This post on making handmade macaroni pasta from scratch was originally published in 2017. I’ve updated it since then with a closer look at the pasta dough recipe best suited to making this type of pasta.
I didn’t update the pictures because I can’t bring myself to make a whole plate of handmade macaroni again. It was so time consuming! And there are so many really satisfying and easy to make pasta shapes out there – like this homemade pappardelle pasta that only takes about 10-15 minutes of hands-on time.
While I didn’t make an entire bowl of homemade macaroni to update this post, I did do a little experiment to find out what type of dough is best. You can see the results of my experiment below.
Making macaroni by hand is laborious but if you’re willing to put in the time, the directions and dough recipes in this post will give you the resource to execute beautiful macaroni whether you’re working with a lot of equipment or just the essentials.
The best pasta dough for making handmade macaroni or other small handmade pasta shapes
One of the trickier parts of achieving a specific pasta shape is getting the dough exactly right. If you start with the right dough it will make the whole process easier and your results more consistent.
So what is the best pasta dough for making macaroni? I wasn’t sure so I did a little experiment.
Putting 3 pasta doughs to the test
I made three different types of pasta dough:
- Semolina dough
- Egg dough
- Water and flour dough
I rolled each dough out both by hand and using a pasta rolling machine.
Finally, I tried shaping each of the machine and hand rolled doughs using two different types of small wooden dowels – a thin skewer and a thicker spoon handle.
Which dough makes the best macaroni?
I was really surprised by the results of this experiment. As it turns out, the basic rule is that pasta doughs with more structure lend themselves more to being formed into intricate small shaped pasta.
If you want a more detailed explanation of how to make these doughs, see my recipe for homemade pappardelle pasta where I provide a lot more information and pictures of the different steps of making different pasta doughs.
SEMOLINA DOUGH (good but not great)
- 400 grams of semolina flour
- 180ml of water
Mixing semolina dough is a little trickier than mixing an egg dough because the semolina is coarser, harder and needs a lot more kneading to become elastic. That being said, if you do put the work in it gives you a beautifully textured pasta that’s perfect for robust sauces.
Pasta rolling machine: Rolling this dough out by pasta machine was relatively simple, it just needed
Rolling pin: Rolling out semolina dough with a rolling pin is a little bit more difficult than with a pasta roller because it’s a firm dough and you need to put your back into it. That being said, it can still be done and the dough is strong enough that it will maintain it’s shape even when rolled out very thin.
Shaping the semolina dough into macaroni wasn’t as easy as shaping the egg dough because the semolina dough is a little bit sticky. The trick is that it needs to be sticky enough to stick to itself and form a tube, but not so sticky that it sticks to the wooden dowel. Semolina pasta failed on that count.
Small skewer: Semolina a dough was able to form a macaroni shape on a thin wooden skewer but it kept sticking to the wood and not sticking to itself enough which made the whole exercise frustrating.
Wooden spoon handle: Semolina dough wasn’t able to form a widen macaroni noodle on the wooden spoon handle because it kept collapsing. The semolina dough has enough structure to form a narrow noodle but not enough to hold the shape of a wider noodle.
EGG DOUGH (the winner)
- 400 grams of wheat flour (you can also use semolina)
- 1 whole egg
Mixing this dough is simple. It doesn’t take a lot of hands-on kneading – just a few minutes to get the dough fully hydrated. The dough is ready when there are no more cracks on it when you pinch it.
Pasta rolling machine: Rolling this dough out by pasta machine was very easy. It didn’t stick and kept its shape.
Rolling pin: Rolling out the egg dough using a rolling pin was easy. The dough is firm but elastic which makes it easy to roll out thinly without a lot of effort.
Shaping the egg dough into macaroni noodles was the easiest by far of all the doughs. The egg dough hits the perfect balance where it’s sticky enough to stick to itself and form into a tube, but not so sticky that it sticks to the wooden dowel.
