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Difference between stovetop and baked macaroni and cheese? Recipes?

I'm suddenly craving some good and creamy macaroni and cheese but I've never made it homemade and I've just searched for recipes online but there are stovetop versions (which is supposedly easier? I don't know, that's what people say but I don't care about the easiness, as long as it tastes awesome) and baked versions and I don't know what's the difference! Does it affect the flavors, texture, or cheesiness? I just want to know what's best for me! Also, do you have any go-to recipes for macaroni and cheese? Thanks! xoxo

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  1. My preference is definitely for stovetop! It's cheesy, gooey, delicious comfort in a bowl. It is also very hard to mess up.

    The baked versions are more "custard-like," and frequently have a breadcrumb topping, which I find makes the whole thing seem overcooked and dry. But perhaps I just haven't ever been treated to really amazing baked mac & cheese.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ohmyyum

      Me, too. I like the creaminess of stove top. I really like Alton Brown's (similar to Best Recipe which is a little more persnickety, as usual) version. It comes together in no time, too, compared to baked.


      I will also make a bechamel mac and cheese and just not bake it.

    2. Here's a recent thread in which "stovetop v. baked" was discussed:


      1. http://www.recipelink.com/msgbrd/boar... Joy of Cooking's Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

        I have made this for others, saving out a portion for Mr. Sueatmo. It is very good, if my taste test was accurate. I guess I prefer the baked, although I am not a mac and cheese aficionado.

        If you want a fast creamy mac and cheese fix, then I can recommend the Panera mac and cheese, which I have eaten several years ago, and found luscious.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sueatmo

          I prefer a baked version myself, preferably with a mixture of cheeses, but my kids absolutely love the Panera mac and cheese. It's become a staple in my home.

        2. I suggest you avoid recipes that just call for assembling a casserole of cooked macaroni with shredded cheese, then pouring on a milky/creamy mixture (with or without egg) before baking. These can break if your temp is off, yielding grainy clumps of cheese sitting in a soupy mix.

          Better to make a bechamel, then add in the cheese and pasta, and either transfer to a baking dish or serve from the stovetop. Or, if you use evaporated milk (don't dilute) and/or some processed cheese like Velveeta as part of the cheese blend, you do not need flour. All 3 of these ingredients will prevent the cheese from breaking and becoming grainy.

          If you don't want to bake, but like a crunchy top, sprinkle canned fried onions atop each serving, or toast some fresh breadcrumbs in butter in a frying pan. I prefer finishing M&C in the oven since the heat caramelizes the natural dairy sugars, creating that sweet, golden-brown top even if you have no additional topping.

          4 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            That golden brown topping is something I miss from the stove top one. I wonder if mac and cheese patties, as leftovers would be the best of both worlds. I've never tried it before.

            1. re: greygarious

              True. It is best to make a sauce if you want to bake your mac and cheese.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Maybe we could try a combination of the two--baked w/ bechamel but then served on top of the evaporated milk/melted cheese sauce. Best of both worlds.

              2. re: greygarious

                This is my favorite kind of macaroni and cheese, when done well the baked without a bechamel turns out well or at least it does to me and the rest of my family.

              3. I like my mac 'n cheese fluffy, and creamy so the method I use is to make a cheese sauce via bechamel, cook my pasta al dente, mix together with the cheese sauce, then bake. The pasta swells during baking, and the sauce stays creamy.

                1. I like a touch of mustard in my cheese sauce for tang. Anyone else?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: letsindulge

                    I like mustard & also this Thai red curry version:

                    Our family tends to gravitate towards spicy food.

                    1. re: letsindulge

                      Dry or liquid? Both Alton Brown and CI's stove top versions have dried. I like those. I can't imagine the other one.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I've used both but usually just a healthy squirt of plain yellow, or a scoop of grainy Dijon. NO crumb topping though.

                      2. re: letsindulge

                        Dry mustard and specks of cayenne and nutmeg.

                        1. re: letsindulge

                          Yes. Seems to me I've added dry to mustard to cheese sauce at some time in my life. It can add flavor, esp. if the cheese isn't really sharp.

