Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls
I have a weakness for cheese and if it’s fried, even better. Growing up in Minnesota in the dairy heartland, and neighbor to the great cheese producing state of Wisconsin, I great up eating copious amounts of cheese, including fried cheese curds.
For those of you who have never had fried cheese, don’t start. It’s everything that coronary heart disease is made of and it tastes delicious.
Then I lived in Chicago where the Greeks fry and ignite their cheese in the form of flaming saganaki and boy, that makes me shout, Opa!
After moving to and settling in San Diego, I have access to so many wonderful Indian restaurants with their fried paneer cheese.
I’ve never met fried cheese I’ll say no to. Show me an appetizer menu at a restaurant and if there’s mozzarella cheese sticks on it, that’s what I’m having, extra marinara sauce for dipping. Extra of the extra, please.
But these cheese balls aren’t actually fried and instead I baked them. I don’t fry in my house because frying stinks it up for days and the next morning I do not want to smell fried cheese or fried anything. Or smell whatever it was that I fried five days later.
These cheese balls start out with good old all-American Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from a box. I had a box with Spongebob Squarepants-shaped noodles, and these cheese balls are what became of it. I boiled the macaroni according the package directions and added a handful of extra shredded cheese, and extra butter and extra cream because powdered cheese in a packet needs some doctoring up, even though I have a nostalgic soft spot for the blindingly bright orange powder. If you have a favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, by all means make it, or use your favorite storebought variety.
After making your mac ‘n cheese, homemade or from a box, you must and I repeat must, put it into an airtight container and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours, up to 3 or 4 days because in order to shape the cheese balls prior to baking, and not have them turn into a literal cheesy hot mess in the oven while they bake, you need cold, thick, day-old mac ‘n cheese. I refrigerated mine for two days. It needs to congeal, set up, and get thick. If you’ve ever turned your nose up at cold, refrigerated, leftover mac ‘n cheese because it’s thick, gloppy, and solidified, that is exactly what you want. Now you know what to do what that kind of mac ‘n cheese in the future.
In the fifteen minutes preceding breading and battering, I put the container in the freezer so the mac ‘n cheese would be extra chilled prior to shaping the balls. When you’re ready to bake, get your assembly line of flour, two beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs lined up. I used Trader Joe’s breadcrumbs which aren’t seasoned, but use seasoned breadcrumbs or toss a few pinches of garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, or whatever sounds good for seasoning plain breadcrumbs if you prefer them seasoned.
Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with Silpats or aluminum foil and I really suggest lining your baking sheets for easier cleanup. Drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil on each baking sheet and spread it around with your hands. Then, scoop out tablespoon-sized balls of mac ‘n cheese with a small cookie scoop. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, mine is $3.99 and I highly recommend it, but using a tablespoon and hand-shaping the mac ‘n cheese into domed mounds will work. Whatever method you use, it’s a messy project; keep the paper towels handy.
Don’t make the mistake of initially scooping out or rolling your balls too large. What looks small before being breaded becomes much larger after the breading and battering process. You want your finished cheese balls in the golf ball-sized as opposed to the baseball-sized range.
Roll each ball through the flour, dip it briefly in the egg, and dredge it through the breadcrumbs. Repeat until your mac ‘n cheese is gone, placing about 10 balls on each cookie sheet. I made 20 balls in this batch from the 5.5-ounce box of mac ‘n cheese.
Bake for ten minutes at 425F, add one more tablespoon of oil to each baking sheet, flip all the balls over, and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown, crispy, and crunchy on the edges.
Or bake until your smoke detector goes off and there’s a fairly high likelihood it will. There is something about baking at temperatures over about 400F and if any oil is present whatsoever, my smoke detector goes off and it’s so highly alarming. Pun intended. I hate that jarring, nerve-rattling screeching and I jump ten feet and my heart pounds. Just giving you a heads up so you can take a Zanax beforehand if necessary.
These cheese balls were worth the alarm bells. The outside was extra crunchy and crispy, which I attribute to the battering process as well as a very hot oven because the fiery and intense heat really sets up the coating and gives it crispness. The cheese balls need to get into, and out of the oven; no lingering in a moderate oven because there’s too much risk for the cheese to leak and ooze the longer they’re exposed to heat.
The macaroni noodles inside these golden nuggets lend texture and chewiness amidst the sea of molten, hot, warm, gooey and oozing cheese. Even with melted cheese, I like texture and the noodles gave me what I was looking for.
I ate them dipped in various condiments including barbeque sauce, ketchup, Ranch dressing, and Homemade Spicy Honey mMustard. I get around when it comes to condiments. Extra of the extra, please.
I really don’t think you’ll have trouble polishing off a batch of these but if you do, leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated gently in the microwave or wrap them in plasticwrap and toss them into your lunch for the next day. Scott savored a few cheese balls the next day in his lunch.
I did all my savoring immediately after these photos were taken.
I love cheese sticks and cheese balls on the appetizer menu in restaurants and this is a way to take everyday macaroni and cheese and turn it into cheese balls, which are baked rather than fried. Don't skip the step of using well-chilled mac 'n cheese prior to baking them because you want the cheese to melt in your mouth, not all over the baking sheets. I promise these crispy 'n crunchy yet soft 'n gooey cheese balls are worth the wait.
1 batch macaroni and cheese, prepared as directed and well chilled (1 box store-bought or your favorite homemade recipe, I used one 5.5-ounce box Kraft)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
about 1 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned if preferred; I used Trader Joe's which are unseasoned)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Prepare mac 'n cheese according to package directions. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, up to 3 days; I made these after 2 days. Chilling the mac 'n cheese is an instrumental step and cannot be skipped because the cheese needs to congeal, solidify, and dry out a bit prior to baking the cheese balls. You may be able to speed this process up and shortcut it a bit by freezing the cooked mac 'n cheese, but I have not tested it.
About 15 minutes prior to preparing the cheese balls, place the container of mac 'n cheese in the freezer for a quick cold blast. Meanwhile, place flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs in 3 separate small bowls; set aside.
Preheat oven to 425F and line two baking sheets with Silpats, parchment paper, or aluminum foil (line baking sheets with something to save yourself cleanup work). Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on each baking sheet, smear it around with your hands; set baking sheets aside.
Remove mac 'n cheese from the freezer and using a 1-inch cookie scoop or tablespoon-sized scoop, portion out and shape the balls, taking care not to make them larger than about 1-inch in diameter because after battering and breading, they become much larger in size. Depending on the type of noodles in your mac 'n cheese, how cold, or how cheesy the mac 'n cheese is, lightly hand-shaping the noodles into balls may be necessary rather than replying solely on a cookie scoop. Roll each ball through the flour, dip briefly in the egg, roll it through the breadcrumbs, and place it on baking sheet. Repeat until all balls have been battered, placing about 10 balls per baking tray.
Bake for 10 minutes (don't be surprised if your smoke detector goes off), remove trays from oven and add 1 tablespoon of oil to each tray and smear it around, flip balls over, and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until browned and golden. Remove from the oven and serve immediately; optionally serve with Homemade Spicy Mustard, prepared mustard, ketchup, chipotle mayo, or a favorite condiment.
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Do you like cheese balls, cheese sauce, cooking with cheese, or eating cheese in general?
Feel free to link up your favorite cheesy recipes.