Cream soups add an elegant touch to formal cool-weather occasions. These soups involve many of the same procedures and ingredients as other soups: aromatics, broth, vegetables or seafood, and of course whole milk or cream. A bisque (“twice cooked”) usually refers to a cream soup containing seafood such as shrimp, crawfish, or lobster, though some tomato cream soups are also called bisques. Some people use béchamel as a base for cream soups, but a proper cream soup base is velouté, a white sauce made from a light stock. Velouté also makes the best base for a cheese soup, which, if you think about it, can well be considered the ultimate incarnation of a cream soup.
If you have good stock on hand, then by all means use it. If not, you can use store-bought stock, but before you do, it must be enriched with a mirepoix and a bouquet garni. Add onion, celery, and carrots to the stock, along with thyme, bay, and parsley, and let it sweat on a low heat for about an hour or so. Strain the stock. A light roux with ½ cup butter and ½ cup plain flour will thicken about a quart of stock. This is your soup base, to which add a cup of whole milk or for an exceptionally rich dish, whole cream, and about two cups of your choice of meat or vegetables diced, cooked in butter, and puréed. Let the soup rest on low heat before serving with a swirl of whole cream. This recipe makes about six 12-oz. servings.