                          1. re: letsindulge

                            I use Dijon, dry mustard, cayenne, and a sprinkle of paprika

                            1. re: cheesecake17

                              Do you add any eggs to that line up?

                            2. re: letsindulge

                              I usually had a hint of dry mustard.

                            3. I like baked, and My go to is Alton brown's recipe, and he also does a stovetop version, which I'm guessing would be just as good. The stovetop is definitely creamier, but the oven one is pretty cheesy, so I'm good.

                              1. I am in the camp that prefers stovetop because of baked being too dry.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                  if the baked is dry, it's a bad recipe.

                                2. Here's an unorthodox take that has become our family go-to: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/din... Best in deeper dish, and I use a combo of jack and mild cheddar.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Splendid Spatula

                                    BEST Mac n cheese
                                    I use 2 c cottage cheese

                                    Usually lowfat cottage cheese and 1% milk.
                                    Oh... And I don't purée...just mix everything in a big bowl

                                  2. I'm on a one-man mission to convert how CH'rs prepare and eat their mac & cheese.

                                    Why bother making a sauce out of cheese ("sauced cheese"... doesn't sound quite right, does it?) when you can be putting gooey, silky, unctuous, molten cheese (by which I mean any kind of cheese you can possibly think of or that exists out in humanity) on your mac?

                                    Behold the power of sodium citrate in the kitchen! Use the big SC and it won't matter whether you put it on the stove or throw it in the oven. It's a completely different animal, from which you'll never, ever, ever return.

                                    You've been warned.


                                    15 Replies
                                    1. re: biggreenmatt

                                      Is that just velveeta? Sounds like velveeta was just ahead of its time, sodium phosphate, sodium citrate, sodium alginate.


                                      Milk, water, milkfat, whey, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2% of salt, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, enzymes, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color), cheese culture.[4]

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        Is it Velveeta? Sort of. More like a Velveetazation process.

                                        Imagine instead of tasting the indifferent Cheddar-ish cheese product you find in Velveeta, you can get the same texture and consistency out of a smoked Gruyere or a 5 yr old Cheddar or a Brie or, lord help us, a bleu?

                                        The possibilities are fascinating.

                                        1. re: biggreenmatt

                                          I've just recently started experimenting with cheese and sodium citrate and I have to agree - it's pretty awesome stuff. Having the flavor of your favorite aged gouda in a perfectly melted slice of cheese is amazing.

                                          1. re: biggreenmatt

                                            Ah, velveeta texture w/ real cheese. Worth looking into.

                                        2. re: biggreenmatt

                                          biggreenmatt, have you tried the recipe from the original MC? I am of the opinion that it produces a better end result than the MCAH version, and is actually more streamlined.

                                          It does require one additional chemical: they call for a carrageenan as a thickener (for which I've successfully substituted xanthan gum). However, the win comes in the cooking process, which uses a low-water method.

                                          The first step is very similar:

                                          High quality cheese (I use 50/50 aged cheddar and aged gouda)
                                          Sodium citrate
                                          Water (or wheat beer - highly recommended)
                                          Salt (they call for salt; I don't use it as don't think it's needed with all of the cheese and sodium citrate)

                                          Make a cheese log, portion and freeze

                                          The cooking part is, in my opinion, super cool:

                                          Cook a couple of portions of pasta in just barely enough water to cover (actual amount they specify is something like 100g pasta to 300g water), plus a bit of salt.

                                          After the pasta is cooked do not drain: simply add the cheese log and stir, directly to the pasta and any remaining water. This works in part because the thickener (carrageenan, xanthan gum, or whatever) controls the water.

                                          It results in a lighter and somewhat less gummy sauce than does the MCAH version. I'm a huge fan. Give it a try if you get a chance. You can find the recipe via your favorite search engine, or I'm happy to post my modified version if you like (not as salty, and with a lower sauce to pasta ratio).

                                          1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                            I've gotten my hands on MCaH, not MC, so my recipe comes from there- I'll have to try the second version.

                                            And yes, I have xanthan gum (a shit-ton of it), but no carageen, so the amended version would be awesome.

