Cheese, a butter crunch, pasta. These three combined ingredients create a wonderful comfort dish in so many different iterations, and today, I am sharing a classic that involves all three of these wonderful, delicious details in my French Mac & Cheese.
What makes it French, you may be wondering? It is the base of the béchamel sauce, one of the classic five Mother Sauces as Georges Auguste Escoffier coined the distinction that remains fundamental to the basics of classic French cuisine. And in today’s episode, I will walk you through all five sauces and explain each.
Along with the basics of the béchamel sauce which is simply butter, flour and milk, we will be topping our macaroni & cheese with a twice baked topping that adds even more cheese and a lovely, buttery and nutty crunch which pairs well with the cheesy, yumminess of the baked Mac & cheese that hides beneath.
Today’s recipe is one I enjoy making on those days when it is perhaps a little chilly outside or I just need some ‘warmth and simplicity’ and lovely, cozy reminders of what I enjoyed eating as a child (albeit it was out of a box when I was a child, and I ate every bite ☺️). But today’s recipe needs no box, only simple ingredients and a little know-how and you will be making this recipe in your sleep when you too want to cozy-in and enjoy some classic comfort food, French style.
Between the topping that is toasted before it goes in the oven, so twice baked, and the larger macaroni pieces, this traditional macaroni & cheese is decadent and ideal comfort food.
Choosing an overly large macaroni noodle makes each bite quite grand and holds sooooo much more cheese. That is a definitely, ‘yes, please’ in my book.
Now to the episode! I do hope you enjoy.
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Links shared during the episode:
- Bodum pasta storage container
- 8″ soufflé dish, white (four different sizes)
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Simple French Mac & Cheese
Pasta & Sauce
- 8 ounces large elbow macaroni
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, best quality you can find (high butterfat percentage)
- 2 1/2 Tbsp flour
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups Gruyere, grated, freshly and in large pieces
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano finely grated
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- fleur de sel to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius).
- Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the elbow pasta to al dente, but no more. Drain and set aside. Toss with 1 tsp of olive oil to prevent from sticking together. Set aside while you make the sauce.
- Make the béchamel sauce: In a medium sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, gradually add the flour, whisking as you add until smooth. Then add the milk and cream. Whisk until smooth and slightly thickening. Lastly, add the Gruyere and and whisk until smooth and all is combined. Sauce should become thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Use a medium souffle pan or 8×8 casserole dish. Place the pasta in the pan/dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix until tossed and all elbow pasta has sauce.
- In a dry skillet, add the panko and butter over med-low heat. Lightly toast the panko or stir with a wooden spoon (not to brown, but to add flavor from the butter). Toss consistently so as not to burn. Using a food processor, combine the panko breadcrumbs and Parmigiana Reggiano. Sprinkle on top of the pasta and sauce, evenly and don't be stingy.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Top should be golden brown. Serve immediately and enjoy with a side of roasted vegetables and a glass of wine.
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14 thoughts on “French Mac & Cheese and the 5 Mother Sauces in French Cuisine”
Shannon such a tasty dish
It’s back on my menu now autumn is here.Indeed, real comfort food. Having it for supper this evrning.I infuse the milk with a bay leaf and half a peeled onion stuck with a few cloves for 15 minutes. I make my béchamel sauce by putting all the ingredients at room temperature on low heat whisking all the time then raise the heat to continue and finish. Guaranteed lump free.
A 1/2 teaspoon of Colman’s English mustard powder adds a nice kick. A good strong English cheddar works great also.
Have a lovely day. Kameela xx?
Ah Kameela, Autumn is here for sure. I am knee deep in fallen leaves and my kitchen buzzing and warm. I will be making mac and cheese this week, likely a large tray for some shut ins to share. I also add a bit of mustard as well. Often the dry but recently, just for us, a charming French mustard with a bit of horseradish. My oh my, a new incantation for an old standard. I really like Shannon’s idea of using a larger pasta. I have not yet tried your clove and onions, however. I have tried the bay leaf and like it as well. Over my cooking life I have made a great deal of mac and cheese. I want to try the twice baked topping Shannon shows. Have a lovely week of Autumn joy, the season is short so we must capture each sunbeam, each gust of wind that kisses our cheek before the one that bites arrives.
