Eric Akis: How to make fuss-free mac 'n' cheese

Easy baked version of a comfort-food staple gets custard-like richness from added eggs

Eric Akis

In my long tenure as Times Colonist food writer, some of my most popular recipes have been comfort foods. Among them, those for macaroni and cheese seem to top the list.

In response to that, over the years I have offered many variations on how to prepare it. They have included the classic baked version made with a cheese-rich white sauce, lobster macaroni and cheese, cast-iron-skillet macaroni and cheese and last year’s recipe for mac and cheese with marvelous meat sauce.

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Another way to make this popular dish I recently rediscovered is called custard-style macaroni and cheese. Rather than fuss and make a roux and white sauce for the macaroni and cheese, you simply beat eggs and mix them with milk, cream and flavourings.

Cooked, cooled macaroni and grated cheddar cheese are combined and set in a butter-greased baking dish, and then the egg mixture is poured in. It’s then topped with more grated cheese and breadcrumbs, and is baked until golden on top and set.

When I say “set,” I’m talking about the egg, milk and cream mixture surrounding the pasta, cooking, thickening and becoming custard-like.

When the macaroni and cheese is baked and allowed to rest a few minutes, its custard-like consistency makes it easier to cut into attractive squares. The eggs also give the macaroni added richness.

It’s for the latter reason that I like to serve the macaroni and cheese with a refreshing green salad, topped with a range of chopped or sliced fresh, raw vegetables. You can flavour the salad with a simple, homemade vinaigrette or your favourite store-bought dressing.

The macaroni and cheese recipe yields four nice servings. If that’s too many for you, once baked and cooled, portions of the macaroni and cheese could be frozen in airtight containers. When needed, simply thaw and reheat in the microwave.

Custard-style Macaroni and Cheese

When baked, the egg, milk and cream mixture surrounding the cheese-rich pasta sets and becomes custard-like.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 45 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1 2/3 cups elbow macaroni

• soft butter, for greasing

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups 2 per cent or homo milk

1/2 cup half and half (10 per cent) cream

1/4 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

• pinch garlic powder (optional)

150 grams (about 2 cups) grated old cheddar cheese (divided)

3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp panko or other dried breadcrumbs

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)

Cook macaroni in a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water until just tender, about eight to 10 minutes. Drain the macaroni, cool with cold water, spoon into a colander, and then drain well again. Set macaroni in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an eight-inch square baking dish with butter. Crack eggs into a second bowl and beat until whites and yolks are well blended. Whisk in the milk, cream, paprika, salt, white pepper and garlic powder, if using.

Add three quarters of the cheese to the macaroni and toss to combine. Spoon the macaroni into the baking dish.

Pour egg mixture over the macaroni. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, panko and remaining cheddar cheese over the macaroni.

Bake in the middle of the oven 35 minutes, or until macaroni and cheese is puffed a bit in the centre, is rich golden on top and set.

Rest five minutes before cutting and serving macaroni and cheese, sprinkled with chopped parsley, if desired.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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