Russell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar “Raft”

If you’re like me and love a good Cream of Broccoli soup, one that’s a soup and not a gloppy, glorified cheese sauce in a bowl, this is the soup for you. Absolutely luscious, with a few French twists, this soup stands by itself. Add a “raft” of good cheddar and broil until bubbly and lightly toasted. Amazing.

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Raft

I came by this recipe quite by happenstance; it was a write in request to Bon Appetit, “As a student at Bloomsburg University, I spent many Sunday afternoons at Russell’s restaurant in downtown Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania,” writes Marganne Hoffman of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “A decade after graduating, I still crave their cheddar-crusted broccoli soup.”

The recipe ratings looked good, but a reading of the comments (148 reviews) indicated all but three people had changed the recipe beyond recognition and this little soup was vilified and reviled. Wow. There was certainly a disconnect between the request (the word crave always gets my attention), the recipe and the comments. That piqued my curiosity! I’m glad it did, as this soup has become a family favorite.

I think many Americans aren’t familiar with a simple cream soup – named so because the texture of the soup resembles heavy cream, which isn’t very thick, not just because the soup has cream, although this one does. The expectations of many of my friends, mostly due to eating at mediocre restaurants, is to think cream or cheese soups should be “stand up your spoon” concoctions.

Cream of Broccoli - just so you can see the thickness/texture - it's not real thick, but it's not watery, either.
Cream of Broccoli – just so you can see the thickness/texture – it’s not real thick, but it’s not watery, either.

My guess? Those expectations, combined with a lack of understanding of the techniques in the recipe and some vague instructions led most of the reviewers to panic when they made this recipe. They went mad in a wild flurry of blending and tossed the cheese topping in the soup, all in an attempt to rescue what was (to me) already perfection!

The reviewers who said the Cream of Broccoli with a Cheddar Raft was bland? They must be cray cray! Onion, garlic, tarragon, chicken broth and the flavor of two pounds of broccoli all over layed with the cream and cheddar? If that’s not flavor, what is? As far as salt, it didn’t need a touch; the cheese adds a saltiness on its own. My guess: blending the soup alters the flavor profile – the broccoli, which is beautifully flavored in the soup when in pieces may have “dulled” down the flavors once it was blended.

Tarragon is an herb I don’t use often, and I’m not a huge fan, but it was just the herb for this soup. I wouldn’t change it for the world (see the comment section, below – I’m already planning to try fennel per Susan) but add it, fresh or dried, with the onions so the flavor has a chance to bloom.

If you don’t think you like tarragon, try using just a little less, taste, and add more if you like it; you may very well be surprised. I do think I might, though, change this soup up and make this with some of the Cajun or Creole seasoning one reviewer recommended, perhaps with a little ham!

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust - just out of the oven.
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust – just out of the oven.

This is a nicely thick soup, but I’m guessing there were three issues that altered this outcome for some, so here’s how to fix them. Some of this applies to ANY broccoli soup!:

  • Use fresh, not frozen broccoli, or alter the recipe to compensate. The chicken broth decreases in volume as the fresh broccoli simmers for 15 minutes, so you’ll need to use less broth to start or simmer it to concentrate the broth. You will not want to cook the frozen for 15 – 20 minutes, and a pound of frozen broccoli is 10 ounces of broccoli and six ounces of water. You’ll need to thaw and drain and increase the amount of broccoli to compensate.
  • Use the cup of cream in the soup for the right texture. The cream adds a nice thickness on its own, and the outcome without it, while still delicious, will not be as thick as expected. So don’t use milk or half and half and wonder why the soup turns out thin.
  • This recipe uses a Beurre Manie to thicken the soup; flour and butter kneaded together. Whisk into the finished soup, but only at a bare simmer, not at a boil, for a minute, maybe two, tops. To be safe, you can turn off the heat and cook in the residual heat. Any more cooking will thin the soup and leave the flour uncoated, which will bring out the starch and cause a distinct raw flour taste. Too much heat will also destroy the thickening power of the butter.

