About a month ago, my grandpa (one of the smartest cooks I know), gifted me his copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, and wow I have never been more excited or honored. I’ve been steadily building an arsenal of cookbooks, because there’s something really special about flipping through them (as opposed to constantly scrolling through my phone), turning to the same splattered pages to find an especially loved recipe covered in notes and annotations. As I was reading through this particular cookbook, it became more and more clear to me that these recipes were HARD. Like several hours and countless steps and French everywhere hard. BUT, then I came across the recipe for Soup À L’Oignon, and I knew it was the perfect first try. If you’re nervous about taking on a large cooking venture, soup is always the way to start- its recipes often allow for more wiggle room, which means that you’re free to experiment and less likely to make a meal-ruining mistake, plus the options are literally ENDLESS.
Traditionally, French Onion Soup is served “gratinee” with a lid of melted cheese on top and a circle of bread soaking up the liquid inside, but my lack of oven-safe soup crocks made this impossible. Instead, I give you these mini crostinis, brushed with olive oil and toasted, rubbed with a clove of garlic, and piled high with gruyere melted to perfection.
The beauty of this soup is how the flavors develop in the slow 2 hour cooking process, and there just is no way to rush that kind of goodness. The key is the caramelizing of the onions, because obviously that’s the star of this dish and every other ingredient is there to enhance it’s rich, warm flavor. It’s also important to note that aside from the slicing of said onions, watch your eyes btw because I was CRYING, the hardest part about making this soup is opening the bottle of wine (and helping yourself to an obligatory while-I’m-cooking glass).
This is the perfect warming winter soup, and I’m pretty sure it’s magical because almost as soon as we had finished our bowls, we looked outside to see the most beautiful dusting of powdery snow illuminated by the street lamps.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that no matter how many people are actually home, I always cook for at least 10 people, so I was skeptical when the recipe claimed to serve 6-8 but only called for 2 quarts of stock, so I started messing around with the proportions of liquid. In the end, I’d say that Julia Child’s original recipe would probably serve 6-8 in small appetizer portions, but if you are looking to eat this for dinner as I was, this recipe will serve about the same number in larger portions. Let’s go!
Makes: 6-8 dinner portions
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: ~2.5 hours
Total Time: 3 hours
6 cups yellow onions, sliced (it seems like a lot, but they shrink a ton)
4 tbs salted butter
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp sugar (to help with caramelization)
¼ tsp ground thyme
4 tbs flour
8 cups beef stock + 2 cups water
¾ dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
3 tbs Cognac (a little goes a long way)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Grated gruyere or swiss cheese (to top)
1. In a heavy-bottom soup pot, heat the butter and oil, and add in the sliced onions. Cook slowly with the pot covered for 15 minutes.
2. Uncover and raise the heat to medium. Add in the salt, sugar, and thyme, then stir. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even caramelization. While the onions are cooking, heat the stock and water in a separate pot to steaming, not quite boiling. Once the onions have turned a deep golden brown (to resemble the color of brown sugar), move to step 3.
3. At this point, add in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste, stirring constantly.
4. Remove the soup pot from the heat and add in the heated stock, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon to incorporate all the delicious bits stuck to the bottom. Taste test here and adjust your salt and pepper as you see fit. (Tip: though I’ve never tried it personally, APPARENTLY if you find your soup over-salted, toss in a few halved potatoes, and they will naturally soak up some of the salt. The more you know!!)
5. Add the wine, and then simmer the soup partially uncovered for another 30 to 40 minutes. Just before you serve, stir in the cognac. When serving, I like to put some shredded cheese in the bowl before pouring in the soup so that it gets melty, and then top with several of the gruyere toasts (recipe below). Once the toast soaks up some of the broth it gets soft enough for you to break with your spoon and get some excellent cheese pulls. If you want a pop of green as well, you can always sprinkle some chopped parsley on top.
Gruyere Toast Ingredients:
1 loaf french bread
2 cups shredded gruyere (or swiss if you’d prefer)
Olive Oil (for brushing)
Clove of garlic, peeled but whole
1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Slice the loaf into thin rounds and brush with olive oil. Spread evenly on a baking sheet, and toast until they begin to get golden on the tops, about 10 minutes.
2. Remove from the oven and rub the top of each piece of bread with the garlic clove (very carefully, the bread is SO hot). Top each toast with a generous amount of shredded cheese, and return to the oven. Broil on high for a few minutes, watching very carefully because the cheese can go from melty to burnt in a second.
3. Top your soup with as many of these as you like, and marvel at how such simple ingredients can taste so magical.
This post is dedicated to Jake, I can only hope to be half the cook you are, thank you for your wisdom and cookbooks!!