Today is part two of the Feeding a Broken Heart series that we are sharing in honor of our son Afton and the many people (both online and off) who have loved us so well through the experience of his birth and passing.
(Which, as a side note, it has been so fun to watch you participate in. Your stories of sharing food with others who are hurting have been inspiring and encouraging and just incredibly feel-good-on-the-internet kinds of stuff. I am very, very thankful that it is my literal job to take a front row seat to your awesomeness. Whether you’ve mailed cookies to a friend, made potato soup for your mom, or found something in our recipe archives to make in honor of our sweet baby Afton… all of it is just next level kindness. You do my heart good, and you do others’ hearts good too, which is why we put some of your stories on this page.)
Today, in brave solidarity with broken hearts everywhere, I bring you: Baked Mac and Cheese! ♡
Yes, those are buttery homemade breadcrumbs on top and YOU ARE WELCOME.
This baked mac and cheese is heavy on the cheesy insides, crunchy outsides, and OMG vibes. It is light on redeeming health value. Don’t worry about it. It is possibly the most emotionally healing thing that you could ever feed your heartsick self. It’s BAKED MAC AND CHEESE, for crying out loud.
If this baked mac and cheese happens to be fed to you by a friend who invites you over when you are sad beyond sadness, then your life is not so bad after all, is it, now? And that is exactly how this came into my life: around a generous table, with a fancy salad and some really good garlic bread, and kind, gentle friends who asked us about Afton and laughed with us and cried a little and all-around just took good care of us.
Life was still bad, but it was a little less bad in that moment. And for people who are hurting, “a little less bad” can be a really big deal.
I mean. Guys.
Just gaze upon the cheesy beauty that is.
As I mentioned, my friend Stephanie made this recipe for us from cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (affiliate link). It was everything wonderful that a baked mac and cheese should be – not overwhelmingly gooey, just the right balance of inner cheesiness with crispy baked-up edges and a crunchy top. She served it to us with garlic bread (carbs on carbs like whaaa) and a beautiful green salad that, I think, also came from that cookbook.
It was comforting on every level and we felt loved.
Your turn! Who needs a pan of baked mac and cheese in their life? I have full faith in you to deliver.
This Baked Mac and Cheese is cheesy on the inside, crispy on the outside, heavy on the OMG yum factor. It’s my take on the recipe from The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science cookbook.
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 2-3 slices white bread, toasted
- 7 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1 1/2 pounds cheddar cheese, grated
- 8 ounces American, Gruyere, or any other smooth melting cheese, grated or cut into chunks
- 2 eggs, beaten
- PREP: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the macaroni into a large bowl and cover with hot water and stir in a big pinch of salt. Let the noodles soak for about 30 minutes while you prep the other ingredients.
- BREADCRUMBS: Melt two tablespoons of the butter. Pulse the bread through a food processor, and add the butter. Set aside.
- SAUCE BASE: Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden blonde. Add the evaporated milk and whole milk, very slowly, whisking constantly to achieve a nice smooth, thick sauce. Stir in the mustard. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat to add the cheeses – stir until melted. Season to taste.
- GET READY TO BAKE: Whisk about a cup of sauce with the eggs in a separate bowl (to increase the temperature of the eggs gradually). Once combined, add that egg mixture in with the rest of the sauce. Add the drained macaroni and stir to combine. Pour into a greased rectangular or square baking dish.
- BAKE: Top with the breadcrumbs, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes to get the breadcrumbs toasty and nice. Serve with salt, pepper, hot sauce, or whatever you like with your baked mac and cheese.
Because it’s a BAKED mac and cheese, and because of the eggs, it does indeed BAKE and it isn’t an ooey-gooey velveeta-like bomb like you might be imagining. It’s cheesy, but it also bakes into more of a pie, something that you can cut almost into slices. This is supposed to be more crispy and casserole-y than your standard shells and cheese situation. If you love the idea of the ooey-gooey bomb, I’d suggest omitting the eggs (those are what help it set), adding a little extra milk to the sauce, and baking it for just long enough to get the breadcrumbs toasty.