The slow and difficult bread soup: IMBB25

the slow and difficult soup

Really. I kid you not. This is a slow and difficult bread soup recipe.

If you are one of those people who are averse to doing anything slowly
-and in the most difficult way possible- you might as well stop now. I
am warning you.

You are still with me? Good! You’re not still hoping I’m kidding you,
are you? Because, let me say it again, I am not. The idea is hardly
original, there is even a book on the subject. But then again,
originality is just so…overrated. Heh.

This idea itself came to me in the most roundabout way possible. It
began with my friend Derrick of Obsession with Food, who is hosting the
current edition of Is My Blog Burning. Stale bread is the theme.

I’ve said here before that Pa amb Tomàquet might just be the best thing
to do with stale bread, but this being May and not August so it’s early
yet for superlative tomatoes required for that Catalan bread dish.

My mind moved on to another good use of stale bread: bread soup. David
reminded me of a French bread preparation called Panade, so I went digging in
our cookbook library to find a classic recipe. Escoffier –strangely
enough- didn’t have a recipe for Panade at all. It may have been too
provincial for him. Wait a minute, provincial, eh? Now that was a
clue from on high. Who else to consult then but the king of the French
provincial cuisine himself: Paul Bocuse?

There it was, in Paul Bocuse’s Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, not so much a recipe, but a description.

A Panade is made with coarsely diced bread, sometimes fried in butter, and cooked in milk, which maybe diluted with water.

This soup has the consistency of a cream soup or velouté.
Generally hard bread or stale bread is used.

That was enough.

Since this is practically May already –and you know May is the Eat
month- I thought I’d put a Northern California spin on this. I’ve been obsessed with cooking with Green Garlic recently, so I decided to do something a little different. Staying with the Spring crop theme, I’m going with young onions that we bought last weekend from Star Route Farm.

My mind raced to the most superlative onion dish I’ve ever had: gratin
d’oignon doux
at l’Arpège in Paris. In fact, I saw Alain Passard
himself made it a few months ago in Carmel. Onions -sliced with a
Mandolin into paper thin rounds- sauté in a pan with a lot of butter
over very, very low flame for hours, until they become the sweetest
and purest expression of onion-ness.

And that was that. That would be the onion in my soup. It would be
very slow and it might even be difficult, but I was quite certain it
would be worth it.

The Slow and Difficult Bread Soup

3 oz or roughly 2 cups of stale bread, trimmed and diced.
(Use only very good and flavorful bread for this or you will be sorry. Simple white bread simply will not do. I use Delle Fattoria’s intense Pain au Levain.)
4 young onions or 2 medium onions (about 8oz)
3 cups whole milk
2 cups beef or veal stock
4 tbsp salted butter
salt and pepper
chives and crème fraîche to garnish

1. Cut the onions with a Mandolin into paper thin slices, using a bowl to catch the onion slices and any juice dripping from them.
2. Add the onion slices into a cold medium sauté pan. Break three tablespoons of the butter into small chunks and dot them throughout the pan. Let the pan sauté over extremely low flame, stirring only occasionally, for two hours. After the first 15 minutes, cut a round of parchement paper the size of the inside diameter of your pan and place it on top of the onion slices to keep some of the moisture from evaporating too quickly. Also, make sure that the flame is very low and the edges don’t burn. The onion should pick up color very very slowly, and should not burn at all.
3. In a small sauce pan, reduce the beef or veal stock down to one quarter of the original volume. Set aside.
4. In another medium sauté pan, cook the diced bread with the rest of the butter until brown on all sides.
5. Remove the bread from the sauté pan into a medium pot. Pour the milk into the pot and let soak, with no heat, for at least one hour.
6. When the onion is done –looking like a pile of yellow mush with the most heady scent of sweet caramelized onions- add it to the bread and milk pot. Add the reduced stock and turn the heat on. When the mixture comes to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered and stirred occasionally, for 30 minutes.
7. After 30 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Blend the soup, either with a hand blender or in a regular blender, until the texture becomes very smooth and creamy. Check the seasoning again after the blend.
9. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and finely chopped chives.

There you have it, a heavenly bowl of smooth and ever so creamy bread soup. The flavors are pure, yet far from simplistic. And they don’t get there by accident. This soup begins with great ingredients that are cooked slowly and with care to let the flavors develop to the fullest.

With the rhythm and demand of this modern world, it’s natural that we are often seduced by the promise of everything quick and easy. But occasionally, slow and difficult might be the way to go, don’t you think? Try it, you might even like it better this way.

P.S. Do you know what the most difficult part of this recipe is? It’s the self-control required to leave some of the delicious Della Fattoria’s bread uneaten long enough so it would go stale in the first place!!


