I have it on good authority that this is the BEST Mac and Cheese recipe. It’s rich and super-cheesy… Unctuously creamy with a perfectly-baked, golden crunchy top… Add a smoked salmon twist for extra deliciousness… Or go Vegan with dairy free cheese! The perfect mid-week meal.
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DON’T LOSE THIS RECIPE… PIN IT FOR LATER…
This Mac and Cheese is the BEST recipe… Or so I’ve been told
I’ve been making this Mac and Cheese for as long as I can remember… Both before Coeliac and since becoming gluten free. And it’s delicious… So delicious that it has been declared by some who have eaten it as the BEST Mac and Cheese… ever! I’ve had teens and adults ask for the recipe… And yet, I realise that I have never shared it on the blog.
And with that realisation, it’s time to make amends… So… This, lovely people, is my very special Gluten Free Macaroni Cheese recipe. I like to dress it up with a touch of smoked salmon and some sweet peas. However, this is by no means necessary. It is just as yummy as simple ‘straight’ Mac n Cheese… It can even be made vegan with some simple subs.
What’s in this Mac n Cheese recipe?
At their core, Mac and Cheese recipes have basically the same ingredients (macaroni and cheese sauce). But the specific ingredients used and the ratios of those ingredients can make the difference between an ‘okay’ Macaroni Cheese and one that hits the sublime. In my world, ‘okay’ isn’t good enough… Mac and Cheese should always be sumptuously creamy and decadently cheesy… baked to golden perfection with a crunch to the topping. It is not a difficult dish, but its execution is important!
In my Mac and Cheese, you will find the following…
- Macaroni (obviously) also known as elbow pasta. This is cooked with a drop of olive oil to prevent sticking and then coated in a dot of butter for silkiness.
- The basic white Roux Sauce – is made with standard butter, corn starch and milk. This ensures it is gluten free and is mixed to a ratio that gives a rich and thick mac and cheese.
- Cheese – I use a combination of Cheddar and Gruyère for rich, deep cheesiness and a little ‘gooey stickiness’. Sometimes I add a little Mozzarella too. But any and all of these are divine!
- Optional Smoked Salmon and Peas for contrasting flavour, texture and to up the whole mac and cheese game.
- Seasoning – usually just salt and pepper. Although occasionally I add a spoon of oregano or thyme or some smoked paprika for a different flavour hit.
- Extra Cheese and Dried Bread Crumbs on the top – This will ensure a golden and crunchy top.
And no… Sorry Nadiya Hussain… It doesn’t need evaporated milk, yeast extract and especially not crushed cheese puffs… Am I alone in thinking that?
Topping Macaroni Cheese with breadcrumbs
For the crunchiest contrast between the cheesy, velvety macaroni and the topping, breadcrumbs are a must. Added with a sprinkling of extra cheese, the combination melts and crisps in the oven to create the most delectable marriage of flavours and textures.
However… The type of breadcrumbs you use matters. If using crumbs from bread which is dark in colour, the surface may look ‘dirty’. Equally, using fresh, quite moist bread crumbs, will be less likely to result in a crunchy top… Fresh breadcrumbs have less resistance to absorbing moisture from the underlying cheese sauce and hence, don’t crisp as much in the oven.
The answer? Use bread crumbs made from white bread that are dried and preferably PANKO. And if you didn’t think gluten free Panko breadcrumbs were a possibility, think again! And head over to my post on how to make Panko Breadcrumbs at home.
Dress it up with smoked salmon, ham and other stuff
What else can you add to Mac and Cheese? Well… The version shown in the photos has been made extra special with the addition of some smoked salmon and peas. It’s my absolute favourite and for that reason, I have shared the details in the recipe card below. These are of course, optional additions. But if you do want to ‘dress it up’, there are plenty of ways to do so. Why not try adding…
- Hot smoked salmon/smoked salmon
- Chunks of cooked ham or beef
- Chicken or turkey pieces
- Vegan pea protein or soya chunks
- Pancetta, bacon, chorizo or saucisson
- Peas or sweetcorn
- Chopped sundried tomato
- Pine nuts or pumpkin seeds
- Mushrooms (of any type, but the ‘beefier’ the better)
- Little bites of broccoli or cauliflower
- A few baby spinach leaves
Gluten Free Mac and Cheese that’s safe for Coeliacs (Celiacs)
Apart from the macaroni and a little flour used to thicken the sauce, there should be nothing else gluten-based in Mac and Cheese. So, a simple switch of standard macaroni (aka elbow pasta) for gluten free macaroni and using corn starch in place of wheat flour, will make it safe for people with Coeliac Disease (Celiac Disease). You can usually find gluten free macaroni/elbow pasta in the free from section of larger supermarkets. And corn starch (in the UK known as corn flour) in the baking aisle.
Easy right? And it also means that whether you are gluten free or not, this is the perfect recipe. As always however, remember if you are gluten free for allergen or health reasons, it is important to double-check all ingredient labels for hidden gluten or ‘may contain’ warnings.
Go Vegan… Mac and Cheese that’s dairy free and plant based
Although I don’t generally choose to use vegan cheese alternatives or to make our Macaroni Cheese dairy free, this recipe works fine with alternative vegan ingredients. If you haven’t checked recently, there are now some amazing and ever-improving plant-based cheeses on the market. So… this is what you need to sub to make it Vegan Mac and Cheese…
- Make sure the macaroni used is dairy and egg free. The award-winning Tesco brand I use is fabulous and holds together well. Barilla gluten free elbow pasta is also recommended.
- Butter and milk – Sub with your usual favourite dairy free and vegan brands.
- Cheese – Choose a vegan option that you know melts well and tastes super-cheesy. Applewood Vegan Smoky Cheese Alternative tastes good, melts well and is widely available in supermarkets.
