Before I get started here, the first thing I want you to know is that I’m usually a mac and cheese purist. But I make an exception for this Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese and I do it wholeheartedly. If you are the type to put Tabasco on your eggs, sriracha in your mayo or ranch, or Franks on your pizza, then this is the mac and cheese for you. Even if you are not that type of person, this is probably still the mac and cheese for you. It’s as creamy and cheesy as you could want a mac and cheese to be but it mimics the kick and crunch of a jalapeño popper. (Oh, and we’ve thrown some smoky bacon in for good measure.)
This is a three cheese operation, but the cheeses might not be quite what you’re expecting. There’s mozzarella for ultimate meltiness, cheddar for flavor, and last but not least, cream cheese for creaminess (and because what would a jalapeño popper be without it). Those cheeses are all mixed into the sauce, like a classic mac but it’s all layered together in a unique way for maximum flavor.
See, the mac and cheese goes in as a first layer, and then in the center there’s a layer of cheddar, mozzarella, bacon, and sliced jalapeños before more mac is piled on top. The final flourish is some more sliced jalapeños and a layer of buttered panko breadcrumbs that get impossibly crispy in the oven. It’s indulgent comfort food with a kick!
Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese
15m prep time
30m cook time
- 1 lb pasta, such as elbow macaroni or penne
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 6 oz cream cheese, cubed
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
- 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
For the topping:
- 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta 2 minutes less than package directions indicate. Drain well and drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add jalapeños and cook 2 minutes, stirring often.
- Add flour and whisk for 1 minute until lightly golden. Gradually whisk in milk and cream.
- Continue cooking, whisking often, until mixture is bubbly and has thickened, 5-7 minutes.
- Add cream cheese and tabasco sauce and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper, followed by 2 cups of the cheeses. Whisk until melted.
- Add another 1 1/2 cups of the cheeses and again whisk until smooth.
- Stir together cheese sauce and pasta and transfer half to the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining cheese, 2/3 of the bacon and the remaining mac and cheese.
- Stir together panko breadcrumbs and melted butter and sprinkle over the top. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Top with remaining bacon and sliced jalapeños, if desired. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Mom on Timeout.