A recipe for homemade, baked Southern macaroni and cheese casserole with a mix of cheeses and panko breadcrumbs. Perfect for holidays and make-ahead dinners.
Who doesn’t love a bowl full of Southern Macaroni and Cheese? It’s got all the bases covered: Creamy, cheesy, pasta. Yup. That pretty much covers it. But, how can something so perfectly scrumptious in nature go so terribly wrong? Homemade macaroni and cheese casseroles can often come out gritty and lackluster in flavor. This recipe is dedicated to the mac and cheese aficionados out there get it right, every single time.
HOW TO MAKE SOUTHERN MACARONI AND CHEESE
Let’s start with the basics. It all begins with a sauce on the stovetop, and friends, this is by far the most important aspect of the recipe. The key to this sauce is temperature. Get the sauce too hot, or add the cheese in too cold, and you will be left with a gritty texture throughout your mac and cheese. And, as far as I’m concerned, gritty is for the birds.
USE CREAM – NOT MILK
Using heavy cream over any other form of dairy in this recipe will also help to ensure your mac and cheese stays smooth and creamy and does not curdle. I know that’s a tough move for all you super healthy peeps out there, but trust me on this one — the cream makes a difference in your final product.
BEST CHEESES FOR HOMEMADE MACARONI
Other components to help you achieve maximum creaminess is the addition of cream cheese and American cheese, as they help to stabilize and bind the sauce. The other two kinds of cheese in this Southern Macaroni and Cheese casserole are Havarti and Gruyere, both are wonderful melting cheese, that blend well and create a smooth and pleasing mouthfeel in combination with the sauce. And, the Gruyere, especially, adds a great deal of flavor.
SALT THE PASTA WATER AND DON’T OVERCOOK IT
So, we know the perfect Southern Macaroni and Cheese casserole should be creamy and luscious, but another component to consider is texture.
Pasta is the second most important ingredient in the dish. TO ensure maximum flavor, make sure you salt that boiling water heavily before you add in the elbow pasta, and also, — don’t overcook it. The pasta should still have some bite left to it before it goes into the casserole dish. It will finish cooking in the oven. If it is cooked fully before going into the oven, the macaroni casserole will be mushy and one-dimensional in texture.
USE PANKO BREAD CRUMBS
Panko breadcrumbs also help to provide a great deal of texture to this casserole. I tried the recipe first with regular homemade breadcrumbs on top, but without a doubt, Panko is the way to go here.
In the end, this homemade version of Southern Macaroni and Cheese was exactly what I was hoping for: A casserole that I could proudly serve up to my family or to any crowd. That’s really the beauty of casseroles, isn’t it? Invest only a small amount of time and effort and you’ve got an addictively delicious dish to feed an entire room. A dish that speaks to almost everybody’s childhood, makes for a happy heart and comforts the soul. Please, enjoy.
A recipe for homemade, baked macaroni and cheese casserole with a mix of cheeses and panko breadcrumbs. Perfect for holidays and make-ahead dinners.
- 2 cups freshly grated Havarti Cheese separated
- 2 cups freshly grated Gruyere separated
- 3 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 6 slices American Cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce preferably Chalulah brand
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 5 cups large elbow pasta cooked to al dente and drained well
- 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
Preheat the oven to 350° and have ready a greased, 9x13" baking dish.
Have the cheeses grated and set off to the side. It is best if they are close to room temperature when they go into the sauce.
Add the butter to a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and allow to melt. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Allow to bubble for about 2-3 minutes, and begin slowly incorporating slowly drizzling in the cream about a 1/4 cup at a time.
Continue to add the cream in slowly, until it resembles the texture of pudding. Then, you may begin streaming in the remainder, whisking all the while, until it has all been added. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until thickened slightly.
Whisk in the cream cheese and American cheese slices, Kosher salt, hot sauce and dry mustard.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup Havarti and 1 cup Gruyere cheese until melted. Stir in the cooked elbow pasta and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
Place the Panko breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and drizzle melted butter over them. Using a fork, toss to combine. Set aside.
Scatter the remaining Havarti and Gruyere cheese over the macaroni. Top with the panko and bake 20 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
Try placing Havarti in the freezer for about 15 minutes before grating. It is a very soft cheese, and this will make it easier to grate.