When Food52.com co-founder Amanda Hesser sets out to improve macaroni and cheese's crunch-to-soft ratio, the muffin top of mac 'n' cheese is born! Bonus: It's ready in half the time.
When it comes to macaroni and cheese, the question isn't whether you like it, but how you like it.
And chances are, if you're reading this, you're partial to the crisp-topped baked version over the squishier stovetop one. We're in the first camp, too. But baked macaroni and cheese's standard 20% crunch to 80% soft ratio still leaves something to be desired: more crunch! The ratio should be more like 50:50. The soft part, delicious as it is, wears you out. You need lots of crisp bits to stay interested in the dish.
Behold, the muffin top of mac 'n' cheese. Just par-cook the pasta, mix it with grated cheese, spread it on a baking sheet, pour the milk over top, and finish it in a 475-degree oven until every square inch is gorgeously golden brown. Finally, you can stop wondering whether there's enough top crust to go around.
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 pound pasta spirals (or other small shape)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2/3 cup whole milk
1. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to thickly grease a 11-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet. Combine the grated cheeses and set aside 2 heaping cups for topping.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes. Drain.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne and salt to taste. Spread the mixture in the baking sheet and evenly pour the milk over the surface. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top, dot with the remaining butter and bake, uncovered, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.