Get Supremely Crispy Mac And Cheese With One Breadcrumb Hack

There are plenty of ways to make macaroni and cheese. Whether you crave the childhood favorite of boxed pasta and powdered cheese, or you prefer a batch baked from scratch, topping the dish with some homemade breadcrumbs for a little extra crunch is a great way to upgrade your mac and cheese. But if you sprinkle them on top of your mac and cheese before baking it, you could be disappointed to find your breadcrumbs have lost some of their crispiness when the dish comes out of the oven.

That's because when you top off your macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs before baking it, the oils and moisture from the cheese sauce can seep into the topping while the dish bakes. This can make the breadcrumbs lose some of their crunchiness and become slightly mushy on top by the time your macaroni and cheese is ready to serve. If you want to ensure you get that crunchy texture contrast, there is a simple hack you can try — bake them separately. 

Baking separately keeps the breadcrumbs crispy

Although this means that you'll miss out on mixing cheese into the breadcrumbs, using this separate baking method can help the breadcrumbs maintain their crunch. 

Toasting your breadcrumbs before sprinkling them on top of your macaroni and cheese is very easy to do. Take a few slices of slightly stale bread (any type of bread will work; you can even use old sandwich buns or dinner rolls), cut them into little cubes or grind the slices in a food processor, spread them over a baking tray, and brush them with the oil of your choice. Toast them in the oven while the pasta dish bakes, then spread your breadcrumbs on top of either that classic boxed version or your homemade baked macaroni and cheese. The breadcrumbs will easily stick to the melty, gooey cheese.

Alternatively, you could serve a bowl of breadcrumbs alongside the macaroni and cheese, so each person to spoon up their preferred amount of the topping. It stands to reason that the less time breadcrumbs spend in contact with moisture, the crispier they'll be when it's time to eat.

A crunchy topping provides a texture contrast

In addition to keeping your breadcrumbs crispy, baking them separately from your macaroni and cheese allows you to completely customize the taste of the topping. If you want to stick to the tried-and-true flavor of traditional breadcrumbs, toss them in a little bit of butter before baking. Although they could lose a little bit of the crunch from the oily butter, baking in the oven could help to dry them out again.

You can also flavor your homemade breadcrumbs with your choice of a wide variety of herbs and spices. Just remember to pay attention to which herbs you use: Fresh herbs will go bad much faster than dried herbs, so you'll want to use up the breadcrumbs quickly if you opt for fresh herbs. 

If you want to get a little more inventive with your dish, you can DIY some breadcrumb-like toppings, too. Try crushing up some potato chips or cheesy crackers to use in place of the breadcrumbs. You can also substitute in pretzels or unsweetened cornflakes. Whatever you choose to top your macaroni and cheese with, be sure to bake it separately so you can keep the topping crunchy.