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Heat the butter in medium pan until just starting to sizzle. Cook the onion over a very low heat with the thyme and bay for 15-20 mins until soft and just lightly golden. Pour the milk into the pan, add the star anise and ground cloves, season and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for at least 10 mins. Can be done the night before.
Remove the star anise and bay, and add the bread chunks to the pan. Bring back to the boil, then remove from the heat and blitz using a hand blender. Return to the heat, stir in the crème fraîche and simmer gently for 2 mins until thickened. Can be made ahead and reheated with a splash more milk. Tip into a bowl, sprinkle with cracked pepper, and add the bay leaf, if you like.
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