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June/July 2012

Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

With satisfying heft and bright flavor, this custard-based mac and cheese has lots going for it--as long as you can keep the eggs from scrambling.

Why This Recipe Works

Unlike standard, saucy, béchamel-based macaroni and cheese, Southern-style macaroni and cheese is made with a cold custard, and bakes into a nearly sliceable casserole. Starting with cold custard required long baking to get the center to set, leading to overcooked edges. Trading some of the whole eggs for a yolk made the custard more resilient, and starting with a hot custard reduced the baking time, meaning less chance for the edges to overcook. For the best cheese flavor and texture, we use easy-melting mild cheddar in the custard, reserving the sharp stuff for the top.

Ingredients

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Instructions

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

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8 ounces (2 cups) elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups water
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)

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Instructions

Serves 4 to 6

The macaroni will still be firm after cooking according to the directions in step 1 (it will finish cooking in the oven). Barilla Elbows won the test kitchen's taste test of elbow macaroni.

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt and cook for 5 minutes. Drain macaroni; set aside. Toss mild cheddar with cornstarch; set aside.

2. In now-empty saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat. Add panko and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer to bowl and reserve.

3. Return saucepan to medium heat and melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, ¾ teaspoon pepper, and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in water and cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

4. Remove cream sauce from heat and whisk in mild cheddar–cornstarch mixture until melted. Whisk in eggs, yolk, and Worcestershire. Stir in parcooked macaroni. Transfer macaroni and cheese to 8-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle with sharp cheddar cheese, then panko. Bake until well browned and set, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for 20 -minutes. Serve.

Technique

Mac and Cheese Meets Eggs

Most mac and cheese casseroles have four eggs. We use two eggs and one yolk for our casserole, making it less prone to scramble; egg whites curdle at a lower temperature than yolks. Also, the more dilute the egg proteins are in proportion to the liquid in the casserole, the less likely they are to scramble.