Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (of French Onion Soup)

Brrrr! Winter finally reared it’s frigid head last week, making me immediately regret the summer donation of my ugly floor-length puffy coat that I purchased when I moved to upstate New York for college. Who knew that it would actually be Copley Square that would destroy under-dressed commuters far more severely than Schenectady ever could? But it’s not all bad: Rosy cheeks are a good look for me and I got a little extra workout by adding a sprint to the bus stop.

Like all good new year’s resolutioners, I spent the first few nights of the new year face down in salad (hanger steak salad with crumbled Roquefort, to be exact, but salad nonetheless) but after my wintery commute, I was so frozen that there was no way that my dinner was going to be served cold from the fridge. Dinner was going to come off the stove and preferably going to be giving off steam. Do you know what that means? It was time to make soup.

Looks warm, doesn’t it?

While it was tempting to completely squash my 2012 healthy eating dreams with a buttery vat of heavy cream, I stayed in the veggie aisle and made one of my favorites: French Onion Soup, but with a twist this time. I skipped the beef broth and opted for a robust mushroom stock instead, which added a pleasant fungi flavor to a complex and caramelized onion base.

The only thing that gets me down when I make French Onion soup is that it seems to take the entire evening. Properly caramelizing onions takes at least 40 minutes… and then once that’s done there’s still 30 minutes of simmering to do once the broth is incorporated. It’s a long process, but it’s going to feel a whole lot longer if you stare down at the pot in silent boredom, so may I suggest that you put on some M83? They’re one of my favorite french bands at the moment and their groovy tunes will provide the perfect soundtrack to dance-up your appetite.

Here’s “Midnight City” off M83’s new album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Mastering the Art of French Cooking
2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef or other brown stock – I used mushroom
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cognac or brandy (optional, but if you have it, why not?)

To finish [Gratinée] (Optional)
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss cheese (I prefer Gruyere)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 baguette, cut into bite-sided croutons and toasted until hard

Melt the butter and oil together in the bottom of a 6-8 quart saucepan or Dutch oven over moderately low heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to very low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes. They don’t need your attention, go put on some tunes.

Onions before cooking (left) and after 15 minutes on low with the lid on (right). Notice how the onions have cooked down and are a little glassy?

After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes until they have turned an even, deep golden brown. Do not skimp on this step, the caramelization builds the complex and intense flavor base that carries the rest of the soup. After you’ve put in the time here, the rest is a breeze.

Onions at 30 minutes (left) and 40 minutes (right) into caramelizing.

After the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle them with flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the wine in full, then stock, a little at a time, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 more minutes, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings if needed but go easy on the salt as the cheese will add more salt and it’s easy to overdo it. Stir in the cognac.

Set aside until needed. This soup is great for a crowd and freezes well for future cravings.


I couldn’t help but finish this with a touch of gratinee, as I’m basically programmed to buy a baguette and block of gruyere with every 2 pound bag of onions that makes it into my cart.

Here’s how to do it:

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange six ovenproof soup bowls or crocks on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bring the soup back to a boil and divide among six bowls. To each bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon grated raw onion and a tablespoon of grated cheese. Stir to combine. Dab your croutons with a tiny bit of butter and float a few on top of your soup bowls, attempting to cover it. Mound grated cheese on top of it; how much you use will be up to you.

Bake soups on tray for 20 minutes, then preheat broiler. Finish for a minute or two under the broiler to brown the top lightly. Grab pot holders, and serve immediately.

Note: If you’re making this for a group and serving off the stove, I find it’s easier to toast up the cheese covered croutons on a piece of foil in a toaster oven and let guests add their own gratinée when serving themselves.


Hungry for More?

Last Week: Poached Eggs

Two Weeks Ago: Gingerbread Cookies


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