Pitting Heston’s silky smooth Macaroni Cheese recipe against the Hawksmoor Macaroni Cheese recipe, as gutsy as everything else at the London Steakhouse.
It’s a portion of Macaroni Cheese at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. Ordered when me and my mates went for our annual gourmet meal during Frightfest (i.e. we take a break from the horror films and I drag them to some pricey restaurant, then multiple trips to ChinChin Labs ). The year before we did the set menu at Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental.
We bloody love Hawksmoor, a restaurant full of gorgeous, hearty things that you want to eat. Their food is a lot of fun and their set menu is incredibly good value too. You should go.
Heston likes Hawksmoor too, having written a foreword full of glowing praise for their recipe book Hawksmoor at Home.
We love our copy, and some of the recipes in that book are remarkably similar to Heston’s own (triple cooked chips are wholesale copies – with the addition of beef dripping). Elsewhere in the book Hawksmoor favour traditional methods more akin to, say, St John (lots of bone marrow). The Hawksmoor macaroni chesse recipe is the latter.
We went through a hell of a lot of macaroni cheese last year, trying the Heston Waitrose Ready Meals, and testing out the Heston at Home Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese recipe. Now that we’re well into the New Year, (and now I’ve also given up on the diet), it’s safe to make another double portion of this magnificent comfort dish.
We’re pitting Hawksmoor’s traditional roux-based recipe against one from last year’s TV series: the How To Cook Like Heston Macaroni Cheese recipe.
Recipes: Heston’s Macaroni Cheese Recipe on Channel 4.com, A version of Hawksmoor’s Macaroni Cheese recipe on the BBC Good Food Website (note: this is different to the recipe in the book)
Special Equipment: None
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 40 minutes each recipe
Cost: £8 – £10. Or more if you use good wine or artisan cheeses.
Difficulty: Fairly Easy
It’s fun to see that both dishes max out the cheesiness, each using up to 4 different sorts. And nice they both celebrate British produce. Though you’ll be hard pushed to get the very specific cheeses they recommend.
To make this more accessible we’re swapping the recommended varieties of Ogleshield, Montgommery Cheddar, Colston Basset, Berkswell and Spenwood for the supermarket-friendly advised alternatives. So: Gruyere, Cheddar, Stilton and Parmigiano Reggiano respectively.
Also, since we’re not wasteful lunatics, so we won’t be serving Heston’s Macaroni Cheese recipe in a purposefully hollowed out wheel of cheese.
Oh, and we like breadcrumbs atop our macaroni cheese, for added texture. They’re not in either recipe, but we’re putting them on anyway. Tough.
Hawksmoor Macaroni Cheese Recipe
While you put the pasta on to boil you can get on with the first part of this recipe: grating the cheese. Quite a lot of cheese, in fact: The Hawksmoor macaroni cheese recipe calls for half a kilo. Here’s the leftover rinds after their epic battle with the grater:
I made the mistake of grating all of the cheese together at the start. Ideally you’re meant to reserve half of the cheddar for topping. We just weighed out 125g of the mixed cheese instead. It wasn’t fatal.
Next you’ll need to make a roux using butter and flour, then add pre-boiled milk. Hawksmoor’s measurements will give this a really stodgy, thick consistency.
To this add your cheese in stages. The resulting sauce is absolutely delicious, try not to eat too much of it as you “add nutmeg and seasonings to taste”.
If all this sounds quite simple it didn’t feel it. The multiple bits of weighing and juggling three pans and several measuring and mixing bowls took far longer than we expected.
After all that just tip all the sauce onto the pasta, top it with cheese and bung the whole enterprise in the oven for 30-ish minutes.
Which is barely enough time to take care of the rival recipe…
Heston’s Macaroni Cheese Recipe
Meanwhile the Man From Bray starts off not with a roux and milk, but with chicken stock (?!?!) which has had some parmesan rind infused in it. We heard about this concept a while ago and have been stockpiling rinds ever since. Good to finally use them!
Heston’s recipe, to serve 4, only calls for a mere 200g of macaroni, compared to Hawksmoors 500g.
Now, granted, we’re eating both recipes – so making enough to feed 8 might already be a foolish idea- but for balance we doubled Heston’s quantities. (Also useful since we were able to stockpile some in the freezer for future testing against the Modernist Cuisine Macaroni Cheese recipe).