Lucy. It sounds wonderful. I have been making thus dish for over forty years. It was a firm favourite when the children were small.Now it’s one of the first dishes I make as the days shorten. We’re still short of some types of mustard in the shops. Luckily I have a couple jars stowed away. I love your description of “shut ins”. Yes the twice cooked topping of Shannon gives it an extra dose of yummyness. I will also try it with the big pasta It’s not a big dish here in France( as we have a lot of slow braised dishes such as Pot au feu) but slowly creeping in as a ready meal in the shops. Love the poetic tone in the last few lines. You describe the season perfectly . I might be quoting you with permission of course. Enjoy lots of cosy shut ins.
Kameela xx ?
Mustard! When I heard about possible shortages, friends and I did a little hoarding. Yes, I have a weakness, well, that and shoes. But I stray, I have plenty and will share if you are in need. We may have snow here tomorrow. I am not ready. I cannot ever remember snow in October.
Thank you for stopping by Laura ?
Oh Shannon, you have taken one of my favorite dishes and brought it to the next level!! I cannot wait to try this!! Yum, yum ?
I do hope you enjoy!! I am thinking of making it this weekend. I love it quite a lot. ☺️
Merci beaucoup Shannon, is there any comfort food more cherished, all over the world, than mac and cheese? Your recipe is one that is speaking to me. Particularly the large pasta suggestion as well as the topping. I have combined gyurere with white cheddar and even Emmental, all were quite yummy. Often it depends on what is in the cheese drawer. Thank you for your review of the mother sauces, you continue to teach and that is a good thing.
Thank you for stopping by! So true! A classic and timeless and cross-culture comfort food dish. 🙂 Your combination of cheeses sounds divine. A wonderful idea to play with cheese to our heart’s content when making this recipe (all the more reason to make it a few more times!) Happy to share what I learn along the way as well. French cuisine fascinates me to no end! 🙂
Mac & Cheese and I got acquainted late in my life, well into my 40’s. Not being a traditional dish of my culture, it came to me via an American vintage cooking book (River Road Recipes), the “nagging” of my sister-in-law, an University Professor in Canada, and the “influence” of my good neighbours next door, an American couple with two cute little boys. 🙂
Mac & Cheese = bliss. 🙂
I love sauces, to prepare them, that is. Not that I indulge on it often because health and all that, and well, one has to keeps an eye on the waist line, right?… In my next life, I want to be a sauce-maker, a saucier. And live in Paris, of course. 😉
Thank you, Shannon, it was a great episode. You look so natural and relaxed in front of the camera. I will certainly try your recipe. And will you make more episodes concerning the other mother-sauces? It would be great, I think. 🙂
Isabel so pleased that this dish came to you. Better late than never?. I have been making this on repeat for nearly 45years for my family and never tire of it. My daughter is visiting at the moment and she requested this as her first dish. I like to change it up a little by adding steamed broccoli ( now that is a dish on its own) Broccoli smothered in a cheese sauce au gratin. Sometimes a layer of tomatoes A sauce maker in Paree sounds a great job and I’ll happily be your assistant ?. Enjoy your Mac & cheese. ?
The first time I made baked macaroni and cheese for friends in college, their reactions… they were gob-smacked. Not something I expected. It’s simply a lovey warming cozy repast, best served in a bowl, accompanied by a glass of wine at the end of a tiring day. I had no recipe as my mother and grandmother had none. Roux to bechamel, as it is named, I now know, but then it was just how you cooked to make this and other things. It was a base. And dried mustard is essential. And thyme or sage, dried(yours) or fresh(yours). I must try the larger pasta. And a savory, slightly cheesy breadcrumb topping is essential.
Tonight I cooked a white bean soup of chickpeas, cannellini, homemade chicken stock, and the ‘croutons’ were the savory palmiers — grainy mustard+gruyere—really quite good. Thank you very much, Shannon, for the savory palmier idea, and letting us burble on about our ideas. Et ma chère Kameela and the inimitable Lucy Augustine, grâce à vous. Bisoux XOXO Rona
Your soup sounds very tasty! 🙂