                                            1. re: biggreenmatt

                                              Okay, here's my version, with notes:

                                              Heat in a saucepan:

                                              175g wheat beer (they call for 75g beer and 100g water; I like the additional beer flavor)

                                              Incorporate w/ immersion blender:

                                              10g sodium citrate
                                              2g xanthan gum (they call for 1.25g iota carrageenan)
                                              (They call for 4.5g salt. I tried that just once and ended up having to throw out the batch. I don't think it needs any additional.)

                                              Now incorporate, again w/ immersion blender:

                                              280g cheese (try 140g each of a high quality aged cheddar and aged gouda. They should be somewhat shredded, depending on how powerful your blender is. Note: Don't let it get too hot or it has a tendency to burn at the bottom of the pan. It doesn't require a huge amount of heat, nor does it need to simmer.)

                                              Remove from the heat. Allow to cool down a bit, and portion. I create three equal portions, each of approximately 150g. I wrap each portion in saran wrap in a little log, then freeze them in a bag. (MC says that this recipe is for two portions. I think that makes way too much sauce for the amount of pasta they call for.)

                                              ... Now, when you're ready to make some mac and cheese:

                                              Add, to a saucepan:

                                              300g cold (tap temperature) water
                                              150g pasta (they call for 100g of macaroni. I like 150g of campanelle.)
                                              1.5g salt (they call for 2.5g. Again, too salty for my taste. YMMV.)

                                              Stir it, put on the heat, cover, bring to a simmer, and once it's simmering start a timer and go 2 minutes less than whatever the box says for al dente time. Keep it covered during the whole cooking time, but stir it once or twice to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Note that the water will not cover all of the pasta. That's okay. Steam plus stirring will make everything work.

                                              Meanwhile, take one of the cheese logs out of the freezer. I give it 1 minute in the microwave on a defrost cycle to soften it up a bit. Once the pasta's cook time is finished, do not drain -- simply add the cheese right to the pot. In large-ish chunks is fine. Stir it over low heat and it will melt totally evenly and the whole thing will come together beautifully.

                                              Total time, from wanting some mac and cheese to having it on your plate, is around 14 minutes. All the convenience of the boxed stuff but infinitely better tasting.

                                              Garnish, maybe? Bacon, caramelized onion, herbs, sun-dried tomato, grilled chicken, ...

                                              Enjoy :-)

                                              1. re: davis_sq_pro


                                                Don't mind saying that I'm of two minds when it comes to Modernist techniques, bearing in mind that I'm coming to the subject from a home-cook perspective. That is, while I care about the quality of the end product, the fact is I'm cooking for someone (if only me), and I don't like wasting time and effort on intricate, involved procedures that give only a marginally-better result, if that.

                                                On one hand, some of the techniques are ridiculous. I'm not going to spend a half-day putting together the MC hamburger (though the MCaH burger is amazing- and is now virtually the only way I'll make em). On the other hand, some of the modernist techniques are magnificent, and a vast improvement in time and quality. The sous vide, pressure cooker and basic modernist cooking chemicals are staples in my kitchen, and if the MC version of mac & cheese is better than the MCaH, it's gotta be a helluva good one! Can't wait to try it out!!!

                                                1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                  Agreed that some of the techniques are ridiculous. The roast chicken in MCaH is intriguing but I can't see myself spending hours injecting and playing games with skin when I can make a perfectly tasty roast bird with about 10 minutes of effort.

                                                  Both mac and cheese techniques are about the same level of effort, which is to say almost none. The most time consuming part is shredding the cheese; after that it's like 7 minutes of work to make the processed cheese and then almost no active work when it comes time to cook. Pretty cool in that regard.

                                                  Another technique in MCaH that's similarly awesome is the risotto. The idea, which I believe they credit to Thomas Keller, is to parcook the rice, then quickly chill it down (using a sheet pan). Then just before you're ready to serve you pull the rice out of the refrigerator and cook it in some stock. The texture isn't -quite- as good as you might get from a more traditional approach but when you have guests over for dinner and you can spend 10 minutes instead of 30, suddenly risotto becomes a very real and appealing option. Very cool stuff.

                                                  Next things I'm planning to try are the pressure-caramelized onions and pressure cooked garlic confit. Both of those seem like similar extreme time savers. And will go well with the mac and cheese :-)

                                                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                    The idea, which I believe they credit to Thomas Keller,


                                                    this is standard restaurant prep. do you think they make risotto from scratch for every diner who orders it?

