French Onion Soup Triumph

Some may remember my $18 Onion soup disaster from a few months ago; summarized as “burnt onions and soggy bread”.  Today, I am pleased to report a happy ending to my 9-month quest to rival the onion soup that you can get at just every any Parisian Bistro. In the end, it took only two tiny changes to transform tragedy into triumph. Lesson #1. Reduce the oven temperature to 375-degrees (without convection). Lesson #2. Before placing toasted baguette slice on top of soup, sprinkle and melt a little cheese to insulate the bread and control its sogginess.

Best onion soup I've had outside of Paris

While Chris Kimball has four recipes, I made his Best French Onion Soup; which has high complements from other bloggers (here and here).  The key is not over bake the onions in the oven, which will ensure that you can triple deglaze them on the stove-top. Because of the long cooking time, don’t use any sweeter types of onion; just plain yellow onions.  Chris Kimball also has a quicker version of this recipe that will be ready two hours earlier; replacing the 2-1/2 hours in the oven with 25 minutes in the microwave. This could be an excellent alternative in case I need my oven for the main course.

Issues/Comments:

  1. Four hours at 400-degrees is too much cooking time; especially if using a convection oven. Reduce the temperature to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off). The convection fan makes the oven seem about 25-degrees hotter. The temperature difference may seem small, but will allow you to triple caramelize/deglaze on the stove-top. This is main difference between 2-1/2 and 5-stars.
  2. Chris Kimball instructs us to stir the onions in step 7 and 8, but I found that if I didn’t stir them in they formed a much better fond. Just make sure the temperature isn’t too high.
  3. To prevent the bread from becoming too soggy, I sprinkled a little grated cheese on the soup before topping the soup with toasted bread slice. I then sprinkled more cheese on the bread and toasted. This trick reduced the speed and amount  of soup absorbed by the bread; especially beneficial because the bread didn’t really start to absorb the soup until the guests begin to eat.
  4. I was unhappy with the final texture of the soup when I sliced the onions 1/4″-thick, per Chris Kimball’s recipe. So this time I sliced them closer to 1/8″-thick, which kept all the onion flavor but allowed some of the slices to disintegrate. It had a side benefit of thickening the soup.
  5. Last November I cut the baguette into 1/2″ slices, which were hard to break apart (even though it was soggy). This time I cut into 3/8″ thick slices and had no problems whatsoever. Another trick I discovered was that you can match the diameter of the bread slice to the bowl by changing the angle at which you are cutting the bread. For example, a straight 90-degree cut will give you the smallest slice. Try cutting at 45-degree (or 30-degree) and see how they fit in your soup bowls.
  6. 10 minutes in the oven wasn’t enough to fully dry out the baguette slices. I kept them in the oven until they were deeply browned; about 15 minutes.
  7. My local supermarket sells Gruyere for $24/lb, so I usually drive 10 miles to get superior French Gruyere Comte. Officially the proper cheese is Swiss Gruyere, but I really like the French Comte. Today I mixed 70% Jarlsberg with 30% fresh Parmesan; a substitution recommended by Julia Child and cutting $10 from the total price tag.
  8. I’ll repeat this hint from another blogger, who suggested that those without broiler-safe crocs simply broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip onto the soup just before serving.
  9. Julia Child also recommends adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of Cognac.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $10 for eight bowls.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-lbs yellow onions
1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups water (plus up t0 1 cup more for deglazing)
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1/2 small baguette , cut into 3/8″ slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/8″-thick slices.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off).
  3. Spray the inside of a large Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 3 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place the lid on to fully cover your dutch oven for the first hour of cooking. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven, but with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and lightly golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stove-top over medium to medium-high burner. It is easy to forget that the handles are 400-degrees; be very careful to use oven mitts.
  6. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly.
  7. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. You may need to adjusting the burner to avoid burning the fond.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 1/2-cup dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 2-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1/2-teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, slice baguette on the diagonal into 3/8″-thick slices. and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake slices for between 12 to 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden brown.
  12. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  13. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  14. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

6 Responses to French Onion Soup Triumph

  1. Diane says:

    Bravo – and congratulations on a beautiful French onion soup. Thanks for all the tips. I’m going to use each one.

  2. Yet another Anna says:

    This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to experiment with cheese biscotti, chopped up, to use as croutons, but keep forgetting.

    I’m all about finding recipe adaptations that help me serve leftovers that don’t feel like an afterthought.

  3. Debby says:

    I am not a fan of French Onion Soup….however, it’s because it’s hard to find GOOD onion soup. I’m listening… I’ll queue this up to see if this recipe can change my mind.

  4. Jean says:

    I serve FOS to a crowd by doing the last hint, I toast then broil the cheesed bread and serve that on the side and the soup in a crock pot. People just serve themselves. I need to try this recipe, normally I just wing it!

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