It’s cold here in Normandy. While over the last few weeks we’ve dealt with bouts of cold it seems as though this time the chill is here to stay. I was in the middle of warming up with a fabulous herbal infusion that I bought in Germany last year (lemongrass, pink peppercorns, ginger and some sort of pretty blue flower) when Jé came home from the grocery store with, among other things, a 1/2 pound bag of yellow onions. I saw Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” out of the corner of my eye and instantly knew I would be making French onion soup that afternoon.
Given my love of caramelized onions and of soup, I’m actually quite surprised I hadn’t tried this recipe sooner. It’s very cheap, requires few ingredients, and it’s super delicious. It does take a bit of time to make, but it’s nice time spent in the kitchen, without needing to pay too much attention to what’s happening in the pan. I put some music on, prepared the tissues (for cutting 1/2 pound of onions!) and set to work.
French onion soup can be enjoyed two ways: nature*, or with built-in croutons covered in gooey, crusty, melted cheese. While I highly recommend the latter, I decided to make the soup both ways so as to be impartial. I made some quick garlic croutons to go with the plain soup (on the first day, and garlic bread on the second), and while I missed the comté, the garlic was definitely a welcome addition to the mix.
French onion soup from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1/2 lb thinly sliced yellow onions
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
1/4 t sugar
3 T flour
2 quarts beef stock
1/2 C dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Lots of grated cheese (I used comté and gruyère)
3 T cognac
A few pieces of dry, crusty bread
1-2 T butter
Extra cheese for the bread-top
1 clove of garlic
Sea salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large pan with the olive oil, and add the onions. Stir to coat, then turn down the heat to low and cover, letting the onions steep for 15 minutes. You don’t need to do anything at all during this time, not even stir.
Raise the heat to moderate, and add the salt and sugar. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the onions have turned a deep, golden brown. Don’t forget to stir, often. Once the onions are caramelized, stir in the flour and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Now you can add in your stock and white wine. Simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes longer. Skim the soup film if necessary.
Now you can choose: if you’re going plain, simply stir in the cognac and a bit of grated cheese and serve. If you are making bread tops, now is the time. Cut your bread to fit your baking dish. Fill the dish 3/4 of the way full, then set the bread top on top of the soup, adding a dash of butter and lots and lots of cheese to the bread, sealing off the baking dish. Put under the broiler for about 6-8 minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Eat with caution, it will be extremely hot! Finally, if you’re making croutons or garlic bread, turn the heat on the soup way down while you’re doing so.
For the croutons, dice your bread and add to a small saucepan containing some melted butter, your garlic (pressed and cooked in the butter for about 2 minutes). Toss with the butter, adding sea salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and cook for 10-12 minutes, until crispy. For garlic bread, cut open your baguette, leaving one side in tact. Spread a generous amount of butter inside, along with your garlic, sea salt and pepper. Close the bread, and bake for about 10 minutes. Voilà!