Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

In the aftermath of a long day on Sunday Lane and I found ourselves trying to diplomatically explain some things to M and O and it was hard, because sometimes we can’t explain why people do the hurtful things they do.  When Monday’s events at the Boston Marathon happened, I had already been crying on and off for the better part of the day.  When the breaking news reports started, I couldn’t even fathom how Lane and I were going to sit and explain another tragedy or upset to these children.  I’m just all out of explanations right now.  It’s naive to think there will be a time when we won’t have to, but I can hold onto that hope.  We do our best to explain things like this in an age appropriate manner and to reassure them that the world around them is safe.  I wish I could say we don’t have to do that very often, but the last few months have proven otherwise.

Instead of focusing on the hurt, we’ve chosen to focus on the good.  We applaud the heroes that emerge in the wake of events like this, and we applaud those in the area that have opened their homes and hearts to displaced runners and spectators.  We cheer loudly for emergency responders who have chosen a life of having to rush to the scene most people instinctually flee.  We watched the Yankees game last night and smiled brightly at their show of support when they played Sweet Caroline (a staple at Red Sox games) after the third inning because even though it’s a small show of support in the wake of this tragedy, it is a show of support and it helps us focus on the good in the world.

There are a number of ways to help the victims of the Boston Marathon (and I encourage everyone to do what they can), but I needed to do something to help myself.  There’s something about taking a long time to prepare a meal and then savoring that meal that reminds me of the good things in life, and that takes my mind away from the news and away from the violence and sadness.  Having a junk food binge doesn’t help anything for me, it’s too quick of a fix for it to last long.  For me, comfort food is about going through the motions of slicing and sautéing and knowing that I’m doing something to nurture, something productive.  French onion soup is great for that.  It’s comforting to make as you’re thinly slicing onions and stirring them until they caramelize and turn from raw onions (which many people don’t care for) to golden, sweet caramelized perfection.  There’s something comforting about plunking toasted bread into your soup and topping it with salty cheese, and then dipping a spoon into the bubbly cheese layer and pulling out delicious, warm, comforting soup.  When you’re slicing onions, no one ever asks why you’re crying.  When you’re busy caramelizing onions (which is the most involved and longest step in making this but please don’t rush it because this is heart of the soup and gives it so much of its flavor), you don’t have time to think about what’s wrong with the world.

french onion soup

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup


for the soup:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. thinly sliced yellow onions (about 5 C. sliced)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 Tbsp.  all-purpose flour
  • 2 quarts (8 C.) beef stock (or mushroom stock for a vegetarian version)
  • 1/2 C. dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. cognac or brandy (optional but highly recommended)

to finish the soup:

  • 1-2 C. (depending on how much cheese you want per portion) grated Swiss, Gruyère, Fontina, or Provolone cheese (or a mixture)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard


In the bottom of a 4-5 quart Dutch oven (or other sturdy-bottomed pot) melt the butter and oil together over medium-low heat.

Add the onions and toss them to coat in the butter mixture.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let the onions cook for 15 minutes.  They don’t need any attention during this 15 minutes.

Uncover the pot, turn up the heat (almost to medium but not quite) and cook the onions, stirring frequently, for 30-40 minutes until they are an even deep golden brown.

After the onions are completely caramelized, sprinkle them with the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Pour in the wine all at once.

Pour in the stock a small amount at a time and stir between each addition.

Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, but go easy on the salt because the cheese added at the end is going to add some saltiness to the soup as well.

Bring the mixture to a simmer, then simmer partially covered (I put a wooden spoon handle between the lid and the pot on one side) for 30-40 minutes, skimming fat from the top if needed.

Stir in the brandy or Cognac if you’re using it.

Set the soup aside until ready to serve.

To gratinee the soup (that’s fancy for “top it with melted, bubbly, delicious cheese), heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place 6 oven safe bowls or crocks on a large, foil-lined baking sheet.

Bring the soup back to a boil and divide it evenly among the 6 bowls.

Add a Tbsp. of grated cheese to each bowl and stir to combine.

Spread a little of the melted butter onto each toasted bread round and then add bread rounds to each bowl of soup so the top of each is almost covered in bread rounds.

Add grated cheese on top of each bowl, depending on how much cheese you want on each portion.  To get a nice bubbly cheese lid on the soup, I suggest at least a generous 1/4 C. of cheese per serving.

Bake the soup for 20 minutes, then heat the broiler.

Broil for 1-2 minutes to lightly brown the tops of the soups.

Remove from the oven using pot holders and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

french onion soup bowl


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