Top tips for baked Macaroni Cheese
Although Mac and Cheese is a relatively straight forward dish to make, a few extra tips and tricks for the best results always come in handy…
- Follow the recipe! Everything in it is there for a reason.
- Don’t over-cook the macaroni. A minute or two under so that it is ‘al dente’ is good. The macaroni will continue to cook when mixed with the sauce and baked, so should be perfect when the mac n cheese is done!
- Add the milk to the cooked flour drop by drop to ensure it completely incorporates without any lumps.
- Make absolutely sure to continually stir when heating and thickening the white sauce. Seriously… A lapsed moment will result in lumps!
- When adding the cheese to the white sauce, don’t put the pan back on the heat. If the cheese is allowed to ‘boil’ before it hits the oven, the mac and cheese will end up greasy with some separation.
- Top with plenty of extra cheese and dried bread crumbs for the best crunch.
Can I make this recipe on the hob without baking?
Yes. To make Mac and Cheese entirely on the hob, simply return the pan to the heat after everything (including the macaroni) has been added to the white sauce and gently bring back to a simmer. As soon as the mac starts to simmer take off the heat. Do NOT boil or the cheese will become oily.
It is fine to serve from the pan… However, the Mac n Cheese will be missing its crispy top! Although not as good as when it has been baked in the oven (which regardless of the top, allows extra time for the flavours to absorb and the mac to mature to perfection), you can grill as an alternative. To do this, transfer the mac from the pan to a heat-proof serving dish. Then top with extra cheese and breadcrumbs and pop under a hot grill for a few minutes until bubbling and golden.
Ready to make my utterly delicious Mac and Cheese (gluten free or not)?
And that’s all there is to it! Super-delicious, super-cheesy, unctuously gooey Mac and Cheese (gluten free or not). I hope you love it.
If you make it, do let me know what you think… Leave a comment, rate the recipe (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) and tag me on social media with your sumptuous photos. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter #glutenfreealchemist.
For everything else, head over to our amazing Gluten Free Recipe Index… With literally hundreds of recipes shared for FREE, you’re sure to find something to tempt you into the kitchen.
Baked Mac and Cheese (with optional Smoked Salmon and Peas)
- oven + hob
- oven proof serving dish(es)
- large saucepan with lid
- large saucepan
- measuring jug
- 300 g dried macaroni aka elbow pasta – gluten free as required
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 15 g unsalted butter or dairy free spread
Roux sauce (white)
- 40 g unsalted butter or dairy free alternative
- 30 g corn starch known in UK as corn flour (white in colour)
- 620 ml/g milk dairy free as required
Cheese and other add-ins
- 160 g Cheddar cheese grated (or good, meltable dairy free alternative)
- 90 g Gruyère cheese (or Mozzarella cheese – the grated ‘pizza’ variety) grated (or good, meltable dairy free alternative)
- 100 g smoked salmon (optional) cut into small pieces
- 100 g peas frozen or fresh – (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- herbs of choice or paprika to taste – optional – Parsley works well
Cheesy crunchy topping
- 80 to 100 g Cheddar cheese in addition to above (or good, meltable vegan alternative)
- 3 to 4 tbsp dried or PANKO bread crumbs gluten free as required
Prepare before starting to cook
- Take an oven-proof serving dish (medium to large size) and grease the inside with butter (or dairy free alternative).
- Grate the cheeses and prepare any other ingredients by weighing, cutting, etc before you cook the pasta.
Cooking the macaroni
- Boil a pan of water with a pinch of salt and add the olive oil.
- Add the macaroni to the pan, stir well to separate the pieces and cook to ‘al dente’ (I recommend cooking for about 1 to 2 minutes short of recommended time to ensure it remains firm).
- While the macaroni is cooking, boil a kettle of water.
- As soon as the macaroni is cooked enough, remove the pan from the heat and drain the macaroni over a sink using a colander.
- Pour the freshly boiled water over the macaroni to remove any excess starch. This will also help prevent the macaroni sticking together.
- Rinse the pan and return the macaroni along with the 15g butter. Stir well to coat.
- Pop the lid on the pan and set aside.
Making the base white sauce
- In a large non-stick saucepan, melt the butter (45g) over a gentle heat.
- Once melted, add the corn starch and stir vigorously with a wooden/silicone spoon to blend.
- Continue to cook the butter-flour mix over a low heat, stirring for a minute or so, before removing the pan from the heat.
- To make the white sauce base as smooth as possible, first add a tiny drop of milk to the butter-flour and stir until smooth. Do NOT heat while adding the milk.
- Keep adding milk a drop at a time, stirring until you have a smooth paste, and eventually, a lumpless liquid. Adding the milk too quickly before it has been incorporated will result in a lumpy sauce.
- When all the milk has been added, return the pan to a low heat and stir continually (reaching all areas of the pan base), while very gradually bringing the liquid to a simmer. The white sauce should gradually start to thicken as it nears simmer point, at which stage, stir more vigorously to ensure no lumps develop at the base of the pan.
- Once the sauce is just boiling, remove from the heat and continue to stir for a few seconds.
Adding the cheese and other add-ins
- Once the white sauce is off the heat, add the cheeses straight away, along with the seasoning and smoked salmon and peas (or any alternative add-ins, if using) and stir through. Do not return to the heat. It is fine that the cheese is not fully melted.
- Add the cooked macaroni to the sauce and gently fold through until evenly distributed.
Topping and baking the Mac and Cheese
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6.
- Transfer the macaroni cheese to the greased oven-proof dish.
- Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese topping evenly over the surface.
- Sprinkle the dried breadcrumbs over the top of the cheese.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the Mac and Cheese is bubbling and is golden and crisp on the top.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.
© 2019-2023 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist