Make Ahead

Jennifer McLagan's Toast Soup

March 17, 2015
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

"Don't be afraid," author Jennifer McLagan writes. "Toast that bread until it is burnt on the edges and very dark in the middle." And she's right -- if you don't burn the toast, the finished soup will lack depth. Adapted slightly from  Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2014). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 1 3/4 ounces bacon (about 1 thick slice)
  • 2 cups chicken or veal stock, preferably homemade
  • 5 1/4 ounces sourdough bread, about three 1-inch slices
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar from a jar of cornichons
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 ounces butter, cut into 6 pieces
  1. Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the fat renders and the bacon is cooked. You want the bacon to be cooked, but not crisp. In another saucepan, bring the stock to boil and then pour it over the cooked bacon. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes.
  2. While the stock is infusing, toast the bread slices very well, allowing them to burn a little on the edges. Add the toast to the stock, breaking it into pieces if necessary, cover and leave for 10 minutes. During that time the bread will soak up the stock.
  3. Add the hot milk, mustard, and vinegar to the saucepan, then season with salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth (alternately, transfer the soup to a standard blender to blend). Return the soup to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
  4. When the soup is warm, whisk in the butter, check the seasoning and serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Samantha Ritchie
    Samantha Ritchie
  • samanthaalison
  • Mike Sidman
    Mike Sidman
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

12 Reviews

BatmansPersonalChef April 12, 2021
I just finished making this tonight. I have sort of a short term memory issue and when I'm in the kitchen it usually turns into a whole one man Keystone Cops thing and can be pretty entertaining. Especially when I thought I was reaching for my soda and starts chugging the vinegar. I've gotten rave reviews on my food so I guess the chicken with its head cut off routine is working. Anyway, so with that said, of course I forgot the butter. Not sure the difference that makes, but I love this recipe. My sister gave me the whole Jennifer McLagan cook book Bitter for Christmas one year because I love bitter foods (I prefer straight up tonic water to soda) and this was the first recipe from the book I ventured into. Like I said, I love it. Straight out of the blender before adding the salt it was a bit...the flavor was something. It wasn't quite a cohesive whole like it should have been. It was still good, but salt to taste and BANG, one single solid flavor that came together like the fairy godmother turning a pumpkin into a carriage. I took it into work and got good reviews. I was snacking on the left over pickles and various odds and ends from my fridge the whole time so I'd ruined my pallet for a bit and decided to wait until I got to work to truly savor it. Initial review "Wow, that's nice." Comforting. It' sitting in front of a fireplace watching the snow outside and it has the consistency of one of those $20 a bowl table cloth restaurant soups. I grew up eating at "table cloth restaurants", lol, so I'd know :)

Also, the entire cookbook this recipe came from will be an absolute staple in my kitchen. I recently moved into a new apartment and now have a modern kitchen and so have ventured into the culinary world. So far to rave reviews. Apparently I know what I'm doing just need some experience to work out the rough edges a bit. Bitter (the cookbook) is like watching a cooking show except your reading it. Each recipe is introduced with at least a few sentences as to why it's significant to the author and she relates it to the reader as well. It was my first real cookbook and as I dive deeper into the kitchen it will, I'm sure, be my go to.
BatmansPersonalChef April 12, 2021
Oh, and as far as the whole pickle juice debate I used the vinegar from a jar of Valasic Snack'mms Kosher Dill. They at least look like cornichons and unless I'm mistaken aren't too wildly far off in the taste department either. One thing I will say is that the vinegar blended nicely with the sour dough. No overt pickle flavor, but it worked well for blending with the sour dough to bring it forward allowing it to be the center of the show. The mustard was definitely there, but having tasted the dijon (each brand is a tad different) I clearly knew some of the unnecessary punch had been nicely tapered down. The best part is though, no pickle flavor. I was worried it would be pickle city. Nope. Keeping with that analogy they'd be more like the sewers. They're preforming an important function, but are for all intents and purposes non existent.
Miranda P. November 12, 2018
My husband and I love this recipe, it's so comforting on a cold day. It has an unami taste to it as a result of the burnt toast. Because there are so few ingredients, we don't cut corners with any of them. We use good, thick applewood smoked bacon, quality sourdough, whole milk, and a good quality stock. I have used pickle juice in a pinch. I like a pinch of smoked salt on top. I'm floored that the other reviewer was disappointed because it tasted like burnt toast; that's literally the point (and the name of the recipe in NYTimes cooking).
Mary January 24, 2016
This was hugely disappointing - I couldn't manage to finish one small bowl of it. I made a batch and a half to use up the rest of a really nice sourdough baguette, and I'm debating whether to throw the rest out or to try to doctor it up. It tastes like burnt toast, but doughy at the same time, and in this case, that is not due to using poor quality bread or under-toasting. It reminds me of biting into a sausage on a toasted roll with mustard on it, only to realize the sausage is gone and you've got a mouthful of burnt toast and mustard. Perhaps more bacon would have done the trick. I might try frying some kielbasa and adding that to a bowl. It would be an interesting part of something bigger, but on it's own, I found it to be almost inedible.
BatmansPersonalChef April 12, 2021
You can toast the sour dough less if the bitterness of the burnt bits is too much. And as far as consistency I spent enough time at the blender that the motor started to heat a bit and so the soup came out warm when it went in lukewarm. Still though, some people like bitter more than others. More power to you either way :)
Samantha R. July 5, 2015
One of my favorite soups! Tonight I'm going to try using rendered chicken fat from lunch. Mmmmmm
Dianne March 28, 2015
Is cornichon vinegar more acidic than regular vinegar? What makes it special and why not give an alternative upfront? !!!
MB M. November 16, 2015
If I didn't have cornichon, I would use plain white vinegar, but probably less, maybe 1 1/2 tsp. Cornichon brine typically doesn't have the dill, sugar or garlic commonly found in other pickles.
samanthaalison March 26, 2015
This was alright, but not my favorite. I feel like it needs some kind of garnish or accompaniment to really make it work. I've been working my way through a lot of the Genius Recipes and there seem to be a lot of pureed, single-texture soups (this one, the green soup, the simple cauliflower soup, the tomato soup, etc.), and they don't quite do it for me. Using the burnt toast is definitely an interesting concept, though.
Mike S. March 20, 2015
This is one of the most exciting recipes I've seen in a long time! So fascinating. I can't wait to try making it!
ArtoriusRex March 18, 2015
Definitely on my to-try list now. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative to cornichon "juice"? I don't tend to keep them around.
Kristen M. March 18, 2015
I think just about any pickle juice would work -- hardlikearmour said she used nasturtium!