Oven Baked French Onion Soup

July 11th, 2009  |  Published in All, Around the World, Honorable Herbs, Most Popular, Onion, Thyme, Veritable Vegetables, Weekend Projects  |  11 Comments

Photo from Simply in Season produce guide


Oven Baked French Onion Soup
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated January/February 2008

3 T. unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 lbs), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 c. madeira
6 cups mixed beef and chicken stock (I used 4 c. beef stock plus 2 c. chicken, though the original recipe calls for 4 c. chicken stock plus 2 c. beef stock)
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons
1 small baguette, cut on bias into 1/2 inch slices
8 oz Comte or Gruyere, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)

1.  For the Soup:  Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.  Generously oil the inside of a large dutch oven (5 qts or larger).  Place butter in pot and add onion and 1 teaspoon salt.  Cook, covered, 1 hour.  Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot.  Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring after 1 hour.

2.  Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle pot,  cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15-20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6-8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary.  Watch the pan closely, as a golden crust can turn into a blackened charred mess easier than one might think!  Stir in 1/4 c. water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6-8 minutes.  Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times until onions are very dark brown.  Stir in madeira and cook, stirring frequently, until madeira evaporates, about 5 minutes.

3.  Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 t. salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.  increase heat to high and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 30 more minutes, and up to an hour.  Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

4.  For the Croutons:  While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet, and bake in a 400 degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.

5. To Serve:  Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler.  Set individual crocks or ramekins on a baking sheet and fill with hot soup.  Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with cheese.  Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, about 3-4 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few weeks ago on the same France trip that introduced me to Feves au Lard Fume, Steven and I met up with his Aunt and Uncle in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees.  After not having seen each other for almost a year, we first covered the basic “what have you been up to?” questions on both sides.  The conversation soon turned to food, as it often does when food lovers are involved, and Jane started telling me about the most delicious french onion soup she had ever tasted.  ‘It’s baked in the oven’, she said, ‘it takes four or five hours’, she said, ‘it’s the best french onion soup you’ll ever taste’, she said…  I was absolutely intrigued.

Soon after returning home, Jane sent me the recipe she had been talking about.  I made it the following weekend (how could I not, with all of the build-up?)…

The onions cook ever so slowly in the oven until tender and sweet, then are subjected to not one, not two, but three deglazes!  A little madeira and the stock is added, then the whole thing is simmered slowly for another hour or so to blend the flavors further.  The rich flavorful soup, topped with homemade croutons and gooey melted cheese, is gastronomically stunning.

Granted, like nearly all soups, this one improves in flavor if aged for a day or so.  But, unlike many soups, this one is fantastic straight out of the pot as soon as it’s made.  The long, slow cooking creates something delicate, complex, round, and toothsome.  I officially agree with Jane — it’s the best onion soup I’ve ever tasted.

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  1. Erin says:

    July 11th, 2009at 10:00 am(#)

    I love roasting soups and sauces, the radiant warmth just fills you up in such a different way. You are making me long for winter. I usually use brandy in my onion soup, but I think i’ll give the madeira a try next time.

  2. Mama JJ says:

    July 11th, 2009at 10:43 am(#)

    Wow. I want to make this, but it sounds more like a winter stew than a summer one. However, it has been cooler than normal, so it might get made a little sooner than seasonally expected…

  3. Jen says:

    July 12th, 2009at 12:59 am(#)

    Erin — what other roasted soups/sauces do you make? I am intrigued…

    Mama JJ — unfortunately for me, we’ve had grey skies, thunderstorms, and lots of rain here in Hannover for the past couple of weeks… not so inspiring for summer dishes! :( I remember last year at this time in CA I was making lovely corn/tomato/eggplant/green bean concoctions…

  4. maybelles mom says:

    July 12th, 2009at 4:21 pm(#)

    HOw wonderful. My family adores onion soup so I am putting this on the list.

  5. Erin says:

    July 13th, 2009at 12:19 pm(#)

    My favorite is probably a roasted tomato sauce with rosemary, thin slices of onion, garlic and wine. It is a little fussy as I peel and seed the tomatoes but, worth it. The slow melding leaves you with a deeply flavored sauce so tempting that it barely makes it too the table.

    Oh, I’m making the fava bean dish tonight!

  6. Jen says:

    July 13th, 2009at 12:33 pm(#)

    Erin — I am definitely going to have to try your tomato sauce… have you ever tried adding meat? I wonder how the slow oven cooking would affect it (I am a sucker for bolognese sauce…)

    Also, I am now dying to throw a cocktail party because of your last post! I can barely wait until I am back in the bay area…

  7. denise says:

    July 13th, 2009at 5:17 pm(#)

    Although we are experiencing unusual warmth here in San Francisco today, I know the fog and chill will return soon enough, and when it does I will slow cook this wonderful onion soup recipe you’ve posted. I bet your house smelled so good as those onions mingled with the butter and salt for such an extended period of time! Sometimes I enjoy the wonderful smells of cooking as much as the finished dish.

  8. Sustainable Eats says:

    July 14th, 2009at 8:44 pm(#)

    I’ve had this same recipe printed out and on my counter for weeks now, just waiting for the first of the walla wallas to harvest. Thanks for verifying it’s worth the wait!

  9. Jen says:

    July 15th, 2009at 8:49 am(#)

    denise — indeed the fog will return as it always does… ah, SF. And yes, it did smell great during the cooking, but the hour simmer was even better.

    Sustainable Eats — Thanks for commenting! the soup really is delicious, and I bet would be delicious with some good walla wallas. Here in Germany I have a hard time finding sweet onions, and unfortunately some of my favorite recipes call for them. One of my favorites is sweet onions baked with a little butter, red wine vinegar, honey and dijon… mmmm….

  10. Erin says:

    July 20th, 2009at 6:27 am(#)

    I think it just deepens the flavors all around. The sauce tends to caramelize at the edges and the whole thing is just more rich, dark, thick and irresistible.

    I hope you do!

  11. Absolute Simplicity: Cucumber and Cantaloupe | Modern Beet says:

    August 26th, 2009at 12:50 pm(#)

    [...] Oven Baked French Onion Soup [...]

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