Recipe Review

I Tried Sunny Anderson’s Spicy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe (& Here’s What I Thought)

updated Oct 15, 2019
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(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

When it came time to compare some of the most popular mac and cheese recipes on the internet, I was expecting to see four almost identical recipes. How different could the simple combo of cheese sauce and noodles actually be? But the second I saw Sunny Anderson’s version, I realized just how wrong I was.

At first, it was the title of the recipe that stood out to me: Spicy mac and cheese? Then it was the photo: What are those Texas toast crouton-looking things doing on top of the pasta? By the time I got to the ingredient list (cubes of cheese) and technique (no béchamel in sight), I had to find out: Is this the mac and cheese recipe my life has been missing? Or is it so far from the classic that I’ll be disappointed?

Get the recipe: Sunny Anderson’s Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

How to Make Sunny Anderson’s Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

First, you’ll toss together al dente elbow noodles with cubes of cheddar, Colby, and pepper Jack cheese (the source of the spiciness). Then you’ll whisk together the flour, some seasonings, and three kinds of dairy: sour cream, heavy cream, and half-and-half. Similar to Alton Brown’s and Ree Drummond’s‘s recipes, you’ll also add onion and an egg.

You’ll pour this mixture over the pasta, top with shredded Cheddar, and bake until beginning to brown. Meanwhile, you’ll toast some cubed bread, sprinkle it over the top, and return to the oven until nice and golden.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

What I Thought of the Results

I had mixed reactions, to be honest. There were some technical issues: The flour-dairy mixture didn’t magically transform into a rich and creamy white sauce in the oven. Instead, I found myself getting some bites with globs of slightly melted cheese cubes and other bites with barely any flavor or cheese at all.

On the plus side, Sunny’s recipe was extremely easy to make, and I appreciated that I didn’t have to do any work on the stovetop. The kick from the pepper Jack was also a nice twist — anyone who likes spicy queso or puts hot sauce on their mac and cheese will appreciate this.

(Image credit: Grace Elkus)

If You Make Sunny Anderson’s Mac and Cheese …

1. Salt the pasta water. Sunny’s recipe doesn’t include instructions for cooking the pasta, so be sure to season the pasta water generously with salt. It seasons the noodles inside and out, and greatly improves the flavor of the final dish.

2. Tweak the ingredients to save time and money. Instead of purchasing both heavy cream and half-and-half, just use one or the other. I would skip the onion all together — you’ll be using such a tiny fraction of a whole onion and you can’t really taste it in the final dish.

3. Skip the step of toasting the bread. Instead of toasting the bread cubes separately and adding them to the mac and cheese towards the end of the bake time, toss the bread cubes with melted butter and scatter onto the uncooked mac and cheese. They’ll toast up as the casserole bakes, and if you want them browner, you can stick the whole thing under the broiler just before serving.

Overall Rating: 6/10

At the end of the day, this was a good three-cheese baked pasta casserole. But I wouldn’t classify it as mac and cheese.

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