So there you have it, all the hints and helps you need to make this lovely soup. I know my family will want to thank Russell’s Restaurant, the young lady who requested the soup in 2001, Bon Appetit and Epicurious! Without them, we’d have never tasted this perfection, and it never would have become a family favorite. I hope you’ll like it as much as we do!

Crusty Bread
Crusty Bread

Serve this with a loaf of bread. Perhaps a good Crusty Bread? Plan ahead and make sure to mix up the Crusty Bread the night before if you use my recipe. As you may have guessed, a bowl of this soup is a meal in itself, and it’s hearty and filling. It’s so good, I’m glad I ran the Nutritional Values before I had a second helping…

This in not an especially “cheap” soup to make, running about $4.91, but only with great sales priced ingredients and working a deal with the cheese. Cheese is an item that is absolutely worth buying on sale with a coupon. Of course, if you go high-end with the cheese, then who knows! 🙂

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Crust
Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Raft

Russell's Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 35 min
  • Difficulty: med
  • Print

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh broccoli, stems peeled and florets separated, all chopped into bite-size pieces. Bite sized is important as this soup isn’t blended.
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 6 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces) *

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in heavy medium pot over medium-high heat. Add broccoli stems and onion and dried tarragon if using; sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and fresh tarragon if using; sauté 1 minute. Add stock; bring to boil.

Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cream and florets and simmer three to four minutes until florets are just tender.

In the meantime, mix a Buerre Manie with the remaining three tablespoons of butter and flour. This is easiest done in a small bowl, first mashing with a fork, then using fingertips to make a paste, but not to the point the butter is melted. Refrigerate if mixture becomes too warm.

Whisk paste into barely simmering soup and cook for one to two minutes, but no longer, until soup has a nice, cream like consistency. If in doubt of your ability to maintain a very slight simmer, the burner may be turned off – if the Buerre Manie is added immediately; it will cook in the residual heat.

Soup may be made a day or two ahead. Cool slightly, then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated. Bring just to a light simmer to warm the soup before continuing, but do not allow it to continue to simmer and cook. Turn off the heat.

Preheat broiler. Place 6 oven proof soup bowls on baking sheet. Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle 1/3 cup cheese over each. Broil until cheese melts and bubbles around edges, about 4 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving, or wait a moment or two before eating!

* Note: a nice, aged cheddar becomes a bit “crusty” but in the photo, I I used 6 ounces of cheddar and two ounces of mozzarella, which produced a meltier topping. Just as good! I think a cheddar Parmesan raft would be great here, too, and there are many possibilities!

from the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time/money and managing this recipe.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.

Nutrition:

Per Serving, calories 492; Total Fat 39g; saturated fat 25g; Monounsaturated Fat 11 g; Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 125 mg; Sodium 989 mg; Potassium 595 mg; Total Carbohydrate 20 g; Dietary Fiber 4 g; Sugars 5 g; Protein 19 g; Vitamin A 46 %; Vitamin C 228 %; Calcium 38 %; Iron9 %

36 thoughts on “Russell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar “Raft””

  1. I made this soup last night. I would make several changes to the recipe, despite otherwise following it exactly. First, I would not use 6.5c of broth. I used 3c of vegetable broth knowing 6.5 would be too much. Second, once I added the cream AND the buerre manie, there was nothing creamy about this soup. It was as liquidy as the broth, only now “white”. I decided in the end to put it all in a blender as I knew that’s how I would get the texture I wanted. When you label a soup “cream of ______”, I expect it will be that – creamy, thick, not watery. It didn’t look appetizing whatsoever until I pureed it. I also would not simmer any of the broccoli as long as is suggested, nearly 20 minutes. If you do, the broccoli will be mushy. I prefer broccoli tender yet still a bit crisp. In the end, it didn’t matter as previously stated, I pureed it all. The pictures of a crisp topping of melted cheddar cheese are also deceiving. Tried it. Didn’t happen.

