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mac-and-cheese

It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese.  I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried.  For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations.  In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding!  However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened.  The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.

I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control.  However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic!  The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect.  Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.

Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)

For the Powdered Cheese:

  1. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
  2. Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan.  Heat on low until completely melted.  Stir to ensure evenness.
  3. Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste.  If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
  4. Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet.  Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours.
  5. Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder.  Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder.  If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin.  The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.

For the dish:

  • 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Hawaiian black lava salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
  3. To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl.  Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme.  To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce.

I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe.  If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly.  However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.

Scott

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