So far in this series, I have chosen movies that I had pretty clear ideas for. The Great Mouse Detective was a real head-scratcher for me. When we were getting ready to watch it, I only had a vague memory of it, and that was mostly due to my younger brother being a fan of it when it came out on VHS. I knew that it was Sherlock Holmes with mice, but that was it.
Okay, mice. So…cheese? Excellent, I had been looking for an excuse to make homemade macaroni and cheese for a couple weeks anyway. But that was not enough, and it is not how one Disney-dishes (I’m still work-shopping names). My husband had pointed out that there is actually quite a bit of drinking involved in the movie, including but not limited to a slightly inappropriate bar scene involving a showgirl.
The main character’s name in the film is Basil, so that was another easy element to include. By this point, I was starting to get excited about the dish, but I still hadn’t had my breakthrough. I like to challenge myself in some way with every entry in this series, and while making mac and cheese sounds fun and tasty, it wasn’t exactly something I’d never done. Then I was reminded that in the movie, Basil has a chemistry set that he uses to find a key clue. This gave me an excuse to turn to what has become a revered/repulsive gimmick of chefs the world over in the last decade- molecular gastronomy!
To be fair, molecular gastronomy is actually just the science of understanding how chemicals react in food, and isn’t designated by a particular style of cooking. However, it has been attributed to a specific rise of popularity in use of chemical additives to food in order to create specific textures or reactions between ingredients.
After doing a bit of research into the subject, I purchased some sodium citrate on Amazon. The product creates a reaction that allows the proteins in cheese to break down easier while also lowering the pH balance. This keeps the cheese from curdling and allows it to emulsify smoothly without additional dairy.
I am so glad I decided to use this stuff; it is amazing! It created such a smooth and creamy sauce before my eyes. I was very wary of it and was mostly using it to say I was includiing a ‘chemical’ element on the plate, but I have used it twice since this recipe and every time, it’s awesome. I also chose to use a smoked gouda cheese in the sauce, because not only is it the greatest cheese of all time, it also is a nice nod to Basil’s pipe in the movie.
To round out my story elements, I was thinking of something I could include to represent his famous address. I chose to do a bread bowl, because why not stuff carbs with some extra carbs? Finally, I topped it with bacon, because of course I did. It’s delicious and makes everything better.
But here I am lollygagging about with talk of pH balance when you are hungry. So quick- to the recipe!
Basil Walnut Mac And Cheese In A Pretzel Beer Bread Bowl
Prep Time: 1 1/2 Hours
Cook Time: 1 Hour
Pretzel Beer Bread Bowl:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 oz New Castle brown ale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 gallon water
1/2 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons pretzel or kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
I warmed the beer slightly in the microwave and then poured it into the mixer bowl and sprinkled the yeast on it. Because I always use instant yeast, I moved on to adding the rest of the ingredients into the bowl right away. Use the dough hook and mix on medium speed until a smooth dough forms around the hook. Move the dough to a sprayed bowl, cover and allow to proof for 45 minutes or until it is doubled in size. I almost always proof on my stove top, because my century-old house tends to be pretty cold all the time.
Once the dough has doubled in size, flip it out onto a clean but lightly floured countertop. Knead the dough for a couple minutes and then separate out into baseball-sized portions. Roll each of them on the counter to create a smooth top and then place each of them onto a parchment-lined baking pan. Cover the bread with a towel and proof again for at least twenty minutes or until they have almost doubled in size.
While the dough is on its second proof, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and measure 1 gallon of water into a stock pot. Place it on the stove and heat the water to simmer. Once the dough is fully proofed, add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the simmering water and turn the burner up to a low boil. Working carefully so as not to burn yourself, place each bread bowl in the water one or two at a time. Cook them for one minute before flipping them over and continuing to cook for one more minute. Remove the bread bowls from the water and return to the cookie sheet.
Brush each bread bowl thoroughly with the beaten egg and then sprinkle them with the pretzel salt. Carefully cut an X into the top of each bread bowl. This step is done to keep the top of the bread bowls from cracking during baking when steam is released. Also, it makes them look nice and professional.
Place the bread bowls in an oven preheated to 450 degrees. I baked these on my pizza stone, since it never leaves my oven. It’s great for any kind of bread. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through and have a rich brown color to them. Set aside to cool slightly.
Basil Walnut Pesto
8 oz toasted walnuts, chopped
4 oz fresh spinach
1 oz fresh basil
1 clove fresh garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Combine all the ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Chill it until needed.
Honey Glazed Bacon
1 pound bacon
4 tablespoons honey
Course ground black pepper
Lay out bacon on parchment-lined baking sheet and grind black pepper over the top. I always bake bacon. It’s the way I was taught by my dad and it’s still the best way to do it. It will stay flat and crispy and cook evenly. Bake the bacon at 375 for twenty minutes or until it’s nicely browned throughout. Move the bacon to a paper towel to drain it and allow to cool slightly before dicing it up into bite-sized pieces. Toss the bacon pieces in honey and then spring with cracked black pepper.
Amazing Magic Cheese Sauce
6 cups water
3 tablespoons sodium citrate
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white pepper
1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
16 oz sharp aged white cheddar, shredded
16 oz smoked gouda, shredded
8 oz provolone, shredded
Heat the water on the stove until it begins to simmer. Add the sodium citrate and whisk. Working about one half cup at a time (or a handful, if you’re a caveperson like me), start adding in cheese. Whisk each addition until it is fully melted before adding another one. The process will actually go fairly quickly, so it’s easier to have all your cheese right next to you at the stove. Once all of the cheese is incorporated, add in the other ingredients. Keep warm until you are ready to use it.
Putting It All Together:
12 oz dry pasta
1 gallon water (do not salt)
Basil Walnut Pesto
Amazing Magic Cheese Sauce
Pretzel Beer Bread Bowl
Bring the water to a boil on the stovetop and then cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the water from the pasta and then return it to the pot you cooked in. Add three quarters of the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir it to combine. Turn the burner to low and continue to cook the pasta in the cheese sauce while you put together the rest of the ingredients.
Using a bread knife, carefully cut the tops off of the bread bowls and pull some of the bread out of them to make space for the pasta. Ladle two ounces of cheese sauce into the bottom of each bowl. This will absorb into the bread and keep the bottom from drying out too much as you eat them. Scoop a generous portion of cheesy pasta into each bowl, then drizzle each with any leftover cheese sauce you have. Sprinkle the bowls with additional shredded cheese. At this point, I broiled the bowls for a couple minutes to brown the cheese, but this step is not necessary. Top each bowl with a healthy spoonful of pesto and some chopped bacon pieces. Serve any leftover cheese sauce warm on the side for dipping the tops and insides of the bread bowl( or just drinking if you’d like, because it’s that good).
We sat down to eat this on a rainy Sunday afternoon with three generations of my family, and it was a huge hit. It didn’t eat heavy, despite the fact that it was cheese, pasta, bacon, and pretzel beer bread. The acidity of the herbaceous pesto balanced out the salty cheese sauce and the slight sweetness of the bacon actually added to the savory quality of the dish as a whole. This was definitely one that we will be making again. After all, sometimes you just need a bowl of comfort food to keep life from getting too stressful.