It had enough structure to hold it’s shape as both a small macaroni noodle on the small wooden skewer and a wide macaroni noodle on the wooden spoon handle.
WHEAT FLOUR AND WATER ONLY (so frustrating)
- 400 grams of wheat flour
- 180 – 200 millilitres of warm water
Mixing the wheat flour dough can be tricky if you aren’t experienced with pasta dough.
Just wheat flour dough needs to hit exactly the right texture so it isn’t too sticky to work with. Unfortunately I couldn’t find that texture balance and this dough was a nightmare to work with.
I’m sure more experienced pasta makers have tricks for developing this type of dough and if I ever learn those secrets I’ll be sure to update this post. If you don’t have a lot of experience with pasta dough, then I wouldn’t recommend starting with a flour and water only dough because it can be very technically challenging.
Pasta rolling machine: Rolling this dough out with a pasta machine was challenging because the dough was so sticky it stuck to everything and no amount of flouring helped because the rolling would just expose the unfloured (very stiucky) inner dough.
Rolling pin: Rolling out the flour and water only dough with a rolling pin wasn’t much better than rolling it out by machine. The dough is really loose, springy and sticky which makes it very difficult to roll out thinly without it sticky or bunching.
Shaping the flour and water dough into macaroni noodles with either of the wooden dowels was basically impossible. As you can see in the image below – the resulting noodles were really hit or miss.
Making handmade macaroni calls for a dough with really good structure so that it can withstand being shaped by hand without sticking to everything.
An egg dough is the easiet to work with, especially if you’re a beginner pasta maker. Semolina dough also has more structure than just a flour and water dough but if you have eggs then it’s ideal to make an egg dough.
How to shape macaroni pasta: 3 methods
With the right pasta dough, shaping macaroni by hand is simple, albeit time consuming.
You can do it with very little specialized equipment, and you can even make it work without a pasta roller machine. Just a rolling pin and a wooden skewer is enough.
Shaping macaroni noodles by hand
Equipment: rolling pin or pasta roller and a thin dowel like a wooden skewer or even a chop stick.
You can shape the macaroni by hand by following these steps:
- Roll the pasta dough out out very thinly (about 1.5 – 2mm in thickness)
- Cut the dough into a grid of 1cm by 1cm squares
- Take each square and roll is around your thin dowel, pressing the ends together to close it into a tube
- Gently slide it off the dowel onto a flat floured surface in a single layer so it doesn’t stick
With a pasta roller
The pasta roller helps with the macaroni making process in that it does the heavy lifting of rolling the sheets out thinly, but you’ll still need to follow the process above for shaping the noodles by hand.
With a pasta extruder
The pasta extruder is obviously the simplest way to make a hollow pasta noodle like macaroni.
Personally I don’t have a pasta extruder because it seems like a very limited use kitchen appliance. I much prefer to get creative with shapes when I’m making pasta by hand and during the odd time I need to eat macaroni or bucatini for example, I just buy it.
The Origins of Macaroni
I like to think about where and how specific dishes originated so that I can have a better idea of the forces that have shaped the way we know those dishes today. What are their essential features, where can we innovate – and so on.
In the case of macaroni I was a little stumped. Other pasta shapes are easy enough to understand. For example, I’ll never forget the first time I used the pasta machine and looking down at the long, thin uncut sheets of pasta in my hands, I realized I was holding lasagna. It was a total revelation.
Macaroni noodles: traditional shape or modern invention?
When I first made this macaroni by hand in 2017, I wasn’t sure if macaroni emerged spontaneously, the creative ambition of a bored Italian housewife somewhere, or if it came about with the invention of industrial extruders.
Making macaroni by hand feels very old world and very traditional, but as I’ve learned more about traditional pasta making by hand (a lot of it through the Pasta Grannies) I’ve come to the conclusion that macaroni is probably a traditional pasta shape like cavatelli reimagined for the modern era with the help of industrial pasta machines.
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