Hands down this has to be the best macaroni and cheese that I have ever put- in- my- mouth.
I promise! I wouldn’t lie to you. Evidently my family feels the same way because I get asked to bring it to all our family gatherings and holiday dinners. It has a crispy, crunchy, cheesy crust with a soft soufflé like center. Absolutely divine!
From church suppers, pot lucks, holiday dinners to outside barbecues, in the South it would be very rare not to see baked macaroni and cheese on the table of any gathering. It’s one of our ultimate comfort foods. In fact, we Southerners think it’s a vegetable. It’s true. You can go to any Southern restaurant in the South and there it is listed, macaroni and cheese with all the other vegetables. We love our mac & cheese. It’s a dish that is dear to our heart.
Are you ready for me to reveal my secret ingredients for, in my opinion, the world’s best tasting mac & cheese? Okay, let’s get started. I’m going to walk you through the whole process.
We start with 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni noodles. I bring about 6 cups water to a rapid boil with 1 teaspoon salt. After the water comes to a hard boil, stir in the elbow macaroni noodles. I usually use the medium size noodles. I have tried the jumbo noodles before. It’s just up to you. For something different, the penne noodles are good in this recipe too. If you do use the jumbo noodles, increase the half & half by 1 cup. The extra large noodles absorb more liquid. Whatever noodles you choose, you want to cook them to very “al dente” which is barely at the fork tender stage. It takes 9 to 10 minutes to get the noodles to the al dente sage. To keep the noodles from sticking together, I gently coat them with 2 tablespoons of soften butter. Keep in mind that you will be baking it in the oven so you don’t want to overcook the noodles.
Now for the creamy cheese sauce: We won’t be making a rogue in this recipe, just a very rich, creamy cheese sauce using half & half and a mixture of delicious cheeses and butter. In my opinion, the fat content in half-half makes for a creamy more delicious mac & cheese than whole milk. Hey, why not? When it comes to enjoying a hot bowl of baked macaroni and cheese, we are not counting calories! Along with the half & half, we are going to melt ¼ cup (1/2 stick) salted butter with Velveeta cheese, freshly grated sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese. (Yes, I did say Velveeta.) Velveeta cheese is a “Southern Thing”, but you simply can’t beat it to make the world’s creamiest mac & cheese. You have to trust me on this.
Freshly grated cheese really makes a difference.
Once the butter and all the cheeses are melted with the half-half, pour the sauce over the noodles and gently mix all together. In another bowl, beat 3 eggs. Eggs in a baked macaroni and cheese make it fluff up like a beautiful soufflé. It’s wonderful.
You may want to double the recipe now because it’s so good. Let the cheese sauce cool for about 5 minutes. Next we pour a small amount of sauce into the beaten eggs slowly. Begin whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs. That will happen if add you hot mixture to raw eggs. This is a good thing to know for other future recipes. Keep whisking until mixture is cooled. This process is called “tempering.” Now combine the eggs slowly to noodles and cheese sauce mixture. If you think that it couldn’t get any creamer, it does! Fold in ½ cup sour cream. Add white pepper, salt and a few dashes of hot sauce to the noodle mixture. The hot sauce is the other secret ingredient that really takes this recipe to the next level. It just gives it that special kick!
Pour macaroni into a buttered baking dish. This is about a 1 ½ quart dish. Sprinkle about 1 ½ cups of freshly shredded Cheddar cheese on top of the macaroni. Bake for 20 minutes and take the macaroni & cheese out of the oven and top with the remaining 1 ½ cups grated Cheddar cheese. The extra cheese gives it that wonderful crispy crust. Be sure to bake it until it bubbly and the crust is a light golden brown.
- 6 cups water
- 4 ounces (1 cup) uncooked elbow macaroni noodles (or penne noodles or shells!)
- 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, divided
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- ¼ cup butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
- 2 cups half and half
- 1 (8-ounce) block processed cheese loaf (Velveeta), cubed
- 4 cups freshly shredded sharp shredded cheddar cheese, divided
- ¾ cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 2 dashes of hot sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon white ground pepper
- ½ cup sour cream
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Bring water to a rapid boil, add salt and noodles. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the cooked pasta, pour into a large bowl and stir in 2 Tablespoons of butter and set aside.
- In a small bowl, beat eggs and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, melt ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, slowly add the half and half. Cook and whisk for 1 minute. Add cube processed cheese, 1 cup of the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese. Cook and stir until cheeses have melted and mixture is smooth and creamy. Whisk in the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and hot sauce and white pepper.
- Pour the sauce over the buttered noodles. Add the eggs and sour cream and stir everything together until the pasta is completely coated.
- Pour pasta mixture into a buttered 1 ½ quart baking dish. Sprinkle 1 ½ cups cheddar cheese over uncooked pasta/noodle mixture bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with the remaining 1 ½ cups cheddar cheese. Return to oven and finish baking 10 to 15 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted and has a nice golden crusty crust. (Bake until bake it’s hot and bubbly!)
- Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- Half and Half milk is strongly recommended for the richest tasting sauce. The next best is whole milk. If you use a lower fat milk, your sauce won’t be as rich.
- For the best flavor, I recommend sharp cheddar. Buy a block or two and grate it yourself. Freshly grated cheese taste so much better and it melts better too. The pre-shredded bagged cheese typically has stabilizers and a drier texture.
Make ahead tip/freezing: To make ahead of time, prepare the dish through step 5. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days before baking (step 6). You can freeze the macaroni and cheese after step 5 for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then continue with baking (step 6). You can also freeze the fully baked macaroni and cheese for up to 3 months. Be sure to allow to thaw in the refrigerator, then bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.