This recipe by Team KKR and Bike Basket Pies (a.k.a. Katherine Robinson and Natalie Galatzer) took both First Place and the People’s Choice award at SF Food Wars’ 2009 Mac Battle Royale with Cheese. Congratulations!
Note: Timing is key here. The cheese sauce takes the most time & attention—when we were baking there were two of us so it was easier to pre-bake the pie crusts, cook the veggies and macaroni while the cheese sauce was being prepared. If you’re cooking alone, we’d recommend doing all the prep work first (washing/chopping spinach and mushrooms, crumbling/shredding cheese, chopping walnuts), cooking the veggies then the cheese sauce then the macaroni. The macaroni can dry out if it cools and sits out too long before it is added to the cheese sauce.
- Yield: Makes 12-18 cupcake-sized pies
For the pie crust:
- 2 1/2 c unbleached flour
- 3/4 c unsalted butter
- 1/4 c shortening (we used Earth Balance vegetable shortening)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 6 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 10-18 Tbsp ice cold water
For the filling:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- Black pepper
- 1/2 lb elbow macaroni
- 8 oz. Point Reyes Original Bleu Cheese, crumbled or cut in small pieces
- 8 oz. Gruyère, shredded or cut in small pieces
- 1 bunch organic spinach, coarse stems discarded and the leaves washed well and drained
- 1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms
- Olive oil
- 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
For the pie crust:
- Cut butter and shortening into cubes, put in the freezer.
- Mix flour, salt and sugar. Add the chilled butter/shortening and mix with a pastry blender until the butter chunks are about pea sized. It needs to be well-incorporated but not over worked.
- Add 10 Tbsp of the cold water to the vinegar and slowly drizzle into the crust while you mix it with a spatula (avoid using your hands until you absolutely can’t stand it). Do this until the dough forms a ball. Depending on the humidity of the kitchen, you might need more or less water. The dough should be tacky to the touch.
- Cut in half and wrap in plastic wrap and throw into the fridge. Chill for at least an hour—we chilled ours the night before the event.
- To roll out the dough, make sure your kitchen, counter, rolling pin, hands, etc etc are COLD!
- Let dough sit out for a few minutes, then flour your surface and rolling pin. Roll dough out to about an eighth inch thick. Use a cookie cutter or glass or bowl to cut circles about 6″ in diameter. Line a plate with parchment paper, stacking dough rounds and alternating each layer with a piece of parchment paper.
- You can reroll dough scraps, but be very careful not to overwork. You may want to chill scraps before rerolling them.
- Let dough rounds chill in the fridge another 30 minutes or so.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Ease the dough rounds into cupcake tins, pressing into sides, and trim the edges (these can be rerolled as well—see above note). Chill for 10 minutes.
- While the rounds in the cupcake tins are in the fridge, start cooking the cheese sauce, veggies and macaroni (see filling recipe below).
- Line dough with foil and pie weights and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until what you can see is golden.
- Remove from oven and let sit at least 5 minutes before removing pie weights and filling with mac & cheese filling.
For the filling:
- Make the roux & béchamel sauce: On low heat, melt butter in medium saucepan. Once the butter is melted, begin whisking in the flour. When all the flour is incorporated, continue stirring and cooking for a few minutes to activate the starch granules. Add cold milk very slowly in small amounts. Keep whisking until it is smooth, then add salt, black pepper, and bay leaf. Simmer until it has lost its “floury” taste (this will take about 20 minutes), then strain out bay leaf.
- While this is simmering: Heat a few TBSP olive oil with the red pepper over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and when they are evenly golden brown, add the spinach, the nutmeg, and salt to taste. Sauté until spinach is wilted and set aside.
- Toast walnuts in a clean dry pan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, chop, set aside.
- Boil heavily salted water to cook elbow macaroni. Cook pasta for a slightly shorter time than it says on the package since it will cook a bit in the oven. Drain and return to pot.
- Remove the béchamel from the heat and gently blend in the cheese. If the cheese doesn’t seem to be melting sufficiently, you can return the pan to very low heat, but watch it carefully and remove as soon as the cheese is melted. Add spinach, mushrooms, and macaroni and mix thoroughly. Spoon into pre-baked cupcake-sized pie shells. Top with toasted and chopped walnuts. Bake for 10 minutes at 450. If there’s any leftover filling it can be baked in a casserole dish sans crust. Serve with slice of Granny Smith apple as garnish.