I omitted that (it’s another “bread-crumbs” thing) and I actually doubled the cayenne pepper to give it a nice kick of heat. Next, I added about three-quarters of the cheddar and three-quarters of the Gruyere and stirred until the cheese sauce was nice and thick.
Time to cook the pasta. I went with whole grain shells from Barilla. As per Martha’s instructions, I cooked them for two minutes less than called for on the package to insure that they not turn to mush in the oven. After, they hit the cold-water bath to stop them from cooking further.
Once rinsed, the cooked shells were added to the cheese sauce and stirred together until everyone was happy. Everything in the pot went into a large casserole dish and the mac and cheese baked in the oven for about a half-hour. When I pulled the dish from the oven, the crumbs were nicely toasted and golden-brown and it smelled just heavenly.
The recipe called for the mac and cheese to cool for five minutes prior to serving; let me tell you, that was a looooooong five minutes.
I am officially a bread-crumb convert. The crisp, light-as-air crunchiness of the bread crumbs, tickling the senses just before the teeth sink into the creamy goodness of the pasta and cheese beneath, is phenomenal. I was truly wowed. Actually, the texture combination is one of the reasons this recipe received four elbows up. I’m glad I didn’t add the nutmeg as it would have overpowered the subtle bite of the cheeses. The slight kick of the cayenne pepper at the end finished off each bite perfectly. Thanks so much to my edgy kitchen diva, Martha, for such divine inspiration. Here is my recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart.
- 4 brioche slider buns, torn into small pieces (enough for 1 to 2 cups of bread crumbs)
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 5½ cups fat-free milk
- ½ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
- ½ teaspoon seasoned pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 16 ounces grated sharp white cheddar
- 8 ounces grated Gruyere
- 16 ounces whole-grain shells
- Butter-flavored Pam for the baking dish
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Liberally Pam a 9×12 baking dish.
- Tear/shred the bread in a small bowl until the crumbs are the size of a dime or smaller. Melt two tablespoons of butter and combine with the bread crumbs; set aside.
- In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the remaining six tablespoons of butter and once bubbly, add the flour and whisk to make a roux. Continue whisking for about a minute, then slowly (while whisking constantly) add the milk. Continue whisking and cook until the mixture becomes thick and coats the whisk (about five minutes).
- Remove the pot from the heat and add in salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir to combine, then add in ¾ of the cheddar and ¾ of the Gruyere, stirring until everything is combined.
- In a large pot, boil water for the pasta. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the shells and cook for two minutes less than instructed on the package. Drain, then rinse the shells in cool water to arrest the cooking. Add the shells to the cheese sauce and stir.
- Pour the mac and cheese into the baking dish, then top with the remaining cheddar and Gruyere cheeses. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the top of the dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden and the mac and cheese is bubbling. Cool for five minutes prior to serving.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
Nom, nom, nom.