You can blame Twitter for this one …
While tweeting yesterday with @KerrygoldUSA we were discussing macaroni and cheese. Specifically, we were discussing the seasonality of the dish. Some folks apparently feel that macaroni and cheese is a cool weather dish … only. In my humble opinion, even if it is piping hot from the oven in the middle of August, macaroni and cheese is always a good idea. I will agree that some comfort food is decidedly seasonal. If it has certain spices, herbs, or root vegetables I will concede their place on fall/winter menus only. However, macaroni and cheese is different for me. Maybe it is my addiction to gooey cheese, or perhaps it is my carb lust, but I can eat macaroni and cheese anytime as long as it is prepared well.
I do not often make baked macaroni and cheese, preferring my quick and easy stove top recipe. Mainly I like a high sauce to pasta ratio and, at least in my experience, mac and cheese is less creamy once subjected to nearly an hour in the oven. Could I make a baked mac and cheese that would retain the gooey goodness I so love and desire? I decided to find out.
I started with what flavors I wanted in my dish. That got me thinking of other cheese dishes I love and beer cheese soup came to mind. When paring beer with cheese I prefer bock beers. The malty flavor of bock beer is a nice contrast to rich, sharp cheeses. Another flavor I wanted was onion. I tried a recipe for macaroni and cheese that included grated onion and, while I disliked the texture, the grated onion had a big impact on the flavor.
To keep the finished product extra creamy I decided to add 4 ounces of cream cheese to the sauce. Cream cheese also helps the sauce from becoming grainy while baking, another mac and cheese pet peeve of mine. The last thing I did was fry up two slices of smoked bacon until they were very crisp and then blitz them into powder in my blender. I added this powder to the panko crumb topping. You could skip that part, but the essence of bacon really takes this dish from ‘super-good’ to ‘over-the-top awesome’. Thick, creamy, and oh-so cheesy, this macaroni and cheese is perfect anytime.
Bock Beer Macaroni and Cheese Serves 8
8 ounces elbow of penne pasta
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons grated yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bock, or other amber, beer
1 cup half and half
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) Parmesan cheese, finely shredded, divided
2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) fontina cheese, shredded
2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 slices thick cut bacon, cooked crisp
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Heat the oven to 350 F and spray a medium casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by one minute. Drain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
In a medium sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat until it foams. Add the grated onion, salt, pepper, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for two minutes or until the mixture is just lightly golden brown.
Whisking constantly add the beer and half and half and cook until the mixture is smooth. Let the sauce come to a simmer and thicken. Add the cream cheese and whisk until completely smooth.
Turn the heat down to low and, in three batches, add the cheddar cheese, half the Parmesan, fontina, and provolone. Once smooth turn off the heat and fold in the cooked pasta. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and top with the reserved Parmesan cheese.
Put the crisp bacon strips in a blender and process until the bacon is finely ground. Combine the bacon powder in a medium bowl along with the melted butter and panko bread crumbs. Toss until the mixture is well combined. Spread the mixture evenly over the macaroni. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the mixture is just starting to bubble at the edges. Cool for ten minutes before serving.