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:
- 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.