Last week, Phineas suggested that I shift my planned mac+cheese experiment to Super Bowl Sunday. And I did. As I mentioned in my last mac+cheese post, I've found every recipe so far to be too rich, yet not cheesy enough. So, for this attempt, I decided to set aside conventional mac+cheese recipes and take my queues from the cheesiest substance known to man: fondue.
The plan: My basic fondue recipe is a50/50 mix of Gruyere and Emmentaler, white wine, paprika, nutmeg and cornstarch as a thickener. By removing the butter and flour roux from the equation, I figured that the dish would already be less rich. Also, I decided to use a 1:1 ratio of cheese to pasta (8 oz each) and halve the amount of liquid (so, 1 cup) so that it would be a cheesier sauce. Since fondue uses very little wine to cheese (1/3 c for the amount of cheese I was using), I decided to make up the difference with milk.
The execution: I started by heating my wine and milk over a medium heat. Within seconds, I learned that white wine will curdle milk. Drat. Start over. So, I heated my milk in the microwave and the wine on the stove. When the wine was hot, I added the cheese little by little while stirring. When it was looking pretty well mixed, I added the milk and cornstarch (made into a paste with some of the milk). I kept stirring until it became a nice thick homogeneous cheesy sauce. I tossed it with the pasta (cooked al dente, rinsed and tossed with a blob of butter), gave a grating of Parmesan over the top and popped it in the oven.
The Results: Hmmm. In some ways, this was probably the least successful mac+cheese to date, since it came out like pasta held together with strands of cheese. It was totally cheesy rather than creamy. And yet, it was definitely the best so far because the flavor and cheesiness was closer to what I was hoping for than previous attempts. I'm not sure it needed the wine and Phin definitely missed there being cheddar.
Final thoughts: The fact that I used less cheese, but ended up with a cheesier end result makes me feel like we are getting closer. This also confirms that the richness of past attempts was due to the large amounts of butter and milk. However, this time I swung too far away from the butter an milk and had a much drier mac+cheese. I didn't love the wine in it, so next time I will just use milk, gradually increasing from one cup until I get the creamy/cheesy balance right. Finally, neither of us were sure of what the cornstarch brought to the party. So, I may go back to using roux, although in smaller quantities.
Next experiment will be in two weeks.