onion soup

[Psst! There’s a newer, less fussy and more focused version of this recipe over here.]

We could speak about the meaning of life vis-a-vis non-consequential/deontological theories, apodictic transformation schemata, the incoherence of exemplification, metaphysical realism, Cartesian interactive dualism, revised non-reactive dualism, postmodernist grammatology and dicey dichotomies. But we would still be left with Nietzsche’s preposterous mustache, which instills great anguish and skepticism in the brain, which leads (as it did in his case) to utter madness. I suggest we go to Paris instead. — The Principles of Uncertainty

It’s really not news to anyone, but I have an unhealthy obsession with Paris. I would move there in a second. I want to live in a place where flavor, history and culture of food is more important than the policing of it; where the old buildings aren’t torn down to make room for the new and the granite counter-topped and where I would never eat hundreds and hundreds of dollars in medical fees and be told I should be glad to have insurance at all. Making pastries, bread, cheese the very old way and other exhausting endeavors are considered honorable professions and I know, I know I only see Paris through rose-colored glasses but this is the unending gift of getting engaged there, two years ago today.

Also, ahem, this lovely husband.


I’m sure we’re all going through this right now, but I find myself worn out these weeks with an endless to-do list but different engagements every day making it nearly impossible to check things off. I love this time of year, but I could use a little more of that mysterious time stuff. Why is the sun setting at 3:45? What happened to that pedicure I was going to get four weeks ago? Why have I been trudging through the same book since this summer? Is this a cold coming on? Cook dinner? You must be kidding.

mixed greens, classic vinaigrette

Thus, I also propose we go to Paris instead. And, I can’t think of an easier way to get there than Julia Child’s Onion Soup. If you love onion soup and have never made it at home before, I beg, implore you to do it, just once. You will be sold. Just wait until you taste it; it will put your favorite French restaurant to shame. And while there is some tedium in the beginning with those 40 minute caramelized onions (swoon), that’s it. After that, it takes care of itself.

And you. And your holiday-frazzled head. And your sneezing, sniffling husband under that pile of tissues, who used his sick time home this weekend to clean the apartment while you attended party after party.

Did I marry well or what?

onion soup

Soupe a l’Oignon [Onion Soup]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Update! In 2011, I updated this recipe with steamlined and more user-friendly directions and ingredient weights over here.

1 1/2 pounds or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions (Deb note: I find even 6-7 cups is never too much)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
A heavy-bottomed 4-quart covered saucepan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons 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 tablespoons cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (see following recipe)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese (Deb note: I always use cave-aged gruyere)

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the 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 the flour and stir for three minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes of 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 round of bread and pass the cheese separately. [Or, use following instructions for a baked cheese top.]

Soupe a’ L’Oignon Gratinee [Onion Soup Gratineed with Cheese]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

The preceeding onion soup
A fireproof tureen or casserole or individual onion soup pots
2 ounces Swiss cheese cut into very thin slivers
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
12 to 16 rounds of hard toasted French bread
1/2 cups grated Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Bring the soup to the boil and pour into the tureen or soup pots. Stir in the slivered cheese and grated onion. Float the rounds of toast on top of the soup, and spread the grated cheese over it. Sprinkle with the oil or butter. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven, then set for a minute or two under a preheated broiler to brown the top lightly. Serve immediately.

Classic French Vinaigrette

1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 very small clove minced fresh garlic or 1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 egg yolk, at room temperature (Just omit it if it freaks you out)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil

Salad greens or mesclun mix for 2 to 4 people

Whisk everything together. The Dijon and egg yolk act as emulsifiers so you don’t need to do that slow drizzle thing to convince them to merge.

Note: If you’re worried about raw egg, just omit it.

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72 comments on onion soup

  1. Congratulations on the anniversary! My fiance and I are getting married in Rome and taking our honeymoon there too. We’ll end up with three weeks to spend in Europe, and I’ve never been before. We’ve thought about flying in and out of Paris just to make sure we spend some time there!! (Though with three weeks of Italian food also a possibility, this is going to be a hard choice between the two)

    Oh, onion soup, how amazing you are with that darn beef broth that I just can’t have… I wonder if this would be as good with a hearty vegetable stock…

  2. Happy engagement anniversary! You two are a darling couple.

    Wonderful post, you captured the season perfectly, and I understand your obsession with Paris completely. I have for years been full of fantasies of life in Paris. And French onion soup? Yes, wonderful.

