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Baked mac and cheese might just be my ultimate comfort food. We’re not talking about the yellow stuff from the box here – I mean hearty, melty, mac and cheese for adults.
What is a Baked Mac and Cheese?
There are basically two ways to make mac and cheese: on a stovetop or in an oven. Baked mac and cheese comes from the oven. Baking the dish gives it the ability to develop more flavors and textures due to the high and dry heat browning and crisping up the dish.
Our Approach to Baked Mac and Cheese
With the exception of the noodles, we are going to want to make everything else in one pan. Mac and cheese is a great study in developing flavors because of this approach and will teach you what and how to build and layer flavors on top of one another towards a final dish.
What Makes a Good Mac and Cheese?
I think baked mac and cheese should have some complexity to it. In reality, it is a casserole, and a rich one at that. So to balance our dish, we are going to want high notes of acidity and sweet notes to balance the salt.
Balancing the Dish
To help balance our mac and cheese we are going to make some quick pickled onions. Did I just lose you? Sounds weird, I know. In properly calling them by name, yes they are pickled.
In reality though, they are just caramelized onions with apple cider vinegar, giving them acidity and complexity (not just sweetness). This one ingredient alone is a major differentiator between mundane and gourmet macaroni and cheese.
Two big favorites I often love throwing into my mac and cheese are sun dried tomatoes and panko bread crumbs. The tomatoes help keep with the sweet and acidic flavor contrast, and bread crumbs add a crispy texture on top.
To make this baked mac and cheese in the oven, you’ll need these tools:
- 1 large pot for boiling the noodles
- 1 oven safe pan (cast iron or stainless steel)
- 1 microwaveable mug or bowl for making the roux
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- 1 pound macaroni pasta
- 1/4 lb bacon
- 1/2 onion
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups shredded melting cheese
- 1/2 cup Parmesan
- 2 jalapenos
- Bring a pot of water to a boil add 1 tablespoon salt to it
- Add 1 box macaroni and boil until al dente (around 10-12 minutes)
- Slice onions, dice jalapenos, and cut bacon into 1/4 inch pieces
- Cook bacon on medium high until crisp (about 10 minutes) and set aside
- In the same pan your bacon was in, add the onions, sugar, and vinegar, and caramelize them
- Once onions are caramelized, add jalapenos
- Remove onions and jalapenos from pan and set aside
- Turn heat down to medium
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Microwave butter for 30 seconds and mix in flour to make a roux, and then add roux to pan
- Add milk, stirring constantly
- Once roux has bloomed, add Parmesan and stir to combine
- Turn heat off and fold macaroni into the pan, coating all pieces
- Add onion, pepper, bacon mix, and half the cheese, folding together to incorporate
- Top with the remainder of the cheese
- Bake for 30 minutes
- Remove and serve