The origin of French Onion Soup is highly debated but one thing is for sure, the recipe has stood the test of time with little variations. This soup is quite inexpensive to make so you can splurge on some good quality cheese. It takes some time to prepare but you’ll be rewarded with amazing flavour.
Most versions of the history of French Onion Soup involve a near empty pantry and some stale bread. One claim is that French Onion Soup cures a hangover. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but it might make you cry. Literally. So if you’re having a tough day, slicing onions and slowly caramelizing them is very therapeutic, as is a good cry if you ask me.Jump to Recipe
How to make French Onion Soup
That slow process of cooking the onions until they get a rich golden colour are essential to the flavour of French Onion Soup. I used to try to keep my onion slices in rings but they end up fully broken down anyway. Now I slice the onion in half, then lay it cut side down and slice into thin half circles. It’s the safest way to cut an onion anyway. It looks like way more onion than you think you need but trust me.
Sauté the onions very very slowly in butter. I’ve tried to hurry the process but I’m always disappointed in the results. But, if you want a few tips to speed things up, check out Onion and Leek Soup with Parmesan. which is made by a similar process in less time.
Take your time and watch the onions carefully to make sure they don’t get too dark too fast. Adding sugar when they’re almost ready helps lock in that caramelization. You’ll be rewarded for your hard work with these amazing coloured onions. I’m talking a few hours or more of keeping a close eye and stirring often.
Before adding the broth to the onions, I like to add a splash of white wine. Most French Onion Soup recipes have dry sherry. But how many of you have some in your cupboard? So white wine is a great option. Not too much or it will overpower the broth. This helps deglaze the pan by dissolving all those brown bits into the liquid. Turn the heat up a bit for this step which also helps cook off the alcohol so you’re left with just the flavour of the wine. Then add chicken broth, a bay leaf and a bit of Worcestershire sauce. And a bit of fresh thyme is nice too. I’m usually making this during the cooler months when I don’t have fresh thyme in my garden ironically. If you can’t find any, you could use a little bit of dried but not too much.
Crusty cheesy bread topping for French Onion Soup
Stale baguette slices are perfect for topping French Onion Soup. Give them a good toasting in the oven, both sides, then rub them with a freshly peeled garlic clove. Kind of like colouring. The garlic will literally melt into the bread for a full flavour infusion. If you haven’t tried this, you’ll be surprised how well it works.
For most people including myself, the bread and cheese is the best part of this soup but don’t be tempted to use more than 2 slices of baguette because it will soak up too much of the broth. And it’s a bit much. Lay a few slices over top of the soup in oven safe bowls and gently press it into the broth so it’s well saturated. It’s ok if a bit pokes out.
Then lay some thin slices of good quality Swiss or Gruyere cheese on top. If you lay the cheese so it overlaps the top of the bowl you’ll be rewarded with crispy browned edges. Just like the bread, don’t be tempted to use too much.
Roast the individual soups in the oven for about 10-15 minutes on convection roast. This way the heat comes from the top and the cheese melts gently. You want the top to be bubbling and slightly browned. If you don’t have a convection roast setting you can bake them and quickly broil them at the end. Just watch them carefully so they don’t get too brown.
You’ll want to dig right in but you’ll burn your mouth on that hot melty cheese. It’s like molten lava. Be patient, in about 10 minutes your French Onion Soup will be ready to eat.
You can prepare the components of the soup in advance and put it together at the last minute. Super easy! And it’s easily adaptable to the number of servings so if you use the ratio of about 1 large onion and 1 1/2 cups of broth per person you’ll have the right balance.
Here’s the recipe:
French Onion Soup
- 4 yellow onions
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp sugar
- ¼ cup white wine or dry sherry
- 7 cups chicken broth homemade if possible
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme or a pinch of dried
- salt pepper to taste
- 8 slices baguette stale is fine
- 1 clove garlic
- 4-6 oz thinly sliced Swiss or Gruyere cheese
- Remove outer skin from onions, slice in half and slice very thinly into half circles.
- Melt butter in a large stock pot over low heat and add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft and starting to get dark, up to 60 minutes.
- Increase heat slightly and add sugar. Continue to cook, stirring frequently until onions turn dark golden brown and begin to caramelize, being careful not to let them burn,
- Add white wine and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add chicken broth, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on low.
- Meanwhile, arrange baguette slices on a baking sheet. Toast under broiler until lightly toasted, then turn and toast other side. Or grill. Remove from oven and rub garlic briskly over each piece while still warm.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees on convection roast setting so heat is coming from the top.
- Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs from soup and ladle into 4 oven safe bowls. Top with two toasted baguette slices, pressing gently into the broth. Top with sliced cheese, arranging so top is covered and some hangs over the bowl edge.
- Roast for about 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling on top. Use broiler at the end if necessary to slightly brown the cheese.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving.