Keto mac and cheese? Not an oxymoron.
We all know the reported benefits of going keto. While we tend to be in the camp of “great but not a cure all,” we do eat a keto diet at home. One of the things I missed the most from my pre-keto life? Mac and cheese.
Mac and cheese is a major comfort food. If a food could wrap you in a blanket and give you a warm hug, that food would be mac and cheese. But macaroni is not keto. So what’s a girl to do?
Enter the ultimate keto mac and cheese recipe.
Challenges to making a good keto mac and cheese
The first challenge is obvious. You can’t use real pasta or macaroni to make keto mac and cheese. In this recipe, we use cauliflower as a substitute for mac.
But then next challenge is a little tougher. A classic mac and cheese starts with a roux, or sauce.
The New York Times sums up the traditional formula nicely:
So what’s not keto here?
Milk and thickener are the two challenges. For the milk substitute, it’s an easy swap: use heavy whipping cream. But the thickener?
Well, we’ve developed a recipe that relies on its ingredients and time to thicken up.
Keto mac and cheese: start with a roux
For a keto roux, you’ll use six ingredients:
- Heavy whipping cream
- Cream cheese
- Your favorite shredded cheese (I like a blend of cheeses. Trader Joe’s Four Cheese blend is my go-to, but I’ve also used Gruyère, swiss and cheddar, or Italian blends for variation)
- Dijon mustard
- Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (No Trader Joe’s nearby? Get it on Amazon. It’s so worth it.)
When I’m making this for my family, I usually wing it with the measurements. If you’re confident in the kitchen, that may work for you, too. If you’d like specific measurements:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- 1 cup of your favorite shredded cheese (I like a blend of cheeses. Trader Joe’s Four Cheese blend is my go-to, but I’ve also used Gruyère, swiss and cheddar, or Italian blends for variation)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (No Trader Joe’s nearby? Get it on Amazon. It’s so worth it.)
Making the roux
Turn the heat to medium low. In a small or medium-sized saucepan, begin to melt the butter. Add the heavy whipping cream, cream cheese, and cheese, stirring constantly. Next add the Dijon and 21 Seasoning Salute.
It’s essential that you monitor the sauce at all times. Note that I like to start boiling the cauliflower as I’m making the sauce. This way, everything is done around the same time. You should also pre-heat the oven to 375 so it’s ready when the keto mac and cheese has been assembled.
Note that you’ll know the sauce is done when it has a creamy consistency. The roux can take time. Don’t try to rush it by turning the heat up. If you burn the roux, the entire dish is not as tasty.
boiling the cauliflower
You can use cauliflower florets for this recipe, but it’s easier and cheaper to buy a whole head of cauliflower. I cut the green leaves off, give the cauliflower a good rinse, then throw it whole into a large pot of boiling water.
Midway through, as the cauliflower begins to soften, I break it up into chunks with tongs. Note that the cauliflower will cook more quickly if you break it up first, but since I like to let my small children help with making dinner, I try to avoid using sharp objects (knives) as much as possible.
When the cauliflower is cooked and soft, drain it over the sink. Pro tip: keep the cauliflower in a colander over the pot as you finish the roux. This helps you get all the water out. Some people squeeze the cauliflower with a cheese cloth. I don’t have a cheese cloth, so my drip-dry method is an alternative.
Combining the roux and cauliflower
You don’t need to go crazy chopping the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. When you combine the roux and the cauliflower, the boiled cauliflower will start to break into smaller pieces with ease.
Remove the roux from the stove top. (And be sure to turn off the heat!)
For less dishes to clean, use the same pot you boiled the cauliflower in to mix the roux and the cauliflower. If you have little helpers who want to stir the ingredients together, opt for a bowl or pot that has not been on the stove for safety purposes. (The pot will still be hot, so tiny humans need to tread carefully and avoid burns.)
Once you’ve combined the roux and the cauliflower, you can enjoy a bowl of the keto mac and cheese immediately.
However, for the ultimate keto mac and cheese, you really need to bake in all the cheesy goodness.
bake the keto mac and cheese to perfection
In addition to the voices of tiny humans, you’ll see in my videos that I don’t have a lot of fancy cookware and bakeware. Spoiler alert: fancy kitchen items do not make your food any more delicious. So, I use what I have. In this case, a round cake pan.
Pour your keto mac and cheese into the oven-safe baking pan of your choice. (Hey, disposable would probably be even better. Less clean up does equal more delicious.)
Then top with more of your favorite shredded cheese blend and another generous sprinkling of 21 Seasoning Salute. Bake in the oven at 375 until your cheese is bubbly and golden. Usually, it takes about 45 minutes.
You could broil it and be done faster, but, as is the theme in my kitchen, I avoid this because I’m terrified that my kids could get hurt by the broiler. I realize this is irrational because I have the same fear of the oven in general, but the broiler just intensifies everything – heat and fear – so I avoid it when the kids are in the kitchen.
Eat the ultimate keto mac and cheese
When your cheese is perfect, it’s time to turn the oven off, take the keto mac and cheese out, let it cool, and then enjoy. This dish is great left over, too. I’m sure it would work for freezing, but it’s never made it that far in our house.
In fact, having keto mac and cheese leftover is a rare occurrence.
Keto mac and cheese is a versatile dish that can easily be made into a meal for the whole family. Check out our Amazing Ways to Elevate Boxed Mac and Cheese and apply those concepts and flavors to the cauliflower mac.
Simple add-ins like chicken or tuna fish (low-brow but delicious) make this into a yummy comfort meal anytime of the year.
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