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A tale of two carrot soups
And how to butter a crouton
‘Sunlight soup’ is how this carrot soup was described by a workshop guest, who happened to be sitting in a sunbeam that made everything shine brighter and even more peachy gold.
This is the simplest illustration of soup, an unassuming base made with one chopped, sweated onion and a bunch of carrots, sliced and simmered in a light broth. But what brings it to life are the dazzling playmates on top.
It started with a spoonful of double-cream yoghurt to act as a foil for the sweetness, hazelnut-brown butter to coax it from homely to the edge of luxurious, and toasted caraway seeds, which are botanically related to the carrot.
The flavours developed from an idea for roast carrots in sizzling, spiced butter and definitely worked. But the texture of the yoghurt was a little too similar to the soup and the caraway didn’t deliver quite enough contrasting crunch.
The answer lay in a crouton, and the consistency of this smooth, pureed soup was just right to hold it. But to keep each flavour distinct and prevent the butter and spices from scorching, the solution was to treat everything separately.
Which brings us right to the point: there’s a lot to be said for buttering a crouton – and doing it after toasting. Rather than grilling oiled cubes of bread, the butter is browned for rich complexity and tossed with the already toasted cubes.
Whether the soup is made with carrots pulled from the soil a few hours before or a wizened bunch at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, working on the topping and tweaking it accordingly can elevate the ordinary.
In this case a sourdough crouton was just tart enough to counter a farm carrot’s subtle sweetness but the concept can be applied to any single-vegetable soup, corresponding spice, and day-old loaf.
The take-homes are:
Add flavour to a crouton with brown butter and toasted spice.
Treat each element separately to maximise individual flavours.
Butter and season croutons after toasting.
To prepare the croutons, pound one tablespoon toasted of caraway seeds with a half teaspoon of sea salt in a pestle and mortar. Toss one cup of toasted croutons with two tablespoons of browned butter and two teaspoons of the caraway seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 180°C with the rack in the middle. Slice all the crusts off a day-old wheat sourdough loaf and cut into 1.5cm x 1.5cm x 2.5cm cubes. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake, turning half way through if necessary, for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
The toasted spice
To toast the caraway seeds, heat a cast iron pan over a high heat until smoking hot. Working quickly, remove the pan from the heat, tip in one tablespoon of caraway seeds and move them around using a wooden spatula until they crackle and pop and you can smell them. Tip into a mortar to cool slightly before pounding.
The browned butter
You’re aiming for a clear melted butter that smells nutty with golden brown bits (the milk solids) suspended in it. At first the milk solids will separate out, then they will start to brown. Although you only need two tablespoons of butter, working with a larger quantity is easier to control. Use the rest for cooking.
Add 120g unsalted butter to a small pot with a silver or white enamelled base (to see the colour changing) and heat over a medium-high heat on a small burner. When the butter stops splattering, goes quiet, and gets foamy on top, tilt and swirl the pot periodically to check the colour of the milk solids on the bottom. As soon as they start turning dark gold, take the pot off the heat and tip the butter into a bowl – use immediately.