According to Jean-Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin, in The Physiology of Taste, a Welsh Rabbit is "the epigrammatical English name for a piece of cheese toasted on a slice of bread." He continues, "the concoction is certainly not as substantial as a rabbit; but it brings on a thirst, makes wine taste good, and is a perfectly acceptable savory for a small party." I don't know from first-hand experience whether it improves the taste of wine, because Jane Grigson insists, "ale is the drink with Welsh rabbit." Ale was what we had.
This recipe is based on Jane Grigson's recipe from British Cookery, "Welsh Rabbit" from The Cooking of the British Isles, and "Jane Austen's Regency Toasted Cheese--Welsh or Scotch Rarebit," available here.
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese*, grated
1 tablespoon beer (an ale works well)
1 teaspoon cream
1 teaspoon butter for sauce plus 1 teaspoon per slice of bread
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
pinch mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
4 slices white bread*, 1/2" to 3/4" thick
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the cheese, beer, cream, teaspoon of butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper. Melt the cheese, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, put the bread on a baking sheet and toast it (unbuttered) under the broiler (just one side of the bread). When the bread is toasted, turn the bread over, butter the untoasted side, and pour the cheese over the toast (on the untoasted side). Put the cheese-covered toast back under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
*About the ingredients: I've had problems with the quality of imported English cheeses. It's not a problem with the cheese itself, but with shipping and storage. I've had great tasting Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Lincolnshire Poacher, etc., but I've also had English cheese that had absorbed the off flavors of the cheese shop or grocery store and I've also had some Double Gloucester that had really weird crunchy bits in it. I've found imported cheeses (at least in Norman and Wichita, even in specialty shops) to be hit and miss. For this recipe, I used an extra sharp Vermont cheddar and it turned out really well. On the subject of white bread, do not use grocery store sandwich bread. You'll need a bread with substance that will retain a soft interior after toasting and stand up to the cheese sauce. (My English White Bread works well, by the way.)
According to French Tart, in the introduction to her recipe, Welsh Rabbits were commonly served after dinner and before dessert at Regency dinner parties. She also quotes one of Jane Austen's letters: