My grandmother Bonnie always made this insanely cheesy macaroni dish for each family holiday. It was perfectly moist, the noodles were never too soft, and it was ALWAYS even better the next day. On left-over day, it was the first dish to disappear. Everyone would always ask her, “Bonnie, how do you make that macaroni?” and Bonnie would always smile and say “Honey, all you have to do is mix up some noodles and cheese.” Of course she knew there was a technique and much more to it that that, but she did not want to give out that recipe! It was considered some sort of power to have this hidden recipe knowledge that everyone coveted, but no one was able to replicate. Ladies in the community then started getting creative on how they asked Bonnie for the recipe. Every Friday, Bonnie would go over to Linda’s Beauty Shop to get her hair done. It was always packed with ladies sprucing themselves up for the weekend. By this time, the word was out that Bonnie was not giving up the scoop on how to make this macaroni dish. I recall one particular event she had told me about that made me giggle.
One lady came up to Bonnie while she was processing her ash blonde hair color under the blow dryer and the conversation went something like this:
“Hey Bonnie, I took your instructions and made the macaroni last night.”
“Oh really honey, how’d it come out?”
“Well, I can tell you that I think I must have done something wrong. It was dry as a bone! The noodles were crunchy, and it wasn’t really cheesy. Can you remind me how many eggs you put in yours?”
“What honey? I am having a hard time hearing you under this dryer.”
“I was asking how many eggs you put in your macaroni.”
“Sorry honey, still can’t hear you.”
“I wanted to know how many eggs for the macaroni!”
“Oh, well, I just try and put enough in to give it a little color. Just keep on practicing and I’m sure it’ll turn out for you.”
“I don’t know Bonnie, do you think you could write it down for me so I can get it right?”
“Sorry honey, I can’t. I really don’t remember how much of what goes into it. Just keep trying, ok?”
At this point the lady realizes that she has hit a dead end, again. Bonnie, however, is smiling up a storm and there are various little smirks and smiles around the room. The regulars know how Bonnie is and when the other lady leaves the shop, all you hear is a chorus of “Bless her heart”.
This went on for decades (literally), and then people just stopped asking. But, then something interesting happened. When Bonnie was getting a bit older (in her 80’s), random people started asking me for the recipe. I did spend a lot of time in her kitchen making it over the years, but it was never a “written” recipe. So, I tried to verbally tell them how to do it, but as with anything, without measurements, it never really comes out right. After a few handfuls of questions, I decided it was time to quantify the Mystery Macaroni & Cheese. I know Bonnie would most certainly not approve of giving out her recipe, but hopefully she will realize that repeating someone’s recipe is the highest compliment.
Bonnie’s Mystery Macaroni & Cheese
This classic macaroni and cheese dish is an old-fashioned recipe that is made with a handful of easily obtainable ingredients. The noodles are consistently moist and cheesy throughout. Please note this is a heavy dish and can feed a crowd!
How to make the mystery macaroni just like Bonnie – 4 Secrets Revealed!
The first trick is in the noodle selection. The brand we had in Georgia is not sold up in the North, so I had to try a few different ones before I found a match. I like Barilla’s rotini noodles. They are big enough for the cheese to get inside and really coat the noodle. If you like another shape, feel free to go for it!
Secret tip #1: Although you have to pre-cook the noodles, don’t cook them past al dente, or you will have a mushy end result.
Coat the Noodles!
Secret tip #2 is to add the butter and sour cream while the noodles are still warm.
Time to layer!
After you get your noodles good and coated, it is time to layer it up. I like to use a deeper baking dish rather than your typical 13×9 casserole dish. This is the type of dish Bonnie always used and it helps keep the noodles from drying out. Start with the baking spray on the bottom and the first layer of noodles.
Add the shredded cheese and last pour in ⅓ of the milk mixture. Repeat 2 more layers until noodles are covered and at the top of the dish.
Secret tip #3: Make sure (with each layer) that when you pour in the milk mixture you see it rise up to the edge of the noodles. If you don’t see the milk, it will definitely be dry.
Cover and bake!
Cover the dish with tin foil and bake accordingly. I always put a drip pan on the lower level to avoid a mess in the oven. This dish will get bubbly when it is cooking and has been known to spill over a little.
Top with more cheese!
Remember I said this dish was insanely cheesy? Well, this is where that comes from. After the first bake is complete, remove the foil and top with the last of the cheese blend. Place back into the over for the finishing 8-10 minutes.
Secret tip #4: Be careful to not put the cheese all the way to the edge of the dish or it may have a little burnt crusty part (unless you like that of course!). After baking, let it cool down and settle for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Enjoy and be the “Belle of the Ball”! One taste of this and you will be transported directly into a traditional Southern kitchen. This comfort casserole shares the feeling of being welcomed in cherished. From the bright warm color to the amazing cheesy chew, it is soothing to the mouth and soul. I am certain that as you share this dish with others, they will ask you for the recipe!
Emile Henry Ceramic Baking Dish
A secret to cooking delicious casseroles is using a quality baking or casserole dish. Emile Henry features a beautiful dish that is made of all natural materials. This helps to ensure superior even-heat diffusion and heat retention properties; it keeps food hot on the Table Longer. This dish can go directly from freezer or refrigerator, to a hot oven, to Table. Durable and scratch resistant. Ideal in the kitchen for making delicious meals and desserts.
Bonnie's Secret Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 16 ounce box rotini noodles
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups Gruyere cheese shredded
- 8 ounces Yellow American cheese torn into pieces
- 6 cups Sharp cheddar cheese shredded
Cheese Blend Preparation
- Combine 2 cups of shredded gruyere cheese and 4 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Tear one, 8 ounce pack of yellow American cheese into thirds. Set aside until time to layer. Reserve remaining sharp cheddar for second bake topper.
Milk Mixture Preparation
- Combine whisked eggs, milk, salt, and pepper into oversized cup that you can pour from easily. Set aside until time to layer.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Boil noodles according to package directions. Make sure to cook to one minute before reaching al dente.
- Add butter into warm noodles until melted, and then add the sour cream.
- If you select a deeper baking dish, you should have 3 full layers. Begin to layer: ⅓ noodle, ⅓ cheese blend, ⅓ American cheese pieces, and ⅓ milk mixture. Continue layering until noodles are ¼ inch from top of your casserole dish. You will need to allow space for the last layer of cheese. Check out recommended tips on baking dish above.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes until liquid mixture has set, but not completely dried out.
- Add additional sharp shredded cheese on top and cook for another 8-10 minutes or until cheese has melted.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!