Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

Last week a friend asked me what he could do with yellow onions.  “Make onion soup!” I answered.

He asked me if I had a good recipe I could share with him and his daughter who had gotten a 50 pound bag of yellow onions.  I said that I would be happy to share the best onion soup recipe in the world with them.  In the exchange for the recipe, I was the clear winner:  He left me three pounds of onions.

The recipe is from Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking.  Like every recipe I have tried from that wonderful cookbook, Julia’s instructions are easy to follow and produce wonderful dishes.  Some tips and suggestions are covered in the notes.

Here is Julia’s complete recipe.  She begins with a short prefatory note:

The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew.  You should therefore count on 2 1/2 hours at least from start to finish.  Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 T butter
1 T vegetable oil
A heavy-bottomed, 4 quart covered saucepan
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
3 T flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon.
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (see recipe following)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

CROUTES — HARD-TOASTED FRENCH BREAD:
12 to 16 slices of French bread, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick
Olive oil or beef drippings
A cut clove of garlic

PROCEDURE FOR THE SOUP:

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes.

Uncover, raise heat to moderate and stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid.  Add the wine and season to taste.  Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally.  Correct seasoning.

Set aside uncovered until ready to serve.  Then reheat to the simmer.

Just before serving, stir in the cognac.  Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of bread and pass the cheese separately.

PROCEDURE TO MAKE THE CROUTES:

Place the bread in one layer in a roasting pan and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for about half an hour, until it is thoroughly dried out and lightly browned.

Halfway through the baking, each side may be basted with a teaspoon of olive oil or beef drippings; and after baking, each piece may be rubbed with cut garlic.

NOTES:  After making this soup for over 30 years, we have learned a few things that affect this soup.  First, do not use “sweet” onions.  Second, be patient in making this soup.  Do not hurry the onions as they are browning.  You may end up with black onions, which means starting over,  perhaps a trip to buy more onions or–worse–canned soup if the stores are closed on a holiday.

Third, though I hesitate to admit it, I have never made beef stock.  I use canned broth, and the soup is still darned good.   Heat the broth just until it steams while the onions are browning.

Fourth, cognac is expensive; a good domestic brandy works just fine.   Today, I use dry or semi-dry Madeira wine instead of cognac or brandy because we prefer the flavor it adds to the soup.  This is the one major change I have made in Julia’s recipe.  You might want to try the recipe both ways to see which flavor you prefer.

And fifth, for the dry white wine, sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay are both good choices.  If you plan on serving wine with the soup, choose one that you enjoy drinking to use in the soup.

When making the croutes I arrange the bread on cookie sheets.  If you discover that you are out of garlic cloves, you can mix a dash or two of garlic powder into a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to baste the toasted bread rounds.  Don’t overdo the garlic; you want just a hint of garlic on the bread.

Instead of pouring soup over the toasted rounds of bread I usually float a croute on the soup in each soup bowl, sprinkle a little Swiss cheese on top and offer extra cheese at the table for guests to add more if they like.  We prefer a good aged Swiss cheese to Parmesan on this soup, but try both to see which one you like better.

 

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About Chuck Rang

Born in Ashland, Wisconsin, grew up near Hayward, lives in New Richmond, messing around in kitchens more than 60 years.
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25 Responses to Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

  1. Erica says:

    Hi!!

    What is the recipe for the picture on your website – it looks amazing!!! Thank you!

    Erica

  2. catherine says:

    I found Julia’s recipe in college one summer (sigh many years ago, nearly 40!) and have used it ever since. the most important part I think is the simmering at every step. Thanks Julia!

  3. Tracie says:

    Thanks for posting this recipe! When I don’t have cognac in the house (ha ha) I like to substitute calvados – it’s an apple brandy from Normandy and it works beautifully in the soup. It’s much less expensive than cognac, at about $10/bottle here.

  4. Spike says:

    Thank you for the recipe!
    In the video, Julia also says to grate a little fresh onion into the soup, before adding the bread and cheese. I wonder how it will taste!

  5. Spike says:

    Forgot – I also wonder what kind of seasoning you use in the soup – just salt and pepper? Any interesting ideas? Thanks!

  6. Spike says:

    Woooooooooow! I just made this soup and it’s delicious! Haven’t added the brandy yet and not sure if I will, but I just had to write to say how good this really is! Used home made stock too, and I think it also makes a difference. Thanks for posting the recipe! :)

  7. Lourdes says:

    Julia Child would NEVER have used beef bouillon~homemade beef stock is superior.

  8. Wayne Thrasher says:

    She puts a poach egg on the floating bread and tops with the cheese

  9. Peggy Poindexter says:

    I have made this soup with sweet onions many times and absolutely love how it tastes. How does the use of yellow vs sweet onions alter the taste of the finished product? I was thinking about making this tonight and wonder if I need o run to the store to buy yellow onions!

    • Avatar of Chuck Rang Chuck Rang says:

      When I tried sweet onions, the soup was sweeter and to my taste did not have as much onion flavor, but lots of people may prefer it that way. It was still much better than the commercial versions.

  10. lynne says:

    Was telling my newlywed daughter about this soup, so went looking on the web. And there it was with all of just the right comments! This is absolutely the best soup I ever made or ate, so am thrilled to be able to pass it on to her. Thanks, everyone!

  11. Great web site. Plenty of helpful details listed here. I’m submitting this for some buddies ans as well sharing within tasty. As well as, because of your effort!

  12. Joseph Rohling says:

    I have a printed recipe of Julia’s for Onion soup. It calls for red or white wine(1/2C), 1 bay leaf, and 1/2 t sage. Please try adding this if you like onion soup. It does make a big difference. Thanks. Joe.

  13. Amy Lauritsen says:

    Loved this. Forgot to add the cognac and it was still perfect. I broiled the cheese on the bread at the end because I had to….Also added a bit of thyme to it.

  14. susan says:

    I found that if you add 1/4 cup of worshchester sauce, it brings out a fabulous taste to the soup. I also use 1/4 cup of red wine and 1/4 cup white wine to enhance the flavor even more.

  15. Avatar of Chuck Rang Chuck Rang says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I may try these additions (scaled down) on a bowl of soup next time I make it. Courage, that’s what it takes!

  16. irwan says:

    Okay,,, I will try at home..

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