Hye Thyme Cafe: Baked Macaroni and Cheese Pops

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Pops

When my sister and I were going over our Thanksgiving menu, she mentioned that there had been a request for Baked Macaroni and Cheese. For Thanksgiving?? No way!! I put my foot down. On top of what she was already doing, she had a few different breads in the works, etc., and almost every time these skinny young people with functioning metabolisms come to her house, she makes them Mac and Cheese, so there was no need to have it on a holiday too. Then the word minis came out of her mouth. Apparently, it was suggested that maybe a mini version might be in order. Hmmmm? We willllll be doing apps earlier in the day. OK, you do what you're already planning, I'll do what I'm already planning, and if I have time, I'll throw together a Mac and Cheese.

Somewhere along the line, she had picked up a few vintage aluminum ice cube trays and started using them for baking quick breads and that sort of thing - genius! They make the perfect sized slices for a tea or a holiday breakfast table. She recently scored another set of trays for me, but only one had the insert. I decided to use those to make bite-sized versions of our Mac and Cheese. If you are making this recipe but don't plan to make minis, just butter a regular casserole dish and bake it in that. The time and temp still worked out the same.

The recipe our family grew up with calls for American cheese. Before you turn your nose up at that, we're just talking a few slices here. It really adds to the creaminess of the cheese sauce. I'll sometimes throw in some cheddar or whatever else I have on hand, but the base is Muenster cheese. Several years back, I threw in some Pepper Jack, and we loved that so much, we've been doing it ever since. The problem is that sometimes you don't even notice it, so we'll also throw in some diced jalapeno on occasion - sometimes canned, sometimes fresh. If you don't like Pepper Jack, swap that out with a block of cheddar. For the topping, if you don't have bread crumbs on hand, you can crush some Ritz crackers or maybe some Goldfish or Cheez-Its. Use your imagination and just play around with different things.

1 lb elbow macaroni (medium)
grated Parmesan
4 T butter
4 T flour
2 1/2 c milk
4 slices American cheese
+/- 1 lb Muenster cheese
8 oz Pepper Jack cheese
Black pepper
Minced jalapeno (optional)
Dry seasoned bread crumbs
Paprika (smoked is nice)

Bring a pot of water up to a boil and season with some salt, then drop in your pasta to boil to al dente.

In a separate pot, over medium heat, whisk together the butter and flour to create a blonde roux, then add the milk. Once the milk is hot, begin adding the cheese. I always start with the American, breaking the slices into pieces and letting them melt down before continuing with the Muenster and whatever other cheese I'm using. Oh, when it comes to the Muenster, I always buy a 1 lb block and then chop off a strip to nibble on, so I don't actually use the whole pound. I also trim off the orange rind, but that's not really necessary. Be sure to keep whisking or stirring so the bottom doesn't stick and burn.

When your pasta is done, drain off the water and toss the pasta with a chunk of butter and some grated Parmesan. If you're making a full-sized casserole, you can do that right in the buttered casserole dish to make clean-up a little easier. If you're afraid you'll slosh over the sides, you can throw it back in the pasta pot.

When all the cheese has melted, season with some black pepper and let it come to a bubble and thicken a bit, then remove from heat.

Pour about half of the cheese mixture over the pasta and really stir it well to make sure the sauce fills in those elbows. Then continue adding sauce until you're just about to the top. You want to make sure some elbows are peeking out over the cheese so you don't end up with a flat  layer of cheese at the top. Sprinkle your crumbs and some additional Parmesan over the whole dish, then a little paprika, and dot with bits of butter here and there.

If you have any extra cheese sauce, you can use it over some veggies or even over a baked potato. No need to waste it.

Bake at 325° for 1' until golden and bubbly.

For whatever reason, probably an offshoot to childhood again, I usually serve this up with a ham steak, a side of peas and a can of Del Monte peach halves.

For the minis, I sprayed the trays and lined them with some additional crumbs in hopes of making it easier to release them from the tray. Kinda like flouring a cake pan. I didn't have any jalapenos, so I added some crushed red pepper to the sauce. I filled both trays, then pressed the insert into one of them. I figured that would be easier than filling all those little slots separately. As it turned out, it worked out better using the tray without the inserts - it had cleaner edges when I sliced it later. On one tray, I used the traditional crumbs and paprika, but since I had a container of Chipotle Panko crumbs, I used that on the other.

Cube or shred the cheese
Whisk over medium ...

Add the milk until hot
... to create a blonde roux

Continue with remaining cheese
Add the cheese, American first

Season with black pepper
Allow to bubble and thicken

Drain and toss with butter/parm
Stir in half the sauce

Use any extra on veggies
Continue just to the top

Fill your buttered tray and add toppings

Bake until bubbly...
... and golden


Yes please!  :)


  1. You could use a muffin pan if you don't have aluminum trays but I'm really diggin' those sticks. By any chance do they have tines on the mac side?

    1. I would use the muffin cups for single-serving size, but the ones I have are either too big or too small for an appetizer size. And yes, there are two prongs at the bottom of these stick, like a mini cocktail fork. I forget where I got them, but they worked out great.

  2. Replies
    1. I know, right?!? I like how we do Christmas now, with the appetizers the night before. I have filling up on apps and then dinner is right around the corner. It's like going out to dinner before a movie and not having room for popcorn!!

  3. Oh, these look delicious and sound like fun!

    1. Thank you. It was fun making them this way for a change.

  4. Ha! They look totally bonkers :) No good for me (dairy free) but Jonny would LOVE them and I bet his kids would too!
    Janie x

    1. Not sure if being dairy free is a choice for you or not, but I don't think I could do it ... maybe it's the Armenian in me, but I couldn't live without bread and cheese...or yogurt.

  5. Hello Chris,
    I am popping by via my blog that you commented on "12 Miles To The Nearest Supermarket" and like I said I can't cook lol but those look scrummy yummy and I'm going to give them a go next time we nip to the supermarket I'm going to pick up the ingredients!
    I am now following your amazing recipes and on Twitter too!

    1. Glad to have you stop by, and hopefully you'll find something of interest that you'll feel comfortable making. :)

  6. Wow, I am not exactly a foodie, but your detailed photos and recipe make me drool! Browsing through your posts and presentation, I just have to share that I too had a lovely old Armenian lady as a very close family friend in my childhood. We all loved her family (we visit frequently) and many times we keep her tradition of serving a dozen of little bowls of different tasty foods and we pass it around the table at family gatherings. Greetings from Romania!

    1. Thanks for popping in. Hmmm, not sure if that is literally a dozen dishes (a tradition I'm now aware of), or whether you just meant that like in an Italian household, the food seems to come non-stop. It can get overwhelming. I sometimes think it's because they survived the genocide, so having gotten by with pretty much no food, they were determined to feel that deprivation again.


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