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:
- 100g Beecher’s Flagship (or Smoked Flagship, if you prefer), grated
- 30g water
- .4g sodium citrate
- 200g (+15g) tapioca maltodextrin
- Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
- Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan. Heat on low until completely melted. Stir to ensure evenness.
- 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.
- Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet. Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours.
- 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
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
- 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).
- 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.
Allen Hemberger said:
This is cool! I’m curious, though, why the sodium citrate is used? Did Maxime offer an explanation for that?
Not currently but the book release party is next week. I’ll see if I can ask them then. Love your blog, btw!
I was wondering…
A) Did we ever find out the reason for the sodium citrate? Is there a more readily available substitution? And I know it is heresy for a modernist cook to use anything but the metric system, but even those of us with digital scales rarely have equipment that is accurate to the tenth of a gram. Any chance, just this once, you could convert four-tenths of a grams into fractions of a teaspoon?
B) Your Cheetos recipe from the Seattle Weekly uses pearl tapioca instead of tapioca maltodextrin. Is the former good enough to give a sense of why this Mac and Cheese recipe has become such a Modernist Cuisine flagship? Technically speaking, is it adequately yummy?
Oh, and thanks for writing such a consistently remarkable blog.
I tried this recipe and for some reason the maltodextrin/cheese mixture turned into absolute glue for me and I could hardly spread it onto the silicon baking sheet. Anything you can think of that I did wrong?
Just to clarify…I followed the recipe for the part 1 process. And starting mixing in the powder little by little into my small cusinart processor. That’s when it turned into a mound of glue. No pouring or spreading ability at all.
@Lee After doing a little research, I believe that the sodium citrate is added to adjust the pH of the mixture for better absorption into the maltodextrin. However, this is a big fat hypothesis, and not fact.
As for substituting with tapioca pearls, yes it will work. However, the finished product will not be quite as authentic to the powdered cheese sauces in your boxed mac & cheese.
@liz the paste will be pretty stiff and dry, but perhaps your cheese had a slightly lower water content than mine. I’d recommend witholding some of the maltodextrin, or adding just enough water until the mixture can be spread into a 1/8″ layer. Ultimately, we want it to dehydrate completely so it can become brittle.
I know this is over a year old post to reply to… But just to let anybody else know, the sodium citrate is to allow the cheese to melt much easier.
So I tried this tonight and wasn’t entirely successful… my cheese/maltodextrin mixture was very hard and glue like. I added a little water so it was pliable enough to spread, but even after three hours of baking, it was still pretty gummy in the center. I tried to make the powder anyway…
I added a little more maltodextrin and used only the parts of the cheese that were mildly brittle. I first did it in a food processor and then in the spice grinder… then, I put it through a tamis. After plating, we poured the cream on and while some of it formed a cheese like substance, we ended up with gluey stuff caked to the spoon and bowl. The flavor was alright, minus the terrible texture at times.
Any idea where I could have went wrong???