With two kinds of cheddar and creamy fontina, this Hard Cider Baked Macaroni and Cheese is a decadent side dish with just a hint of sweet apple goodness.
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Hard Cider Baked Macaroni and Cheese
I’ve always loved the combination of apples and cheddar. That’s why when I saw the addition of beer to several macaroni and cheese recipes online, I knew hard cider would add a layer of delicious flavor.
One of the tricks to this particular baked macaroni and cheese recipe is in how the pasta is cooked. Rather than boil it separately, it gets cooked right in the roux, which is made of butter, flour, milk, and hard cider. Because of this, the cider is cooked right into the pasta, giving it a wonderful apple sweetness.
Otherwise, there isn’t much to this recipe. The simplicity means it’s a lovely potluck dish and easily complimentary to any main dish. It’s even vegetarian.Jump to Recipe
Choosing Your Ingredients
The Best Cheeses: Making the best macaroni and cheese requires the best choice in cheeses. Due to the amount of cheese required in this recipe, I recommend choosing one really good aged cheddar, and pairing it will a mid-range sharp white cheddar and basic fontina. I’ve recently fallen in love with this crumbly, aged Sweet Red Cheddar from Barber’s Farmhouse, which I found in my local Whole Foods. Another (more readily available) option is Extra Sharp Old Croc Cheddar. This is my go-to cheese when I just need something decent from my regular grocery story.
Whatever you do, please don’t use pre-shredded cheese if you can avoid it. These products have an additive that keeps the bits of cheese from sticking to each other, which as a byproduct prevents pre-shredded cheeses from melting very well. Hand-shred block cheese melts much better for a delicious, gooey consistency essential to a really fantastic macaroni and cheese.
The Best Hard Apple Ciders: With so many types of hard apple cider on the market, choosing the right one for a recipe can be overwhelming. Because you just want to lend a hint of flavor to the cheese sauce, a crisp and dry apple cider is good for this recipe. Nothing too sweet, nothing too pricey, and nothing with odd additional flavors added in. I really enjoyed the taste of CiderBoys Traditional-Style First Press in my latest test of this recipe, but any dry or traditional cider would be a good choice
Enjoy a truly decadent side dish I can honestly say is the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten. If your guests are anything like mine, they’ll love it.
Hard Cider Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 3 cups milk (I use 2% milk)
- 1 bottle hard apple cider (about 1.5 – 2 cups)
- 1 pound large pasta shells
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
- 10 ounces sharp white cheddar, thickly shredded
- 7 ounces fontina, thickly shredded
- 3 ounces aged yellow cheddar, shredded (Barber’s Farmhouse Sweet Red Grassfed Cheddar is my current favorite)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- Fresh thyme sprigs
Prep your station:
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with coconut oil spray. Pull all of your ingredients out so that you can work quickly and methodically.
Make the roux:
- In a saucepan large enough to accommodate all of the pasta shells, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
- Before it starts to brown, quickly whisk in the flour, cooking the paste-like mixture while stirring for about one minute. It should turn a slight golden color. Now, slowly whisk in the milk, followed by the cider. In this stage it is important to be patient – pour the liquids into the pan in a slow steady stream with one hand as you continue diligently whisking with the other. The better incorporated all of the elements are, the creamier your cheese sauce will be.
- Add the shells to the liquid, and increase the heat to medium high. Bring the pot to a boil, stirring the pasta often to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the pasta is just al dente (def….), about 8-10 minutes.
Make the Crumb Topping:
- While the pasta is cooking, melt the two tablespoons remaining butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the panko bread crumbs and 1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stems. Cook until lightly browned, and remove from heat.
Finish off the dish:
- Once the pasta is cooked as desired, remove the pan from eat and stir all three cheese, cream cheese, and various remaining seasonings into the mixture. Transfer the contents to the casserole dish, and top with an even sprinkling of panko followed by some fresh thyme sprigs for color. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and the top is just a bit browned. Let the casserole rest for a few minutes before serving.
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