Macaroni and cheese lovers rejoice! This amazing smoky bacon mac and cheese will have your soul singing for sure! Smooth and creamy cheese sauce made with smoked gouda, sharp cheddar, and double cream gouda cheese varieties, mixed in with smoky spices, decadent bacon, perfectly cooked elbow macaroni, and topped with crispy, smoky panko breadcrumbs – this recipe is so heavenly.
I’m not one to discriminate when it comes to macaroni and cheese; I’ll try anyone’s variety. The thing is, though, that I mainly go for those cooked on the stovetop and not baked versions for one reason – I feel like most of the baked varieties have a clumpy, gritty sauce and not a smooth, silky, creamy, dreamy sauce like you often find with the stovetop version. Unfortunately, the stovetop version doesn’t have the chance to bubble away as a single unit for any length of time and lacks a crunchy topping.
I set out to make my own version this weekend and the result became one of my favorite macaroni and cheese types of all time! I was inspired by my new-found love for smoked paprika and chipotle chile pepper. As I set out on my journey to make smoky mac and cheese, I knew that my favorite smoked gouda cheese had to be included. And the bacon? The bacon was thrown in because, uh, why not? Plus also Landon would have been super disappointed if there was bacon in the fridge that didn’t end up making its way into this dish. It was definitely the right decision. No regrets here!
Here is the real key to getting this creamy, dreamy homemade cheese sauce…you must use freshly grated cheese. The powder that is placed on pre-grated cheese that you find in bags at the grocery store is great for preventing your shredded cheese for clumping while packaged, but is not your friend when you are trying to make perfectly blended sauces using melted cheese. Get that grater out of your cabinet and take out your frustrations on a block of cheese. I promise it won’t take long and it will be worth it. No doubt in my mind.
I woke up the morning after making this dish wanting to devour another bowl for breakfast. I did stick my fork in for a quick cold bite, but was able to pull myself back (only because of the ridiculous pancakes I made that morning). This dish feeds a crowd, and everyone will love you for making this for them. You will love yourself for making this, too!
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 4 cups 2% milk
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground mustard
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon iodized salt + ½ tablespoon kosher salt
- 11 ounces cheese – double cream gouda, smoked gouda, and 2% sharp cheddar
- 8 slices bacon, cooked
- ⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs seasoned with ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, salt, and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Boil the pasta until al dente in salted water, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
- Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it just comes to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, ground mustard, smoked paprika, chipotle chile pepper, ground pepper, and salt and whisk constantly for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
- Return the saucepan to medium-high heat. While whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheese just until melted and smooth. Taste the cheese sauce and adjust salt and pepper levels as desired.
- Add pasta, cheese sauce, and bacon to a casserole dish and stir well to combine.
- Season panko breadcrumbs with smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Top mac and cheese with seasoned panko.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the mac and cheese is bubbling and slightly browned on top.