Pumpkin Mac & Cheese w/ Crispy Cornbread Crust

Hello, Fall.

Me and this pumpkin mac & cheese are ready for ya.

If you’re awestruck by just how stunning these photos are, I don’t blame you — I’m pretty impressed myself. It took a long, longgg time to get this shoot done, but it was worth every back-aching second. Because when you have a recipe that’s insanely cozy + SO crazy comforting, simple styling just won’t do.

Grab your leggings, and let’s get to it.

Pumpkin mac & cheese isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but when you add a cornbread crust, it is. And that’s where this recipe begins.

You start by making homemade cornbread, which takes all of 5 minutes. One bowl, a few stirs, and voilà ! It’s in the oven. While boxed varieties are admittedly pretty good — I’ve been known to buy a box of Jiffy — this cornbread recipe is specific for this pasta. That’s because it bakes up light + cakey, so when you crumble it over the mac & cheese to bake once more, it doesn’t dry out or become too dense. Instead, it re-bakes (twice bakes?) into a golden crispy crown of epic buttery deliciousness.

It’s heaven, trust.

While the cornbread cools, get cranking on the pasta. I actually baked my cornbread one day, then prepared the pasta the next, and I suggest you do the same. It breaks up the cooking nicely so the final product comes together much faster, plus cornbread stays nice on your counter for about a week! So if you want to prep the bread even a few days ahead of time, that’s fine by me.

Anyway, cook the macaroni to al dente, then prepare the sauce. A basic roux, heavy cream + skim milk, and a ton of white cheddar makes up the base, and yes it’s as luscious as it sounds. Sneak in a few tastes if you must — I certainly did — then add in organic pumpkin puree and seasonings.

The key to this mac’s greatness is that it strikes the right balance of being cheesy, savory, and just a touch sweet. In order for pumpkin to taste correct you NEED to highlight its sweetness, but it can’t be too overpowering, either. So I made sure to season this with just enough cayenne pepper (spice), nutmeg (zing), and cinnamon (sweetness!) to extract the PERFECT pumpkin flavor. And in the end even pumpkin-skeptics like Dave couldn’t help but ask for thirds.

Stir the cooked macaroni into the sauce, then transfer everything to a giant baking dish. Top with crumbles + chunks of cornbread (YES!), lightly coat the top with olive oil spray, then bake!

Just 15 minutes more is all it takes.

This is getting long (sorry) so let’s be clear — This is cheesy, creamy, crunchy, crispy, everything. It’s an outrageously tasty mac  that’s wondrously seasonal, making it ideal for serving to friends, family, or just yourself!

…ten days in a row.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a week OR frozen — it freezes great!! — so stop reading and get cooking. xo

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese w/ Crispy Cornbread Crust

Ingredients:

  • MAC & CHEESE:
  • 1 lb macaroni pasta
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 cups skim milk (I used 2%)
  • 5 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 15 oz organic pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • a few pinches of salt & pepper
  • fresh sage to garnish (optional)
  • olive oil spray to grease
  • CORNBREAD:
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal, sifted
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • a few pinches of salt
  • 3 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1 large egg, whisked
  • 1 cup skim milk (I used 2%)
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • shortening to grease

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Amply grease an 8″ x 10″ baking dish with shortening.
  2. Begin by baking the cornbread. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder, whisking to combine. Next add the egg, skim milk, and canola oil to the bowl, stirring thoroughly until the batter takes shape. Transfer the batter to the greased baking dish, smoothing the top with a spatula as you do. Bake on oven middle rack for 22 minutes until just cooked through but not completely browned. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.
  3. Once the cornbread is cool enough to handle, slice into 3/4″ cubes.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease a large, deep baking dish with olive oil spray.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the macaroni to al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside until needed.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. In a large skillet melt the butter over a medium flame, then whisk in the flour to create a roux. Next stir in the heavy cream and skim milk, allowing the mixture to gently bubble. Once bubbling, whisk in 3 1/2 cups of the shredded cheddar cheese until thick and smooth, then lastly stir in the pumpkin puree. Season with cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt & pepper, then stir in the cooked macaroni until well combined
  7. Transfer the macaroni to the greased baking dish, then top with the cornbread cubes (you’ll have some leftover, that’s okay!), and the remaining 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese. I like to crumble some of the cornbread cubes with my hand, then layer others intact — the choices is yours! When ready, lightly spray the top with the olive oil spray, then bake on oven middle rack for 15 minutes until bubbling and the top begins to brown. Cool slightly, then EAT!

*cornbread recipe is adapted from All Recipes.

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