You might be able to make out one of those rinds there infusing into our Marco Pierre White recipe stock (no way were we making Heston’s 3 hour brown chicken stock just for this!). Knorr stock is horrendously high in salt, so we had to leave out the salt added to the pasta to compensate. And so that the finished dish would be edible!
While this is going on it’s a good time to start reducing the white wine over a high heat. In the largest pan possible, because it’ll take a while.
It’s also a good time to cook the pasta in a shallow pan of water. More like cooking rice, this 2:1 water—to-pasta ratio is to prevent the loss of starches, which will help thicken the final cheese sauce…
… which is probably necessary since there’s not an awful lot of cheese or (corn) flour to do the job. A mere 160g of parmesan compared to Hawksmoor’s half a kilo. Here’s how the two portions compare side-by-side:
The recipe instructions don’t specify the next step (although the TV show does), but you ideally want to ensure every grain of the grated parmesan cheese is well coated in the cornflour. It will feel like much longer, but a good 60 seconds or more of mixing by hand seems to do the trick.
Oh, and for extra cheesiness there’s this offensively small quantity of goats cheese. The recipe calls for just ten grammes. TEN GRAMMES! Try buying that at the cheese counter.
The cheapo goat’s cheese we bought didn’t “cube” very well, like Heston wants it to. I had to resort to freezing it then carving off clumsy flakes.
Meanwhile don’t forget to check on your pasta, which will need regular stirring and shaking to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – a serious danger when so little water is present. Also remember to toss that macaroni in truffle oil after draining, to prevent it sticking.
After all this palaver you can tip the reduced-wine into the infused-stock, then stir in the flour-coated-cheese until it’s melted, before adding an additional quantity of cream cheese. I guess you could use mascarpone to make this even richer, but we settled for some own-brand Philadelphia stuff.
Finally, finally, you can add the sauce to the pasta, top with goats cheese and finish the whole thing off under the grill in a couple of minutes. Which at least means there’s no half hour wait while the thing bakes in the oven.
Heston’s Macaroni Cheese recipe gives you a creamier, lighter, more refined dish. Wonderfully savoury too, thanks to that wine and stock base.
Hawksmoor’s recipe is a much stodgier and brutish thing, in keeping with the masculine character of their restaurants.
Texture-wise Heston is the winner. Hawksmoor’s Macaroni Cheese recipe is flour-heavy and every bite has a powdery mouthfeel as a result. After trying Heston’s silky smooth Macaroni Cheese recipe it’s like rubbing sandpaper on your tongue.
However, the cheese-onslaught of the Hawksmoor recipe was the overall winner on flavour. Our taste panel of 4 people all preferred it’s winning combination of punchy flavours. In the words of one tester: “It tastes how Macaroni Cheese ought to taste.”
They’re both far more work than we expected. Hawksmoor’s demands a lot of weighing and grating, while Heston’s wants a lot of infusing and reducing before you can start. Both juggle 3 pans and multiple trips to the digital scales.
They’re both also more expensive to make than you’d imagine Macaroni Cheese ought to be. But then what do you expect from either Heston or Hawksmoor?
Have a look at both portions served up for dinner. Hawksmoor’s Macaroni cheese recipe is in the foreground, coated with it’s clearly thicker sauce.
There’s no denying that the Hawksmoor recipe is far too floury to be perfect. That texture really is a noticeable distraction after the luxury of Heston’s Macaroni Cheese recipe. But we all preferred Hawksmoor’s flavour. Result? It’s a draw!
Oh, we’re far from done with Macaroni Cheese recipes. So by no means is this the place to make a final judgement on future technique.
Some of the Heston macaroni cheese recipe has been frozen to be pitched against the next contender: Modernist Cuisine. I have a hunch their Sodium Citrate-based Modernist Cuisine Macaroni Cheese recipe might strike the perfect balance between these two dishes, allowing us to get the smoothness of Heston’s recipe and the flavour of Hawksmoor.
Watch this space.
BigSpud – Is there anything Gary doesn’t beat us to first? Brilliant and informative post from our absolute favourite blogger. Essential reading, as always.
Have you made either of these recipes, or have you got a favourite macaroni cheese recipe of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.