Hard Cider Baked Macaroni and Cheese
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.
Servings 12 servings
- 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
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.