As crazy simple as it may seem, I will always love boxed mac ‘n cheese. And why not? Easy, cheesy, and nostalgic, it’s the queen of all comfort foods, and something the kids will eat too. I decided to take it up a notch with these crispy mac ‘n cheese balls by adding cheddar and American cheese for extra flavor (plus, the cheesy gooeyness hold these babies together before breading). You can use canned, pickled, or fresh jalapeños for a little heat, but if you don’t have any of those, try cayenne! Pro tip: If you have a mini muffin tin to bake the mac ‘n cheese balls in, that will help maintain the round shape.
- 1 (7.25-ounce) box mac 'n cheese
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 4 slices American cheese
- 2 tablespoons diced canned jalapeños or chiles, drained of all additional liquid
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Cooking spray
- Kosher salt to taste
Prepare the mac ‘n cheese according to the box directions, but reserve 1 teaspoon of the cheese powder for later.
While the mac ‘n cheese is still hot, add the cheddar and American cheeses and cook, stirring until melted, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the jalapeños and black pepper and remove from the heat.
Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Let the mac ‘n cheese mixture cool to room temperature, then form into 12 equal-sized balls and place on the baking sheet.
Chill in the fridge for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the panko and oil in a bowl, then roll the chilled mac ‘n cheese balls in the panko until coated. Spray a 12-inch compartment mini muffin tin with cooking spray and place one mac ‘n cheese ball in each compartment (or return to the parchment-lined baking sheet).
Bake until crisp and golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the reserved 1 teaspoon cheese powder. Transfer the mac ‘n cheese balls to a plate and serve immediately.