Life doesn’t get any better than when you’re faced with a bowl of the most incredible homemade mac and cheese on the planet. That’s a fact. It’s time to forget about the woes of everyday life. About the job that stinks. About the kitchen budget that just went bust. About the nasty head cold and sore throat. Your week probably shaped up to be different than mine did last week but while the circumstances are probably different, we all deal with life’s crap. And as a reward for dealing with said crap, it’s time to belly up to a bowl of this mac and cheese. You won’t be sorry.
A perfect blend of sharp cheddar and gruyere melted into a luscious white béchamel sauce makes this mac and cheese everything I’ve ever wanted in this classic dish. The recipe yields way more cheese sauce than you think it should but the sauce finds its way into all of the nooks and crannies of the basic elbow macaroni and even after baking, leaves you with the creamiest baked mac and cheese ever. Yes, ever.
If you’re not familiar with croutons on top of your mac and cheese, get used to it because after trying Martha’s version, you’ll never go back to breadcrumbs. Cubed white bread gets tossed with melted butter and the oven bakes up the bread right on top of the mac and cheese – there’s no extra step to browning them like croutons! The result is a topping of buttery croutons over creamy mac and cheese. It’s pure heaven. I made Martha’s recipe exactly as written (except that I halved the recipe and had no issues at all with the measurements) and wouldn’t change a single thing the next time I make it. Somethings are better left untouched. This mac and cheese recipe is one of them.
Let’s talk cheese for a quick second and add in some fun stuff.. The recipe calls for sharp cheddar and gruyere and I don’t suggest you change this mix. The cheddar melts beautifully as does the gruyere but the gruyere also adds a little nuttiness…or earthiness…to this mac and cheese. It’s an amazing combination. Go for the best cheddar you can afford. I purchased mine while in Vermont last week (though any block of good white cheddar – not pre-shredded! – will work with this recipe) when Kyle and I met up with Annie and Ben. We hit the Grafton Village Cheese Company for a cheese tasting, took a walk around the quaint and sleepy Grafton Village, and had a warm and cozy lunch next door to the cheese shop. It was seriously so fabulous to finally, after nearly 5 years of being friends online and through our blogs, meet up and hang out! You can bet that we’re already planning another get together soon! I’ve got some additional photos of our trip to Lake George and VT in my Flickr photostream if you feel like checking them out.
- 6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn or diced into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
- 5 ½ cups milk
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 4 ½ cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere
- 16 oz elbow macaroni
- Heat the oven to 375° F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the bread pieces aside.
- Cook pasta 3 to 4 minutes less than the package instructions indicate.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 ½ cups Gruyere. Set cheese sauce aside.
- Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the cheese sauce.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 ½ cups cheddar and ½ cup Gruyere; scatter bread pieces over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve hot.