                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                      It's a book for home cooks, not restaurants. And someone, somewhere, had to come up with the idea. Do you have any other quality feedback?

                                                      1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                        sheesh, sorry. just saying, keller didn't invent the technique, it's been around for decades.

                                                2. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                  Have you made mac & cheese this way and then reheated it? Do the noodles absorb the sauce and will this dry out like the issue with oven baked mac & cheese or can I use this method to make this ahead?

                                                  I need to make a batch of mac & cheese for a party and I am always disappointed in the results of baked mac & cheese, but it would be so nice to not have to do any stovetop cooking at the last minute for this occasion.

                                                  I came across this post and immediately placed an order for some sodium citrate and would like to avoid wasting more good cheese with too many experimental batches.

                                                  1. re: bte576

                                                    Yes, I've reheated it, and it behaves similarly to any other mac and cheese. Which is to say that it dries out and gets kind of weird in the fridge, and needs to be reheated with a bit of extra liquid.

                                                    In my experience M&C is not a great make ahead dish. If you let it cool down it congeals, if you keep it warm it gets mushy... Not an easy dish to keep anywhere near perfect, IMO.

                                                    BTW, best combo yet: 50% aged goat gouda (I used Cyprus Grove's Midnight Moon) + 50% parmigiano reggiano. Really shines when used as a platform for braised meat in a slightly sweet sauce. (Recently used it for SV short ribs with a fig gastrique.) The cheese is expensive, but well worth it for a special meal IMO.

                                                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                      I think if I go with Mac & Cheese, it will need to be a la minute. I suppose even with regular bechamel based mac & cheese I could attempt to make the sauce separately and gently reheat that and add to fresh noodles. Boiling noodles won't be too taxing and this would be better than what we know happens in the oven.

                                                      I am looking forward to trying out the sodium citrate though for cheese and I love that you brought up Midnight Moon. That is probably my favorite cheese and I am now dreaming of a perfectly melty version draped over a burger...

                                          2. I love baked macaroni and cheese, my grandmother's classic southern baked style. I will eat stovetop as well though depending on the preparation.

                                            1. Do any of you add eggs (whole fresh eggs) to the recipe?

                                              10 Replies
                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                Yup, grandma adds eggs though I'm not sure how many.

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  I've never used egg because it would make the sauce set up firmer, and that's already a danger when baking the M&C.

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    I know the use of whole fresh eggs is a split decision/deal breaker for some cooks. I've followed with or without depending on what type of mac n cheese I was going for.

                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      In what manner do you use whole eggs in M&C? I'd not heard of it pre-CH.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          So it'd be good if you don't want to make a roux. Now that I'm diabetic, I don't get to eat pasta anymore, but if I ever were to cheat, making a sauce this way would eliminate a small amount of flour. Very interesting.

                                                          Maybe I could substitute vegetables for pasta and make a casserole of some sort using this as a sauce.


                                                          1. re: Jay F

                                                            I like eggs in my baked mac 'n' cheese. We don't eat it often because it's kind of a gut-bomb, pardon my French.

                                                            Jay F, can you use whole wheat pasta and eat a small serving, then freeze portions for future treats?

                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              Apparently "no" on the whole-wheat pasta, Sandy. Which is okay because I've never really liked it. But quinoa *may* be okay as a substitute (my sources are not in agreement on this).

                                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                                Jay, I've been a type 1 diabetic since 1986 and pasta is absolutely not forbidden. That's medieval thinking which has no place in 2013 diabetes therapy. But you do have to approach the issue it with ration and reason.

                                                                First of all, let me blow up this myth of whole wheat pasta, which is only nominally better than white pasta in terms of blood sugar control. In real life terms, it doesn't matter one whitsitt if your pasta is brown or white. If you melt lots of fatty cheese on it, eat a lot of it, and sit around (or fall asleep), your blood sugars will explode. Guaranteed.

                                                                If I eat a large portion of mac & cheese and lay around, I regret it for hours because my blood sugars linger high and they don't come down, no matter how much insulin I take.

