New York Times Food writer Eric Kim may have just broken the code on a classic: Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. Kim grew up eating Stouffer’s version at Thanksgiving and recreated the ultimate dupe with her Copycat Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese recipe. “It offers the best of all worlds,” enthuses Kim. “It’s creamy, flavorful comfort, with a slightly firmer consistency than a stovetop version, thanks to final baking in the oven. The key to the texture is Velveeta, which prevents the sauce from separating in the oven. “
Keep reading to discover Kim’s tips, tricks, and ingredients for an epic Thanksgiving side dish.
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What’s your inspiration for this creamy Stouffer’s-inspired baked mac and cheese?
This recipe is inspired by Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and offers the best of all worlds: creamy, flavorful, comforting, with a slightly firmer consistency than a stovetop version, thanks to a final baking in the oven. It stays voluptuous and moist thanks to a higher ratio of sauce to noodles, which are fully cooked so they don’t absorb as much liquid.
Why do you like to reinterpret classic childhood dishes?
For me, it comes from an emotional and personal place. I grew up eating Stouffer’s mac and cheese and always had my idea of what mac and cheese should be: heavier than stovetop mac and cheese and more voluptuous than a classic oven-baked mac and cheese. Southern oven (which is also very delicious and very important to many people, but I didn’t grow up with it). I think what makes a Stouffer’s mac and cheese special compared to a regular stovetop or baked mac and cheese is that it exists somewhere in between. It’s creamy, but it’s also a little set with those baked edges, which you can take as far as you want. You get the best of both worlds, I think.
What’s the secret to the creaminess of Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese?
The biggest lesson I learned has to be how to get that perfect texture of cheese sauce, almost like nacho cheese. I have to give some credit to my food stylist friend Jesse Szewczyk. I was testing the recipe and I had made maybe 10 pans of mac and cheese that day and I was going a little crazy, and the cheese kept separating. The texture was grainy and watery, or the noodles had absorbed all the moisture, which tends to happen with many baked macaroni and cheeses that don’t contain stabilizing agents. Jesse told me that food stylists use sodium citrate to stabilize such mixtures, so the key to keeping this sauce creamy, gooey and together is Velveeta, which contains sodium citrate. But I’d like to think I’ve given you options: If you’re one of those people who hates Velveeta, whether it’s the flavor or what it represents (that’s for another conversation), I’d say go buy sodium citrate and experience. It’s your mac and cheese. I am only the messenger.
What is the best dough to use for Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese?
Elbow macaroni works well, but cavatappi is a particularly fun shape to eat with its telephone cord-like bounce.
What are the best cheeses for the ultimate mac and cheese?
The ideal cheeses for the ultimate mac and cheese are the cheeses that are right for you. Personally and usually I would opt for a young cheddar, an old cheddar and a Pecorino Romano or Gruyère, something very tasty. You really don’t need more than two or three cheeses, but mixing them is great because each cheese offers something different. You could think of this as creating your favorite flavor profile. But if it’s a baked mac and cheese, I would use mostly young cheeses, especially a yellow cheddar, and a little Velveeta for its sodium citrate.
Best Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese Recipe (Video):
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Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese Recipe (Copycat)
1 lb corkscrew or elbow macaroni
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 cups of whole milk
1 lb sharp or extra sharp yellow Cheddar, coarsely grated (5¼ cups)
8 oz Velveeta, torn into pieces
4 oz Pecorino Romano, coarsely grated (1 cup)
½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until just al dente. Drain and reserve.
Return the empty pan to the stove (no need to clean it) and heat over medium heat. Melt the butter and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the butter stops squirting and calms down, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, whisking, until smooth like a sauce, about 1 minute.
Add the milk. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then immediately reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer until the sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, 2 to 5 minutes. At this stage, the sauce should be smooth but relatively soft. Remove the pan from the fire.
To the saucepan, add the cheddar, Velveeta, Pecorino Romano, mustard powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper, and season generously with salt and black pepper. Whisk until the cheese is melted and smooth like nacho cheese. Add the drained pasta, breaking up any lumps, and toss until evenly coated with the cheese sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a 9×13-inch baking dish and bake until bubbly around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.