Copycat vs. Real Deal: La Madeleine Tomato Basil Soup

Categories: How To, Recipes
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photo via spoonforkbacon.com
I remember the first time I had La Madeleine's tomato basil soup. It was freakishly cold in February of 2004 in Austin. We got almost two inches of snow on Valentine's Day, the most snow Austin received at one time in the past decade.

We were starving, freezing and grocery-less, so a friend suggested we go to La Madeleine for lunch. La what? Yeah, sure, whatever. I ordered some sort of sandwich thing that was forgettable and a big bowl of tomato basil soup(e). WHY had I never had this before? Where had this soup been all my life? Holycrapitwassogood.

Rich and creamy with a complex flavor, it just warmed me up on a frosty day. Now, whenever the temperatures drop, I instantly crave a ginormous bowl. At 23, I could eat a bathtub filled with this stuff and not gain an ounce, but these days, I'm a little more conscious of the portion size, since there are about 350 calories per cup. (Who the hell can eat just one cup?!)

Since I found the copycat recipe last year, I've made it a few times but have always wondered how mine would hold up next to the real deal in a side by side comparison. So yesterday I made my little grocery list, headed to Kroger on West Gray and then hopped across the street to La Madeleine to purchase a jar.

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Photo via dianaball.net
First, let's talk about the price. One 31-ounce jar, approximately four servings at the restaurant, came up to $9 total. My groceries? $6 for eight to 10 servings (not counting the cream and butter I already had at home). Gotta love home-cookin'. Once home, I put La Madeleine's in a pot to simmer and got to work on the copycat.

The La Madeleine Tomato Basil Soup copycat recipe is as follows: (Excerpted from an article by Beverly Bundy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 1994.)

You need:

  • 4 cups (8-10) tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped or 4 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed.
  • 4 cups tomato juice or mixture of tomato juice and vegetable or chicken stock
  • 12-14 fresh, washed basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/4 lb (1 stick) sweet, unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • Crusty bread

How to:
1. Combine tomatoes, juice (or juice-stock mixture) in a saucepan.

2. Simmer 30 minutes. Let cool slightly.

3. Puree, along with the basil leaves, in small batches, in blender, food processor (or better yet, one of those hand-held food blenders).

4. Return to saucepan and add cream and butter, while stirring, over low heat until cream and butter are incorporated. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with your favorite warm bread.

When both soups were ready to go, I put one serving of La Madeleine's and one serving of my copycat into three sets of bowls, labeled them A and B and wrangled three volunteers for the blind taste test.

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Volunteer 1:
  • Thought they tasted very similar, but liked B better than A.
  • B is not as thick as A, but B is still creamy, more buttery.
  • Thinks B is La Madeleine.

Volunteer 2:

  • Thought B tasted better than A.
  • B isn't as chunky as A and likes that about it. B has more basil than A.
  • Thinks A is La Madeleine.

Volunteer 3:

  • Thought B tasted better than A.
  • A has more tomatoes.
  • Thinks B is La Madeleine.

Results:
A is La Madeleine, the real deal. B is the copycat.

All three tasters thought the copycat tasted better than the real deal, and only one out of three correctly guessed which soup was the real one.

I liked the copycat too, but there are a few things I'll do differently next time:

  • Go easy on the chicken stock. I feel like this made the soup watery, a thinner texture than I typically like.
  • Go easy on the food-processing. Again, with the texture, I pretty much pulverized the soup. Mega food-processed doesn't always mean well-mixed.

Do you like La Madeleine's tomato basil soup? Have you had a better version elsewhere? Would you give this recipe a shot? Let us know in the comments section.



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6 comments
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kathystowe
kathystowe

I've had the Tomato Basil Soup that La Mad's sells in their glass jars.  I don't think that it compares to their fresh soup that they sell in the restaurant.  So it might have been a closer contest if you had compared your home version to their fresh version, not the bottled kind.  Just saying'…..

Christine Ha
Christine Ha

I've tried making this recipe at home before, too, and it was delicious.  But Costco is now selling the La Madeleine soup in jars at their stores so go get them while they're there.  Laziness trumps again.

Brewwench
Brewwench

Made it yesterday. Used one cup of fresh tomatoes, canned for the rest. Instead of tomato juice, used low-sodium V8. Spectacular!

'stina
'stina

I LOVE the La Madeline tomato basil soup, but lately, I've been ordering the lower fat one and I find it to be pretty good, too. (I don't know if it's at all locations, but they've been selling it for the past few months at the Shepherd/West Gray location.) 

I'd try to make it, but I just wanted to recommend this Ina Garten recipe for Tomato Basil Soup, too.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/rec...  I found it to be AMAZING, and it had a quarter of the butter in the above recipe and no cream (though some olive oil).  I used the immersion blender instead of the food mill.  The tomatoes I used were the camparis from Costco, and I had wood roasted them for another recipe.  These were the leftovers.  As a result, the soup was a little smokier than it probably normally is.  It was really good, though, and I didn't miss the cream at all.

ekh
ekh

In your version, did you use fresh or canned tomatoes?  Thanks for this - I've always loved that soup(e!) too!

Ginny Braud
Ginny Braud

I used canned. Kroger sells a big can thats the perfect size.

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