    1. Hi Susan, thanks for commenting!

      First of all,you are probably in the majority, it seems in expecting a cream soup to be thick, which I do think is becoming the trend. I grew up on things like cream of tomato, cream of mushroom, etc. and DON’T expect cream soup to be thick, and I think perhaps most people of my generation don’t, either. Now that’s very general, and of course, I don’t know how old you are 🙂 but I at least, expect a cream soup to be just that – creamy. At the same time, I wouldn’t call this watery, just about the same texture as cream – or perhaps like a gravy. It takes some care with the flour mixture and too much heat will kill all the thickening power.

      But most of the people that reviewed this recipe on epicurious and bon appetit pureed it so it was thicker – those reviews and your comment (as well as some of the comments of my younger friends) and the “cream” soups I’ve seen at restaurants lately lead me to believe that cream soup, over the years, is morphing and trending into something thick.

      Really, I don’t think I ever saw a “thick” cream soup until the 80’s.

      The broccoli stems are very soft in this soup (I’ll check my time closer next time – I just simmer until tender) but the florets are just tender and the Cheddar on top isn’t crispy and I can see I was wrong to describe it as a crust – a raft would be better, I think. Under the broiler, there will be a few spots that are browned with just a bit of crisp texture as shown in the pics, but overall, it’s just a raft of lovely melted cheddar floating on top. I certainly wasn’t trying to be deceiving in the photos – that’s how it turns out for me every time! I am though, going to change the wording from Crust!

      I was disappointed it wasn’t to your liking and didn’t meet expectations! I know exactly how I feel when I make a recipe and it doesn’t turn out how I expected (pissed off, frankly!) and I appreciate the feedback!

      1. Thanks for your kind reply to my comment, and thanks for your understanding. Yes, I do expect a “cream of ____” soup to have a thicker consistency. I’ve never heard the description “raft”, and I didn’t mean to indicate that you were being deceiving, just that the picture, while so tempting and tasty looking, didn’t match my efforts. Perhaps it’s the fact that I live overseas and have a convection oven (despite using two different broiler-like settings).
        I wouldn’t say the soup wasn’t to my liking. In fact, I had some of the leftover for lunch today. I used fennel instead of tarragon (could’ve sworn I had that spice but didn’t – looked up substitutions), but it still seemed to be missing something flavor-wise. I’d make it again and experiment perhaps a bit more next time.
        Yes, it’s disappointing to spend all that time chopping and trying your best to “get it right” only to not have it turn out as expected. But it was fine. My husband was home two hours later than he’d said he’d be, so it gave this “world’s slowest cook” extra time to improvise. 😉 It was otherwise an easy recipe, and that’s the nice part about recipes and cooking….to each his own, and there’s always room for improvement and making it to your liking. All the best –

        1. Hi again, Susan – I have been at my folks and they have a combo convection/regular electric oven – I have yet to try the convection! I am a little afraid of it!

          And of course, now I am going to have to try this soup with fennel! I have a thing for fennel/coriander combination so maybe I’ll try that!

          Have a great day!

  2. That looks lovely. It brings me right back to a soup I used to make when I was a teenager. I forget the recipe but it involved a lot of sweetcorn and cheese grilled on top. I always served myself in a bowl like yours.

  3. I just love cream of broccoli soup and as you mentioned there are so many ways to make it. I am not a big tarragon fan but with certain dishes it really shines. I make a version of my tomato soup with tarragon. Perfect soup for a cold winter day or any day! Thanks for sharing with Fiesta Friday 🙂

        1. Only if I can bring it there, where it’s warm!! *G* Wouldn’t it be great if we could…11 below last night! -23.89 celsius. Gibson ran out to do his business this morning, stopped dead on the porch and rushed back to the house like he was on fire!! He was like, ah, I guess I can hold it…

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