What is the ultimate comfort food for you and your family? In our house, it is macaroni and cheese, without question. And not the kind that comes from a box, either, but rich, creamy homemade macaroni and cheese. Mind you, I personally don’t eat mac n cheese anymore at all, but my kids and husband do. My husband makes a wonderful version, and he usually makes a large enough batch to put several trays in the freezer. It’s one of the few things I can guarantee that all three of my children will eat. A little while ago, I discovered a fun little appetizer version of mac n cheese at our local Trader Joe’s. They were formed into balls and coated in bread crumbs, and then baked. Of course, being finger food, these held great appeal for my children and I almost instantly started scheming on how to make them at home, with a healthier twist.
Naturally, that was many months ago and I never quite got around to it. Then I was invited to participate in the Macaroni & Cheese Blog to celebrate National Cheese Lover’s Day, and asked to put my personal spin on this most comforting of foods. I knew instantly that I wanted to attempt the Mac N Cheese balls, and that I wanted to see if I could make a gluten free version to fit better with the message of this blog. There simply wasn’t a way to make them both low carb and gluten free, I’m afraid, but as part of my MO is making healthier recipes for my kids, I was pretty excited about the challenge.
The Macaroni & Cheese Blog is hosted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and is publishing a different macaroni and cheese recipe every day for 30 days (http://www.30days30waysmacandcheese.com/). Part of our challenge was to choose one main Wisconsin cheese to highlight in our recipe. There are a vast array of cheeses to choose from, since Wisconsin is such a huge producer of cheese, but it took me barely a second to choose the one I wanted to use. I have long been in love with Apple Smoked Wisconsin Cheddar, and I knew it would add a unique flavor to this fun recipe.
As both the pasta and the cheese sauce lack any gluten whatsoever, it took me a few tries to figure out how to get my balls to stick well enough together so that I could roll them in an almond flour coating. At first, I simply tried forming the balls and rolling, but they were extremely fragile prior to baking. Chilling the mixture and adding a beaten egg definitely helped, but I still thought it could use some work. Finally, I figured out two tricks that made the difference. The first was that I needed to rinse off my hands after forming 2 or 3 of the balls, because the cheese sauce was sticky and making it difficult to form the subsequent balls. The other trick was freezing the balls after they were formed and before baking, to help them keep their shape.
This post is sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. All opinions expressed are my own.
Apple Smoked Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese Balls (Gluten-Free)
Serves 6 to 8
1 12-oz package gluten-free macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch
1 ½ cups Apple Smoked Cheddar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups almond flour
Cook macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk arrowroot or cornstarch into heavy cream until thoroughly combined, then slowly add cream mixture to butter in the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. Stir in the cheese, mustard powder, salt and pepper. Add cooked macaroni and stir until thoroughly coated.
Refrigerate macaroni and cheese until well chilled, at least 1 hour. Once chilled, stir in beaten egg.
Spread 1 cup almond flour in a shallow dish and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Using clean hands, form macaroni into balls about 2 inches in diameter, squeezing gently to press them into shape. Roll carefully in almond flour and place on prepared baking sheets.
Place baking sheets in the freezer until macaroni and cheese balls are firm, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Turn oven to broil for 4 minutes, until almond flour begins to brown and crisp.