                                                                However, if I eat a small, reasonable amount and then go for a brisk walk (30-60 minutes at a rate fast enough to raise my heart rate and sustain it), the effects on my blood sugar will be minimal.

                                                                Mr Taster

                                                        2. re: Jay F

                                                          I add whole eggs to the cooked pasta and then proceed with adding the cheese sauce, grated cheese & spices and when I'm making a batch up to cut into slabs for burger mac n cheese I always add eggs because it firms up the slabs nicely.

                                                          A number of recipes use it to create a richer sauce.

                                                  2. First, we need to agree on what your goal is. For me, it's:

                                                    - flavorful sauce. Lots of undiluted cheese flavor
                                                    - smooth texture. No lumps, clumps or clots
                                                    - pasta just beyond al dente. The elbow mac should be soft.

                                                    Having said this, the difference between stovetop and oven is minimal. This kind of baked mac & cheese is 95% finished on the stove anyway. The crumb topping is finished under the broiler. I suppose you could bake it in the oven, but all the cooking and flavor-making happens on the stovetop.

                                                    Think about what you usually use an oven for-- you're either cooking something (like meat), or you're evaporating water (like in a stew). But with mac and cheese I described above, all the actual cooking (aside from breadcrumb browning) and evaporating happens the stove. If you like chunks of cheese throughout your casserole, I suppose you could put clumps of cold, raw, unmelted cheddar within the casserole itself. Then baking would serve a purpose. But that doesn't get you the smooth and creamy sauce I'm striving for-- it gets you lumpy and clumpy cheddar clots. You may like that-- I don't.

                                                    So in order to avoid this, you need to melt the cheese into a sauce, on the stovetop, to keep it smooth.

                                                    Some recipes call for a blend of jack (which melts smoothly) with cheddar (which adds flavor). Using both gives you the best of both worlds.

                                                    Ideally you're going to melt generous portions of these cheeses into a bechamel sauce of flour and butter (and perhaps additional flavorings like nutmeg, powdered mustard, cayenne, etc). Once you've cooked the flour, butter and seasonings down, (the bechamel should become light brown and toasty), you will be able to melt the cheeses uniformly into the bechamel and create a nicely textured (and flavored) sauce. It's important to do this in a large, heavy bottomed pot so that the bechamel doesn't burn.

                                                    If you're making stovetop version, just mix in the cooked pasta and you're done.

                                                    If you're baking it, mix sauce with pasta and transfer to an oven safe casserole dish. Pulse a few slices of hearty white bread with a few tbsp of cold butter in the food processor and sprinkle over the mac and cheese. Broil it for 3-5 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden and toasty, and it's done.

                                                    Mr Taster

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      'Xactly. Nicely put.

                                                      I like to do a mix of whatever cheeses are on hand. Generally this includes sharp cheddar, jack, parmesan, and sometimes provolone or muenster or some type of swiss.

                                                      Not a fan of bleu.

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        Oh, and I do sometimes add an egg or two to the sauce. I like the drier texture.

                                                    2. You could always do a hybrid method. Make it stove top, then throw some buttered breadcrumbs and extra cheese on top and pop it under the broiler for a bit - which is what I usually do.

                                                      I like the simplicity of making it over the stove. I skip the bechemel and just heat a little bit of heavy cream in a double boiler, then melt in the cheese and add a few spices and seasonings to taste - mustard powder, cayenne, some extra salt...

                                                      Always grate the cheese fresh (or chop it into tiny cubes if its softer), since the pre-shredded ones are coated with all kinds of stuff to keep them from clumping. I usually do a 50 50 mixture of muenster and sharp cheddar.

                                                      Baked mac and cheese can be pretty volatile, and you can run into issues with the cheese separating, the pasta soaking up all the moisture, etc...

                                                      1. I've never heard of baking mac and cheese without making a béchamel on the stovetop first. That sounds risky and possibly gross. After making the sauce and mixing it with the cooked pasta, I usually bake mine with some breadcrumbs and chipotle powder on top, but have served it on occasion right off the stove. The baking just browns and crisps the top, but isn't necessary to cook the mac and cheese.

                                                        Here's the recipe I use most often and it is fantastic:

                                                        Note: You can use any good sharp cheddar for this.