Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese

By • January 8, 2010 • 48 Comments


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Author Notes: I've always thought macaroni and cheese's 20% crunch to 80% soft ratio was all wrong. The ratio should be more like 50:50. The soft part, delicious though it may be, wears you out. You need lots of crisp bits to stay interested in the dish. In an effort to realign macaroni and cheese, I brought together three concepts: a baked pasta technique from Cucina Simpatica, a potato gratin method from Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue's food columnist, and a similar method used by Melissa Clark for kugel. In Cucina Simpatica, pasta is par-cooked, then combined with cream, cheese and other seasonings and baked at 500 degrees. The high temperature finishes the pasta quickly and toasts the tips on the top layer -- a memorable detail. Steingarten's gratin involves roasting thinly sliced potatoes and cream on a baking sheet so that the entire gratin is crisp and handsomely browned. And Melissa Clark spreads her kugel in a baking sheet achieving a predominantly crunchy texture. Back in the macaroni and cheese lab, I combined these three ideas by par-cooking the pasta, folding it together with a few cheeses, spreading it on a baking sheet, and finishing it in a 475-degree oven. The result was total success -- the muffin top of mac 'n cheese! Major world issue solved, at last. Here I've used Julia Moskin's recipe for Crusty Macaroni and Cheese and applied my cooking method to it.Amanda Hesser

Serves 6

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 1 pound pasta spirals (or other small shape)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt
  • 2/3 cups whole milk
  1. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to thickly grease a 11-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine the grated cheeses and set aside 2 heaping cups for topping.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes. Drain.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne and salt to taste. Spread the mixture in the baking sheet and evenly pour the milk over the surface. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, dot with the remaining butter and bake, uncovered, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.

Comments (48) Questions (1)

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12 days ago Eva Pfeifer

Or maybe use both mozzarella and extra sharp cheddar cheese

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

12 days ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Definitely worth a try. The mozzarella won't melt in the same way and may get stringy but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Let me know how it goes.

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12 days ago Eva Pfeifer

I'm a big fan of mozzarella cheese. Would it be ok to use in replace of the sharp cheddar?

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about 1 month ago robin lewis

sounds and looks good, but i'm a bit hesitant to try the recipe, based on the photo included here (i.e. how burned/blackened the pan gets??)...

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 month ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

You can line the pan with foil if you're concerned. If the macaroni and cheese mixture fills the pan, you shouldn't have a problem with burning (I just used the wrong size pan...)

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about 1 month ago Doris Sher

The recipe omits the flour referred to on the previous page.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 month ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

I'm not sure where you're referring to -- can you give me some more info? I'd love to help.

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about 1 month ago Julie Bakes

I can't wait to try this out! The crunchy top of homemade mac n' cheese is definitely the best part -- and this way no one has to fight over the crunchy parts!

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4 months ago mvangraaf

Have now made this twice. It's delicious and quite forgiving! Toss pasta with as much or as little of most any cheese you have. Accidentally use skim milk. Still wonderful. Added granulated garlic and smoked red pepper. Topped with Trader Joe's fried onions. Goes great with chardonnay!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

4 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad you like it!

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5 months ago DL

I have printed down several recipes and look forward to trying them; meanwhile it would be super helpful if you post nutritional content data for those of us on special restricted diets.

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6 months ago witloof

This is one of those brilliant, forehead smacking "Why didn't I think of that????!" ideas. I'm going to try this with the addition of some onions caramelized in butter, which I love in spaetzle.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

5 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Haha -- it has made me wonder what else I can spread in a baking sheet...

Kylie_held_photo-1

6 months ago Kylie Held

My grandma (side note: I think being a grandma kind of automatically makes you a mac n' cheese expert) has always done her macaroni similar to then. Except it isn't quite this thin...I'm thinking I NEED to try this. I'm all about the crispy, crunchy noodles+cheese combo!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

5 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hope you like it!

