Classic Macaroni & Cheese with Sourdough Bread Crumb Topping

This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!

The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.

Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

For the Bread Crumb Topping:

  • 6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
  • 3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

For the Casserole:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • salt
  • 5 T unsalted butter
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.

To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
  2. Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
  4. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
  5. In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
  6. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
  7. Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
  8. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
  10. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  11. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
  12. Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

The sad news is that my search is over for the perfect macaroni and cheese. 😉 This version was incredible. It’s easy to prepare, the pasta is even incorporated uncooked, and I was able to assemble it in advance and refrigerate it for a couple of hours prior to baking as well.  I also loved that it had dry mustard and cottage cheese in its creamy filling. The golden-brown crispy crust on the top was just the icing on the cake.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. I used DeCecco cavatappi instead of elbows (so much more fun) and decreased the amount of butter (slightly). We enjoyed it as part of my husband’s extravagant birthday feast! Absolutely delicious.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings   Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (not low-fat)
  • 2 cups milk (not skim)(I used whole milk)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I used my favorite Cabot Classic Vermont 3-year Cheddar)
  • ½ pound cavatappi or elbow pasta, uncooked
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection, and position an oven rack in upper third of oven.
  2. Use scant 1/2 tablespoon of butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan. (I used a deep 8-inch round ceramic soufflé dish.)
  3. In a blender or Vitamix, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together.
  4. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta.
  5. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. (I put the assembled, covered dish in the refrigerator for several hours prior to baking.)
  6. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter.
  7. Bake, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

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