Ok, no fair looking at the title of this post, thinking, “What is he, crazy??” Well … ummm … no, I’m not! In fact, I’m thinking of making a batch of this for this weekend when my kids are over, as they just love it.
This modification of a classic recipe for baked macaroni and cheese is the result of a happy accident. A few nights before Easter 2006, I’d boiled some fresh bratwurst from Jerry’s Market in Tecumseh, Michigan, in a couple bottles of Wisconsin-based Leinenkugel’s Apple Spice beer. We had these brats on buns with some boxed mac ‘n cheese on the side. Afterward I put some of the mac ‘n cheese in a plastic container, along with one of the bratwurst, and took it to work for lunch the next day. At work I just threw the container in the microwave and heated it up. I splooshed some mustard on the bratwurst and ate it. Then I started eating the mac ‘n cheese. That’s when my eyebrows went up. In the microwave, the steam from the apple spice-laced bratwurst had permeated the noodles. What I had was Apple Mac ‘n Cheese. And boy, was it good! This recipe was developed within 24 hours of that “accident”. An initial double batch was made the day before Easter 2006 for Mary, myself and four kids … and it sure didn’t last long. The kids were having second helpings, with Teen Tech having a whole plate-full of thirds!
Did you ever dip apples into a cheese sauce in a fondue pot? Or top a piece of warm apple pie with a pile of shredded cheddar cheese? If so, then you’re well on your way to enjoying this dish. We’ve developed it with flavors directly from the Michigan area, complete with Wisconsin and Pinconning, Michigan, cheeses, and Michigan apples.
Baked Apple Macaroni & Cheese
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 1/2 medium Michigan Red Delicious apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup whole or 2% milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 cups grated mild Wisconsin cheddar cheese
1 cup grated sharp Pinconning cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra unsalted butter
Extra unpeeled apples for garnish
1 8 x 8 (1/2-quart) glass casserole dish
6 or 8 quart pot
Large mixing bowl
Use some of the extra butter to butter the inside bottom and sides of the glass casserole dish and set it aside. Make sure to keep the cats away from it.
Put about 4 quarts of water in the pot, add a tablespoon or so of the olive oil to the water, and set the heat to medium-high. Wait for the water to heat to a roiling boil. Once the water is boiling, add the uncooked macaroni to it. Cook the noodles about 7 minutes until they’re al dente. (Taste one to make sure! Stoves that run hot could mess this up.) Place the colander in a sink. Drain the macaroni in the colander, tossing it to ensure all water is out from inside all the noodles. Dump the drained noodles into a large mixing bowl and set it aside to cool a bit. (The oil you added to the water should help prevent the noodles from sticking together as they cool.)
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Peel and core the 1-1/2 apples and cut them into wedges about 1/4″ thick at the outside, placing the wedges into the small bowl. Sprinkle the apple wedges with some of the lemon juice. Toss the apple wedges and lemon juice by hand so the wedges are completely coated Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to the apple wedges and again toss them by hand. Sniff them to ensure a good apple pie aroma. Set them aside.
Make sure the flour, milk and half-and-half are measured out, and are readily available in dishes by the stove prior to starting the next steps. (Yes, you’ve just set up a mise-en-place.)
Put the 2 tablespoons of butter in the medium saucepan, set it for low heat and gently let the butter melt. As soon as the butter is melted, slowly add the flour, stirring the mixture constantly until it’s quite smooth. (Yes, you’ve made a roux.) Gradually stir in the milk and the half-and-half. Continue to cook this mixture, stirring it constantly, until it boils and thickens. (This should only take about 2 minutes. Yes, you’ve made a simple white sauce.) Remove the sauce from the heat. Add the grated Pinconning cheese and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese. Stir this gently until all the cheese is melted and the overall sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (but not too much!)
In the large mixing bowl, gently (so the apple wedges stay intact and you don’t cut any of the noodles) toss the seasoned apple wedges in with the cooked macaroni. Fold the cheese sauce into the mixture of macaroni and apples, continuing a gentle folding until all the noodles and apples are covered. Pour the completed mixture into the buttered glass dish. Top the mixture with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and dot it all by cutting about 2 tablespoons of the extra butter into little pieces and placing them on top of the mixture.
Bake the completed dish uncovered in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until the top cheese is melted and is a golden brown. Pull it out of the oven and let it stand 5 minutes so the cheese will finish setting.
Serve with a garnish of fresh apple wedges to help clean up any leftover cheese sauce on the plate after eating.
- Make sure to use a sweet type of apple for this. Tart apples, such as Granny Smith’s that are normally used for apple pies, won’t complement the flavors of the cheeses correctly and will certainly sour the dish.
- We used a sharp Pinconning with a mild Wisconsin cheddar so they offset each other’s “bite”. If you and yours really like sharp cheeses go ahead and use sharp for both, or even extra-sharp if that’s what you enjoy.
- We like using Barilla elbow macaroni noodles for macaroni and cheese dishes. They have small ridges on the outside that tend to hold more of a sauce than a smooth noodle.
- Don’t use 1% or skim milk for the sauce in this dish. 2% milkfat or higher is necessary for the sauce to develop correctly.
- If the sauce “breaks” at all during its preparation, the only thing you can do is dump it and start that portion of the recipe over, going back to washing out the saucepan and melting another 2 tablespoons of butter. Otherwise, the completed dish won’t have the desired consistency.
- Going somewhere with this? Make it up to the point where you’ve dotted the top of it with butter, then cover it with aluminum foil and transport it. Once you’re where you’re headed to, take of the foil, then throw it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F and cook it as described.