Local sources:

Bread: Pain au Levain from Della Fattoria
Milk and butter: Strauss Family Creamery
Crème Fraîche: Cowgirl Creamery
Young onions: Star Route Farm


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19 Responses to “The slow and difficult bread soup: IMBB25

  • Jeff said:
    May 1st, 2006 at 7:27am

    The reason I got into cooking was to enjoy making something other than burgers…nothing wrong with slow cookin’ 🙂

  • Dianka said:
    May 1st, 2006 at 11:38am

    Looks very nice and creamy. The addition of young onions makes it perfect! Yum!

  • gastrochick said:
    May 1st, 2006 at 12:04pm

    Slow and difficult maybe, but the outcome definately looks worth all the effort.

  • Bestvnteas said:
    May 1st, 2006 at 1:10pm

    I’m all for slow and difficult provided that time is permitting. Time is an ingredient that is so precious in this fast pace society.
    Regardless, this looks like a great weekend project. I’m just curious if the soup can be frozen.

  • shelly said:
    May 1st, 2006 at 2:18pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’d love to give Rachel Ray a good, swift kick in her EVOO ass :).

  • Barbara Fisher said:
    May 2nd, 2006 at 3:14pm

    Technically, what you did to the onions was sweat them, not saute them. That is the term for cooking vegetables slowly over very low heat.
    Sounds fantastic, and not hard at all–except for leaving the pan de levain alone long enough to get stale–that part is hard. Oh, and I would have a hard time not tasting the onions as they cooked–I love the smell of slow-cooked onions.

  • Alanna said:
    May 2nd, 2006 at 5:31pm

    Great for you to list the local sources — even to someone who lives x states away!

  • Pim said:
    May 4th, 2006 at 7:26am

    Jeff: Nope, nothing wrong at all with slow cookin’.
    Dianka, gastrochick: Thanks.
    Bestvnteas: I didn’t have enough leftover to be frozen, but I don’t see a reason for it not to work.
    shelly: No you’re not the only one. 😉
    Barbara: Ha, yes, exactly. Actually, I ate a lot of the onions while cooking too….I had to taste it, hadn’t I?
    Alanna: Thanks. I’ll be doing it this month for sure, for the Eat Local campaign.

  • Joyce said:
    May 29th, 2006 at 5:51pm

    Thank you for this amazing soup recipe! I finally got around to buying some bread which i left alone just to make this soup. I used free-range chicken stock, added a few cloves of garlic to the onions and the flavours came out wonderfully.

  • Joyce said:
    May 29th, 2006 at 5:52pm

    Thank you for this amazing soup recipe! I finally got around to buying some bread which i left alone just to make this soup. I used free-range chicken stock, added a few cloves of garlic to the onions and the flavours came out wonderfully.

  • blender said:
    January 29th, 2007 at 4:09pm

    But slow cooked always tastes better

  • Banana bread recipe said:
    February 22nd, 2008 at 10:23am

    Cook slow, eat slow… it’s healthier :)!

  • dorsey said:
    October 29th, 2008 at 10:01pm

    thank you–i had a similar one in switzerland 20 years ago…it may have had garlic too…it was served as a nice little warm up before lunch in a rustic little wayside restaurant way off the beaten path…

  • Aji Joseph said:
    November 4th, 2008 at 10:02pm

    I am a chef by profession wee are in the process of opening a Bistro in a coastal town called Pondicherry (a French colony) in southern state of Tamilnadu.I would like your help in putting together a Bistro menu which can serve alcohol also.So i would like to some of your expertise in compiling a menu.The city is known for its fresh seafood.I have heard a lot about your web site but never interacted so far.Now I have a reason to write to you and get your help in compiling a menu with your help and expertise.

  • Shilah Auryon said:
    December 20th, 2009 at 3:59pm

    Wow, that cup of a soup looks sooo tasty =)

  • benbes said:
    December 27th, 2009 at 10:40pm

    i love making creamy soups, from all sort of vegetables, but seriously never made this bread soup, this is amazing ti try, I will follow your recipe step by step, your cupd of soup looks delecious.
    oster bread machine

  • Aloja Vera said:
    December 29th, 2009 at 2:44pm

    Yum. Yum. Yum. This looks awesome. I know what we are making this weekend!

  • terry said:
    January 1st, 2010 at 8:18pm

    What a delicious sounding recipe! I’m printing this and going to add it to my fridge with a magnet for trying!
    – Terry 🙂

  • Jadxia said:
    August 16th, 2011 at 6:44pm

    This recipe looks perfect for my needs.  I tend to caramelize onions (and roast garlic) in advance, so I have plenty on hand for any recipe.  I made a lovely garlic bread (using roasted garlic, clarified butter, and hard sheep’s cheese) last night, and now have half a loaf of the stalest garlic bread imaginable which I simply can’t waste.  The only thing I’m missing is beef/veal stock.  I will have to use chicken and hope it suffices.  Perhaps substituting bacon fat for butter will give it some added oomph.  Wish me luck!

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