Kitchn Love Letters

Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese Is the Only One You Need

updated Sep 21, 2022
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Mac and cheese in a pan
Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

This recipe is part of Kitchn 100 — the hundred recipes you need right now. Check out all of the amazing dishes, from Kitchn and beyond, here.

There is a macaroni and cheese recipe for every occasion. There are stovetop versions that put the boxed variety to shame, and crispy air fryer recipes that rival any restaurant’s appetizer offerings. The ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe, though, is baked with an unapologetic amount of creamy cheese and capped with a buttery breadcrumb topping.

Martha Stewart’s macaroni and cheese recipe debuted in 2001 and coincided with my burgeoning interest in cooking. It was among the first recipes I made for the holidays away from home, and came at a time when community and comfort food walked hand-in-hand. A hush fell over the table as friends and family dug into the bubbling, cheesy casserole — the surest sign that a recipe is a success (and a confidence-booster for any beginner cook).

Why I Love Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese

Martha’s use of sharp cheddar cheese and nutty Gruyère is northing short of a stroke of brilliance. (The recipe includes the option of Pecorino Romano for the Gruyère, but I’ve never veered from the original pairing.) The two cheeses give the sauce a full-bodied flavor — cheddar provides familiar flavor notes, while Gruyère elevates the sauce with a nutty creaminess. Freshly ground nutmeg, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper add depth to the decadent casserole. And the contrasting texture of the crispy breadcrumbs against the smooth sauce and tender noodles is as essential as any ingredient added.

Beyond its unparalleled flavor, this macaroni and cheese recipe is a culinary crash course. It addresses fundamentals: preparing the mise en place, boiling pasta to the perfect point (a few minutes shy of al dente, as the macaroni will continue to cook in the oven), and simultaneously managing multiple elements of a dish.

This was the recipe that introduced me to the family of French sauces — the buttery roux transforms into béchamel sauce when milk is added, and into mornay sauce once the cheeses are whisked in.

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

A Few Tips If You’re Making Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese

  1. Slowly add the milk to the roux. The star of this dish is the cheese sauce, and you’ll want it to be silky-smooth. Once the butter and flour are cooked, switch to a whisk and pour the milk in slowly while whisking constantly. This will ensure a lump-free base for the cheese sauce.
  2. Use the best cheese you can find. The decadence of this dish is due to the combination of best-quality cheeses. Use your favorite brand of sharp white cheddar cheese and pick up a wedge of nutty Gruyère from the deli. It won’t be cheap, but it’ll be worth it.
  3. Swap panko for fresh breadcrumbs. If you used the last slice of sandwich bread for lunch, use crispy panko breadcrumbs instead of freshly torn bread.

What is your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe? Share your pick in the comments.