6 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground thyme
Salt and pepper
2 small Gala or Golden Delicious apples, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic drizzle, optional
2 cups cloudy apple cider or 1 bottle of hard cider
1 quart beef stock
1/4 cup EVOO Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 baguette, cut into 12 slices about 1 1/2-inches thick
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 325F.
Heat a soup pot over medium to medium-high heat. Melt butter and add onions, bay, ground thyme, salt and pepper. Cook onions until very soft and light caramel in color, 20 minutes.
Add apples, stir to combine and cook 10 minutes more. Stir in balsamic drizzle, if using, add cider and stock. Bring to a boil and let reduce, about 10 minutes.
For the croutons, in a small saucepot, heat EVOO with hot sauce and crushed garlic clove. Let oil infuse a couple of minutes then brush the bread slices. Arrange slices on a cooling rack set over baking sheet and bake until crisp, 5-6 minutes. Top toast with mounds of cheese and a sprinkle of fresh thyme. Bake 2 minutes more to melt the cheese.
Serve soup in bowls topped with 3 croutons each.