Good bread and good soup are two of life's great pleasures, so it's only natural they're often combined. A soft roll or a slice of fresh bread is always welcome alongside the bowl, but for a heartier option consider making your bread itself the bowl. Start with a small, round loaf -- called a "boule," in baking circles -- for each diner. The half-pound loaves made by most bakeries have just the right dimensions to hold a meal-sized portion of soup.
Place the first loaf on your cutting board. Tip it up on its side, with its domed top pointing toward your knife hand. Cut away the dome, leaving enough of the loaf behind to form a full-sized bowl.
Mark a half-inch circle around the inside of the loaf, with the top of your serrated knife. Keep the cut no more than a half-inch deep, to minimize the risk of puncturing the bread's crust.
Scoop out the soft interior of the loaf with your fingers, or with the serrated edges of a grapefruit spoon if you own any. Take care to leave a generous 1/2 of bread at the edges and bottom of the bowl.
Brush the inside of the bowl generously with oil or melted butter, and toast it in your oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This step is optional, but strengthens the bowl and gives its surface a modest barrier against moisture.
Fill the bread bowl with your favorite dip, chowder or soup. Place it on a plate or shallow bowl, to catch any drips should the bread bowl itself leak. Serve the trimmed-off dome of the loaf on the side, with soup, or dice the lid and hollowed-out portions of the loaf for dipping.
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