The Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever
The Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever

The Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever


It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese.  I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried.  For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations.  In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding!  However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened.  The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.

I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control.  However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic!  The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect.  Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.

Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)

For the Powdered Cheese:

  1. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
  2. Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan.  Heat on low until completely melted.  Stir to ensure evenness.
  3. Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste.  If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
  4. Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet.  Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours. 
  5. Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder.  Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder.  If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin.  The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.

For the dish:

  • 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Hawaiian black lava salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
  3. To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl.  Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme.  To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce. 

I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe.  If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly.  However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.


  1. This is a wonderfully clever dish! What you could also consider doing is serving the cream via encapsulation methods. You could make heavy cream ravioli through reverse spherification. Such method would also allow this dish to become more portable.

  2. Tom

    Great recipe, I refer to it frequently for creating powdered stuff, although I haven’t yet actually created anything. That leads to my question: what kind of tools do you use to measure wet/dry ingredients on a sub-gram scale (for instance, the .4g of Sodium Citrate used above)? Do you use precision scales? Hopefully your still engaged with this blog and my question isn’t going to disappear into the ether. Thanks!

  3. Yes, please! Nothing wrong with Kraft Dinner and a squeeze of ketchup. I do make my own mac and cheese, and the secret is to add a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Oh, and now I really want to find Hawaiian black lava salt.

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