***I’m catching up on old posts! This was my intended contribution to mac and cheese week.***
Omgomgomg. YOU GUYS.
Have you ever made mac and cheese at home from scratch? Does the same thing happen to you that happens to me where no matter how much cheese I add in, it always kind of just tastes like pasta in a vaguely cheese-flavored cream sauce that is wholly unsatisfying? Is that something that only happens to this girl? I don’t know… I don’t know.
I’ve only made plain mac and cheese from scratch a couple of times, but I’ve never found a recipe worth repeating. I did hit a jackpot of sorts when I made that jazzed up pumpkin mac and cheese in the fall, but I’ve never triumphed with a straight cheese and pasta recipe devoid of other ingredients to punch up the flavor. I always end up disappointed by the lack of that perfectly sharp cheesy flavor that makes me crave my favorite restaurant mac and cheeses by the bucketful. Womp, womp.
(For the record, my favorite mac and cheese of all time comes from Mr. Moes in Coconut Grove. The service sucks, and the tables and floors are always kind of sticky, but I keep going back, because HOLY GOODNESS have they nailed mac and cheese at its very best. A bowl of half-melty, half-stringy cheese with a handful of noodles swimming in it. It’s super rich and tastes cheesy beyond belief and is absolutely perfect, and I’m always fully satisfied after a helping. Dang, now I want some…)
Aaanyway. So this is how my mac and cheese creation attempts usually go. I’ll desperately crave mac and cheese, get all ambitious and excited, and try a new recipe, and then I’ll be like, “Why did I do that? That was a waste of time and cheese that I very well could have eaten straight.” After lamenting the poor use of perfectly yummy cheese, I’ll think of where I can go to get my mac and cheese fix as quick as possible (a.k.a. not from a sit-down restaurant), since you can’t leave a mac and cheese craving unsatisfied. When I was in St. Louis, I’d go to Noodles & Co. cause it was super close to campus, but since we don’t have those around here, I usually end up at Panera, which is cool cause I LOVE Panera.
Their mac and cheese is about as simple as it gets… no bread crumbs, no baking for crispy corners, no extra cheese on top. Noodles and sauce. But you know what? It’s still one of my favorites ever! I mean, really, when I crave comfort food, that’s all I want. Cheese and carbs and warmth, no frills.
SO. Imagine how excited I was when I thought I should look up copycat recipes for Panera’s masterpiece for mac and cheese week, and I found their recipe… on their website… from their head chef! It doesn’t get more legit than that, so I had a feeling I was on my way to my first truly successful (in other words, worth making again) at-home pared-down mac and cheese.
Guess what. I was right!!!
Ok, so maybe this doesn’t taste exactly like the mac and cheese you get at Panera. But that’s because restaurants use crack or something in their dishes to make them addictive enough for you to keep spending your cash monies on them. This is as close as you’ll ever get to Panera at home… and it is le awesome. Why? 1. It actually tastes like CHEESE! Glorious. 2. It reheats better than any mac and cheese I’ve ever made. 3. It’s so easy… no oven or fancy garnishes or anything complicated. One saucepan (two if you wanna get fancy and make the cheese sauce while you boil the pasta), one bowl, one cheese grater, one measuring cup. Minimum effort, maximum payoff.
Success! Mac and cheese at home that is simple, hits the spot, and is worth making again, and again, and again. At last!
Get. On. This.
Panera Bread’s Signature Macaroni and Cheese
One note. The recipe on Panera’s website says “1 cup (8 ounces) shredded extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar.” If you’ve ever used shredded cheese you must know that 8 ounces is way more than a cup. I wasn’t sure which measurement to go with… but of course I went with 8 ounces. Duh. Never say no to more cheese.
Adapted from Panera Bread
Yield: 4-6 servings as a meal, 8 as a side dish
1 pound (uncooked) of rigati pasta (I used small shells, because grocery stores in Florida never have anything interesting.)
¼ cup butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups 2% reduced fat milk (Recipe says “or cream.” I used heavy cream! Heck yeah.)
6 slices white American cheese, chopped
1 cup (8 ounces) shredded extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
1. Ready for how easy this is? Ok. Boil pasta according to package directions. If you’re weird like me and like pasta with almost no bite, give it an extra couple of minutes.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter (foundation for all great things) over low heat.
3. Add the flour and whisk it in while cooking for 1 minute.
4. Add in the cream slooowly. Whisk the mixture without stopping as it cooks over medium heat until it’s thick and it bubbles (just before it boils).
5. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the cheeses, mustard, salt, and hot sauce, and stir it all until the cheese is completely melted.
6. Resist the urge to bathe in the cheese sauce—you totally considered it, right?—and stir the pasta into it instead.
7. Return your mac and cheese to the stove over medium heat for a couple of minutes if you want it to be hotter. I didn’t do this, because I don’t like extra steps between me and a saucepan full of mac and cheese.