Ever since we got an air fryer, I’ve been testing the limits of its settings to see just what I can make. One recipe I couldn’t take my mind off was air-fried mac and cheese bites. They’re delicious when fried, but the grease can leave me feeling blah sometimes. The compromise? Air-fryer magic.
Okay, it’s not magic, but it is extremely efficient and will save us from turning on the oven through the summer. Not to mention the health benefit of cutting out excess oil from otherwise greasy fried foods.
Enough about the benefits of air frying though, let’s get to the recipe!
First, you’ll need to block out some time for this recipe. Between making mac, forming the shapes, and air-frying, you’ll need about three hours. This also accounts for the time left in the freezer to firm.
We’ll begin by boiling the noodles before making a roux for simple homemade mac and cheese. Usually, I would say to leave the noodles just slightly undercooked as they would continue cooking in the hot roux. However, for this recipe, you’ll want to cook al dente and chill the noodles before adding them to the roux.
For the roux, give it your full attention. I don’t recommend trying to save a few minutes by making it while your noodles cook. The moment you take your attention away from it, it will burn. Remember to get the inner corner of your pan and scrape the full area of your saucepan while stirring to prevent it from sticking and burning.
Allow the mixture to cool significantly before putting it in the freezer for up to an hour but no less than 30 minutes. It’s still safe to use if you leave it in longer than that, but it won’t need to chill for any longer than two hours. I leave mine in for 30 for forming into balls, but you want them to be firmer for cutting into triangular shapes, so chilling for closer to an hour is best. If you plan to do so, I recommend using a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil.
These are flavorful on their own if you add seasoning of choice, though I have provided some standard seasoning in the recipe. They could also pair well with a zesty dipping sauce, though I’m still perfecting mine before I share it!
Makes enough for 1 cup of uncooked noodles or approximately 2 cups of cooked noodles.
Covers one sheet pan comfortably when chilling.
For the roux:
- 1 tbsp. flour
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
For the flour mix:
- ½ cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
For the egg mixture:
- 3 large eggs
For the breading:
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and cook one cup of elbow macaroni al dente. Strain and chill while preparing the roux.
Add 2 tbsp. butter to your saucepan on medium heat and sprinkle in the flour once it has completely melted. Whisk together but leave spread through the saucepan. Add the milk a bit at a time, whisking as you go. The flour mixture will be fully incorporated with regular stirring. Let the mixture come to a gentle simmer, continuing to stir.
Once the roux is thick enough to leave a blank trail behind the spoon, turn off the heat. Sprinkle in the cheese and stir for it to melt into the mixture and thicken up.
Allow the roux to cool before adding the chilled noodles. Stir well to combine. Chill in the freezer in a sheet pan lined with aluminum for triangular and square-cut pieces or in a bowl for rolling into balls. Chill for 30 minutes for rolling into balls and an hour to firm for sheet pan shapes.
Next, prepare for adding the outer coating to the balls. Add the flour, breadcrumbs, and eggs to three shallow dishes. Roll each shape in the flour before the egg mix and then the breadcrumbs. Place the coated shapes on a sheet pan with parchment and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat your air-fryer basket(s) to 350F once your mac and cheese shapes have firmed. Place them in a single layer in your basket and cook for 4-6 minutes, flipping halfway through. The outside should be crispy and golden brown when done.
Craving mac and cheese but in a pinch for time? Try my cheesy-pea macaroni and cheese recipe over on the TUO Instagram by clicking the button below!