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about 1 year ago Kelly holmes

Totally satisfied my hankerin' for my favorite comfort food, Mac N Cheese!
I used a stainless steel hotel pan, all the browned cheese just slid off when I scooped it up.
I followed the recipe with a couple of additions, 12 oz sharp cheddar, 16 oz very sharp cheddar, one can of plain artichoke hearts quartered, one container of silken tofu crumbled by hand and tossed with everything else by hand in the pan. Drizzled 2/3 cup of half and half over pan, topped with two cups of extra sharp cheese, sprinkled Spanish Paprika on top, baked 15 minutes on 475*. Best thing I've eaten in a LONG time!
Thanks Amanda!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thanks for detailing your tweaks!

Susan.streit

about 1 year ago carbonarasuz

Susan is a recipe tester for Food52.

Amanda this is genius! It makes for a quick and easy mac and cheese. A must-cook for anyone who likes the crunchy part of a mac and cheese!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

about 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hey -- glad you liked it!

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over 1 year ago belindajk

This looks great but my suggestion to those of you who are looking for crunch is to eat a side salad with the mac n' cheese, some broccoli slaw, say, or some lightly steamed (stiil-somewhat crunchy) veggies to round things out texture-wise as well as nutritionally. Veggies add a whole dimension to this otherwise mostly soft and creamy comfort food.

Open-uri.30863

over 1 year ago GordonW

I love a good crunchy salad with mac n' cheese...preferably something on the vinegary side where the dressing starts mixing with the pasta.

Me_2009

5 months ago MrsPrincess07

Just suck the fun out of the dish....

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5 months ago belindajk

Some of us actually do enjoy mac n' cheese with side of veggies or a salad. They add variegated flavor and texture and we can feel better about indulging our guilty pleasures. We all have our own taste and preferences; that's what makes life (and food!) interesting.

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over 1 year ago mamacita'skitchen

i did dust the top with homemade, crushed garlicy bread crumbs, and didn't use parchment paper and it was still wonderfu. It sure extends a lb of pasta for my family.
who all loved its crispy, crunchy top and bottom. Great idea and no need for bechamel. A novel, and superior mac-n-cheese!

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over 2 years ago greenoma

Good recipe for a quick Mac and cheese. Agreed that the Parmesan helps to ad se more saltiness to this dish. Didn't do the parchment paper but learned a voluble lesson. Will definitely make again.

Stringio

over 2 years ago misschompers

Pure genius!

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over 2 years ago dinam

Sorry iPad spell correct got me. I added Parmesan and panko to the top.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Third time's the charm! :) Love your persistence -- and really glad you liked the recipe.

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over 2 years ago dinam

Sorry iPad spell correct got me. I added aprmesand and panko to the top.

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over 2 years ago dinam

Made this tonight, yum! Added some parmesan and Pablo to the top as wellnforbadded crunch. And parchment paper to the bottom of the pan. Still has a nice crunch. Great recipe, this is a keeper. Thanks.

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over 2 years ago wizarddrummer

Hi Amanda,
Nice recipe caught this as part of Yahoo's page with Martha Stewart's Mac & Cheese along with some high praise for you!

"... You've got to have a béchamel -- which is really just milk, thickened with flour.

Skip it and the cheese inevitably toughens and the grease breaks free. (A notable exception: Amanda Hesser's truly genius baking sheet mac and cheese, which cooks quickly enough not to destroy the impromptu cheese sauce.)"

Currently live in Mexico so Sharp Cheddar is hard to come by so I can't try it straght away.

The first question that comes to my mind is why can't you use a silicone baking mat to get rid of the burnt bottom? Or is the burnt bottom something you want.

Perhaps you could give it a try and let us know. I'll try to find some cheeses in the next month or so when I can travel to a larger market.

I like the idea of not using flour.

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thanks for your comment! You could definitely use a silicone baking mat. Not sure if it will prevent the burning but will make the clean up easier. You want some browning but not too much burning.

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over 2 years ago thegirlkyle

Hi Amanda! I caught your recipe a couple weeks ago on the homepage of this site and you totally get the importance of mac-n-cheese. The balance of cheese, crunch and flavor! I combined your two recipes together and I'm looking forward to adapting a little further... Amazing recipe! YUM :)

Kyle
http://thegirlkyle.com...

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

over 2 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thanks Kyle -- and like your blog!