This individual baked macaroni and cheese recipe is one of my favorites. I've been making it for years.
One of the first things I learned in middle school cooking class was how to make béchamel sauce. It's a milk sauce thickened with a butter and flour roux. In class it was referred to as "white sauce." For years I kept that hand written recipe card.
This sauce is the mother of mornay sauce, which is a béchamel with added shredded cheese. This is the basis for the sauce of this macaroni and cheese. How culinary! I had no idea.
Making the béchamel for this macaroni and cheese involves some time and attention, a lot of whisking, and a lot of babysitting, and a bit of extra dishwashing, but it is totally worth it. Prepare yourself to whisk this sauce constantly for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Once you have your sauce down, the rest is easy. In fact, you can (and should) make the pasta and sauce in advance and bake the dish the next day... the better to meld the flavors.
I was able to fit this recipe into ten 3 1/2 inch ramekins, but this recipe can also be made in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. I just like the idea of baking this macaroni and cheese in individual ramekins. Cuteness definitely adds to the flavor of a dish, right? Either way, the size of the baking dish doesn't affect the baking time.
This macaroni and cheese is rich and creamy. I love the bits of burned cheese on top. Killer good.
Individual Baked Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
12 T unsalted butter
6 T all purpose flour
1/2 large sweet or brown onion, very thinly sliced
1 bay leave
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
4 1/2 C whole milk
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 pound of shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Panko crumbs, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Spray oil or melted butter
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (unless you are making the dish in advance).
- Fill a large pot with about 4 or 5 quarts of water, bring it to a boil, salt the water to taste, and add the macaroni. Cook it al dente according to package directions.
- Drain the macaroni into a large colander. Do not rinse.
- In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, onions, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and peppercorns.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly.
- Slowly add the milk while continuing to whisk. Once the milk is combined with the roux, raise the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil while whisking constantly. Simmer for about 4 minutes, until thickened.
- Lower to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking constantly.
- Into a very large bowl, strain the sauce through a strainer to remove the peppercorns, thyme, and larger pieces of onion.
- Add the salt, ground pepper, nutmeg, and grated cheese. Stir until the cheese barely melts.
- Add the macaroni to the sauce and stir.
- Spray a casserole or smaller serving dishes with spray oil and fill with the macaroni and cheese mixture. If you are making ahead, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- When you are ready to bake, sprinkle the top of the dishes with panko and parmesan, and spray the top lightly with spray oil or lightly drizzle with melted butter.
- Bake at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes, until bubbly and golden.