Pumpkin Ale Mac and Cheese with Pretzel Breadcrumbs / by Chelsea Zwieg

Real talk: I have a staub dutch oven that I used all of two times last winter. I won it in a contest (because goodness knows I can barely afford food to cook in it much less the actual pot) and I was so excited about it and so proud to own it that I carefully placed it on a shelf in my pantry (I could never subject it to the cabinet with all of my other rowdy pots and pans) and simply gazed at it all year long. I would give it a little wave when I would reach for my coffee beans every morning. And I definitely showed it to anyone and everyone who happened to come over, whether they were excited about a dutch oven or not (they weren't). But when the time would come to actually cook, I kept reaching for my old dingy pots because what if I got it dirty? Or worse yet, scratched it? Do I sound like a crazy person? Yes. But this is my life. 

Well, it's all good now because I'm over it. The weather is cooling off, I want to eat soup and stews and mac and cheese all day long and it is time to put that little staub to work. So get ready for posts about soup and basically nothing else for the next 4 months. Just kidding. Kind of. 

But before we get all soup crazy, let's talk about mac and cheese. Homemade mac and cheese is my favorite because a) it is unbelievably delicious and b) it is so fun to make. I was researching different methods for making mac and cheese (a favorite pastime of someone who is too afraid to use a pot) and I came across my new favorite base recipe on Food52. Basically for 1 box of pasta, cook 1/2 cup melted butter with 1/2 cup flour. Add 4 cups of milk and 3 cups of cheese. Season like crazy. Add the pasta and bake until it gets that super melty/crusty around the corner action happening. I can handle this. 

But of course, the beauty of a base recipe is that you can customize it however you want. Like if it's pumpkin season and any recipe without that precious word in it seems incomplete. And if you have beer cheese soup on the brain but want mac and cheese. And if salty pretzels toasted in butter sound a whole lot better than beadcrumbs. Well then you end up with pumpkin ale mac and cheese with pretzel breadcrumbs. Aka, the best macaroni and cheese I have had in a long time. 

Pumpkin Ale Mac and Cheese with Pretzel Breadcrumbs 

Serves 4

| Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 12 oz. pumpkin beer (or any other beer you have on hand) 
  • 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (I also used chipotle cheddar because I can't see that brilliant creation in the store and not buy it) 
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • salt, to taste
  • a dash of hot sauce (or a lot of dashes) 
  • 1 cup crushed pretzels (roughly 2 cups of pretzel sticks before being crushed) 

| Instructions

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a shallow baking dish and set aside. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the package directions for al dente. The pasta will cook a little bit more in the oven. Drain and set aside. 

In a heavy bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the milk and beer and simmer, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups cheese and stir until completely melted. Stir in the onion powder and black pepper. Add the salt and hot sauce, to taste. 

Once the cheese sauce is seasoned, simmer on medium low for 4 or 5 minutes to thicken it slightly. Add the pasta and stir to coat the noodles. It will seem very soupy, but don't worry. It will thicken as it bakes and even more as it sits. Pour the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish and scatter the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top. 

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt a small bit of butter (like 1/2 tbsp.). Add the pretzels and stir to coat. Toast the pretzel crumbs until they are golden and smell very toasty/pretzely, about 2 minutes. Don't forget to stir as they toast. 

Top the mac and cheese with the pretzel crumbs and bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.