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Some cookbooks give advice, but it is conflicting. Some say "it should coat the back of a spoon", which I find terribly confusing - my best try to imagine the result will work with a wide range of consistencies. Others don't give instructions at all. I've had recipes say "then add milk to reach cream soup consistency", and I have no idea how much milk to add.

Eating out doesn't make it easier. Our cafeteria offers stuff I would classify as vegetable puree at the soup bar. I'm sure I've had "cream of mushroom soup" somewhere which had the consistency of half-fat dairy cream.

What is the correct, standard consistency some recipes refer to? Is it different for classes of soup (e.g. roux based soup vs. pureed vegetable based soup)? Or is it different for each type of soup, e.g. should a cream of mushroom soup be thinner than pumpkin soup? And how do I recognize that I have achieved the correct consistency?

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The "coat the back of a spoon" seems to be a pretty standard instruction in certain kinds of recipes, and it drives me crazy too. This post on Baking Bites generally agrees with what I always guessed. But if you're trying to get a custard cooked to exactly the right point, you want something more precise than that! –  Jefromi Nov 11 '11 at 16:48
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The best way to describe 'coat the back of a spoon' is where if you dipped the spoon into the soup, take it out and holder over the pot, you'll find thin film (<1mm thick). But honestly if you're making it, slowly add cream until its the consistency YOU prefer. I've always felt that recipes should just be used as a base and that you should tweak to your preferences. –  riotburn Nov 11 '11 at 18:44
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The 'correct' consistency is very opinionable. The 'coat the back of a spoon' instruction means that you dip a spoon in the cream, then run your finger over the back of the spoon, and if the soup stays apart, it's at least as thick as it should be... but maybe thicker (than you'd like).

The problem is the amount of time that the soup stays on the stove, as it keeps on thickening as moisture evaporates. That is why you'll get heavy soups. Add water, to make the soup as thin as your own preference.

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This just adds to the confusion - "like dairy cream" is the thinnest cream soup I've ever had, not the thickest. –  rumtscho Nov 12 '11 at 17:18
    
@rumtscho, edited out. –  BaffledCook Nov 12 '11 at 23:49
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