It’s all about the packaging, right? Baked mac & cheese is great to begin with, but bake it in muffin tins topped with buttered crumbs and you can call it a mac & cheese muffin, or cupcake, or whatever suits your mood.
These measurements are flexible – I admit to just winging it whenever I make mac & cheese – you just get a feel for it. The only thing that really needs to work out is the white sauce – whisk together roughly equal amounts of butter and flour to make the roux (it will be like a paste) and then whisk in the milk; once it comes to a boil it’s as thick as it’s going to get. If it’s too thin, add a bit more flour and bring back to a bubble. If it’s too thick, add extra milk. The kind of cheese you add and the amount is really up to you – try sharper varieties like aged Gouda, asiago or blue.
If you want to forego the crumb topping, you could always sprinkle the top with a little grated cheese and bake it until it’s bubbly around the edges and golden on top.
Mac & Cheese “Muffins”
1/2 lb. macaroni
3-4 Tbsp. butter
3-4 Tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups grated old cheddar cheese, or any combination of cheeses you have in the fridge
1/2-1 cup pureed cooked cauliflower, sweet potatoes or squash or 2 jars pureed baby food
Bread Crumb Topping (optional):
1-2 slices bread (preferably whole wheat), torn into pieces
2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil or melted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it’s tender but not mushy. Drain well in a colander and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In the empty pot (no need to wash it out), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir well with a whisk, cooking for a minute or so until the mixture starts to turn golden. Stir in the milk and bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. The sauce must reach a full boil in order for the flour to reach its full thickening potential. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes, until the mixture is nice and thick.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Stir in the vegetable puree, if you’re using it. Add salt to taste, then stir in the drained pasta. If you want a bread crumb topping, pulse the bread, butter and Parmesan in a food processor until the bread turns to crumbs and the mixture is well blended.
Divide the macaroni and cheese into buttered muffin tins and top with the bread crumbs or additional cheese. (It can be made up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated in the baking dish; sprinkle with the crumb mixture or cheese right before you bake it.) Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the topping is golden and the “muffins” are bubbly around the edges. Serves 8 – more if there are kids.