With the colder weather, I’ve been thinking about comfort foods and with the holidays coming, I’ve been thinking about rich, celebration food. Today’s recipe for bacon cheddar soup combines the two in a creamy, smoky soup perfect for a first course along with a glass of a yummy fall or winter beer as accompaniment.
Do not make any mistake. This soup is rich and intense. Smoky, creamy, with crumbles of crispy bacon, and plenty of flavorful cheddar. It is just the sort of thing you crave on a chilly fall night, or while the snow is falling in the winter. It is food like a warm hug.
However, it is rich so it is not for the faint of heart. Though it is so yummy you might want to keep it to yourself, this is a soup to share with friends and family. Have a small bowl. Enjoy every drop. And feel satisfied instead of overfilled.
Though I do make a few different cheese soups, this cheddar soup is the first really cheesy soup I’ve shared here. And it is the one which is most purely All About The Cheese. Lots of cheese. I figure go big or go home. 🙂
When I first made this soup, I used a block of good, sharp Cheddar, and the flavors with the smoky bacon were really nice. I could have stopped there with great soup, but I realized I wanted bring the smokiness into the cheese as well. Kind of layer on the flavors and really infuse the broth as well with the smoke.
As soon as I tried it, I knew it was a great idea!
On one hand I had the sharp flavors of an aged New York cheddar, and on the other, the smoky maple flavors of Vermont cheddar. I don’t know if the two cheese regions get along or they are all competitive, but I can say their cheeses get along just fine.
With the cheeses sorted, it was time to the think about the bacon! This is bacon cheddar soup after all. We like to think about bacon here at BitofBaconHQ, though only sometimes. A little bit. 😉
I wanted crispy bacon with a decent amount of fat for the roux and good, thick cut one to make substantial crumbles. It turns out that six slices of thick bacon is just the right amount, giving me at least 4 tablespoons of bacon fat and enough crumbles for six servings of soup.
If you prefer a turkey bacon, or some other lean bacon, you will likely need to add some butter to the pot for the roux and I can’t speak for the crumbles. I haven’t noticed that turkey bacon gets all that crispy. Honestly, the concepts of low fat and healthy left the room awhile ago and won’t come back until you finish the soup. So, unless you don’t eat pork for whatever reason, stick with standard bacon.
With the cheese and bacon sorted, we basically have a soup here! Some stock, a few aromatics, a sprinkle of thyme, and some cream round things out.
However, we need to talk about melting the cheese. You really don’t want to break your cheese in a cheese soup. Which is all about the cheese. So, I have a few tips:
1. Tossing some flour with the cheese makes the cheese so much more forgiving. The flour coats the cheese and gives it a wider temperature range.
2. Shred the cheese instead of chopping it. Smaller pieces melt faster, giving less time for it to break.
3. Temperature. Everyone says not too hot and not too cold. What does that mean??? For an aged cheese, like this cheddar or a gruyere, you need to be over 140F. If not, you will be sad and your cheese won’t melt. (Shoves aside some failed fondues when we got all nervous and didn’t heat the wine enough.) However, you also don’t want to get too hot. Even with the flour there is an upper limit. I find that if I’m between 140 and 160 Fahrenheit, my cheese is good and melts just fine.
One last thing to talk about are the croutons. They are totally optional, but they are a nice touch! I use the croutons from my homemade caesar salad recipe, because it doesn’t get better than fried croutons. I know I’ve put them other soups too (my slow cooker potato leek soup comes to mind) All you need is a hunk of day old crusty bread, some oil, maybe a smashed garlic clove, and a sprinkle of salt. Seriously, they are tasty!
Whether you make the croutons or not, you definitely need to make this bacon cheddar soup! Cheesy comfort food and crispy bacon are an awesome combination. And I won’t tell if you have an extra ladle or two.
– Happy Eating, Annemarie
Smoky Bacon Cheddar Soup
- 6 slices thick cut bacon
- 4 cups chicken stock, low sodium or no sodium
- 1 medium shallot, finely diced
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 tbsp flour, divided
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
- 4 oz smoked cheddar, shredded (I used maple smoked)
- 1 cup whole milk, or half and half
- croutons, optional
- Preheat oven to 400F. Lay out the bacon on a baking tray. Cook for 8 minutes, then turn the tray around and cook for another 7-9 minutes. When the bacon is done, transfer it to a paper towel lined plate. Reserve the bacon fat.
- In a saucepan, heat up the chicken stock until it is steaming.
- Add 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat to a dutch oven. Over medium heat, saute the shallot and carrots for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of the flour to the pot, whisking it into the bacon fat. Let the flour bubble for 1 minute, whisking frequently. Stir in the chopped thyme.
- Slowly pour the hot chicken stock into the pot while whisking. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
- Toss the shredded cheeses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Pull the pot off the heat and start adding the cheese by the handful, whisking as you go. Once the cheese has all melted and the soup is smooth, put it back on the heat, add the half and half and bring the soup back to a simmer.
- Crumble up the bacon. Add half the bacon to the soup and reserve the rest for sprinkling over the top. Serve the soup with the crumbled bacon, some thyme leaves if you wish, and fried croutons.
- Melting the cheese: To keep the cheese from curdling, you need to be aware of a few things. First, coating the cheese with starch. By tossing the cheese with some of the flour, you will protect the cheese as it melts. Second, shredding the cheese keeps it small so it can melt quickly before it separates. And, third, the temperature. Your soup needs to be above 140F or the cheese won't melt properly, but it also needs to be below about 160F or it might still curdle. Check the soup with a thermometer to be certain of the temperature.
- Bacon: This is standard pork bacon and I use the thickest bacon I can find in the store. If you use a leaner bacon, you may need to add some butter to pot to make up the 4 tbsps for the roux.
- A few notes: The soup is very rich so plan to serve it in small bowls. A glass of beer makes a good accompaniment to the soup and cuts through the richness. I use a no sodium chicken stock and I needed just a sprinkle salt in the soup at the table. Seriously don't skip tossing the flour with the cheese - it's been the difference between soup and take out on more than one occasion.