  3. Liz

    I’ve always been intrigued by french onion soup, but can never get it because of the beef stock. How much do you need the beef? Would a veggie stock hold up to the onions and bread?

  4. Karen

    To the commenter who wondered about vegetarian stock with this soup–i have made it with mushroom stock, a brand called “Better than Bouillon” concentrated stock, which you dissolve in hot water. It was heavenly and tasted much better than vegetable stock.

  5. LOVELY! Deb, I think this is so sweet. Happy anniversary to you both — a couple that gives single romantics in the world hope that one day we’ll come home to a bowl of our own anniverary soup.

  6. Froggie

    Must admit it did strike me as a little strange that this complete stranger from Scotland found herself sat beneath the tower just two weeks ago, snuggled against her beloved as it sparkled…and thinking “this is where Deb and Alex got engaged!”. Heheh, aren’t the Internets grand :)

    Paris is enchanting and your story delightful. Wishing you much happiness.

  7. Hi! I just wanted to comment as I’ve been lurking for some time. I tried your cranberry sauce with port and figs… my brother-in-law said, “this is by far the best sauce I’ve ever had.” If you knew him, you’d understand that he’s not prone to hyperbole and thus this is HIGH praise indeed. So–thanks!

    Hope your sweetie feels better soon.

  8. Yvo

    OH MY GOD, that picture is toooooo adorable. You both look so happy and might I childishly suggest (I doubt I’m the first) that he resembles Ryan Phillipe a tad? (Whom I find adorable, so it is meant as a compliment; sorry though because he’s been negatively in the press lately) I love it!!!

    Also, coincidentally, I just read this article I found interesting: but you’ve been already, so it couldn’t happen to you… though it may happen to me, because I have this built up version of how Paris will be when I go :)

  9. Oh, Paris! What a wonderful idea! It’s rainy and dreary in California, but I think I’d be happier rainy and dreary in Paris, with my wine-expert of a boyfriend showing me around…

    Thanks for the nice day dream!

  10. Cris

    The picture of the two of you is adorable. My husband and I stayed at the Hilton (I think) just next to the Eiffel Tower for three days last fall. It was supposed to be 7 days – and for him it was (he had to be there for a conference). As for me, well, I’ll just say – make absolutely sure your passport is current before stepping up to the Air France ticket counter.

    But, my tragically foreshortened three days were wonderful. Our best day was spent just wandering around the Ile St. Louis. I’ve been dying to ask you, Deb, if you ate at the Mon Martin boulangerie on the main street there – moving away from Notre Dame it is about the third one. They had the best Napoleons / Mille Fuielle (Aggghh – this is spelled wrong) I’ve ever had. Something about the almost, but not quite, burnt pastry combined wonderfully with the cream filling; much better than anemic underbaked pastry that you usually encounter with them.

    Can we look forward to a Napoleon recipe? I’ve been waiting for a really good one in order to attempt them.

  11. Joy

    My husband & I love French onion soup, so I’ve been making a simplified version at home frequently. I think yours looks delicious and I would like to try that recipe the next time. And, your picture is lovely! Paris looks and sounds wonderful. The most traveling I get is to NYC to visit my sister, but at least I can get all sorts of wonderful food there I can’t get in our small town.

  12. Margot

    Hi Deb!

    Long time reader delurking!

    I like, maybe even love French Onion Soup, but I’ve never had it and not downed glass upon glass of water afterwards for the saltiness of it. It’s quite possible that the particular recipe (from a friend’s mom a long time back) I had been eating didn’t have that certain je ne sais quois. Is this normal for French Onion Soup, or for bad French Onion Soup? I’d love to try this recipe, and having never made the soup, I’m wondering if you had experienced the same problem about the salt.

    Perhaps I just have to try it and see how I like it, non?

  13. French Onion Soup is my favorite kind, but so many of them seem so salty to me. I guess I should be like you and make my own to suit my tastes! Lovely photo of the two of you, as well.

  14. Jezzie

    French onion soup is one of the few things I miss since I gave up meat.This made me actually salivate.
    Guess what? At this very moment I’m soaking dried chickpeas for Morroccan chickpea soup you posted, like, ages ago. Its been in my mail holder all this time…waiting. I’m gonna do it, and I can’t wait to eat it. Next is that lentil thingamajig you made last month or so.
    Thanks from all us vegetarians who want good eats :) You give me “modification” inspiration.

  15. Happy Engagement Anniversary! Ours was December 24th and this time we will be celebrating in Paris! I am finally going home for the holidays! It has been 3 years and I just can’t wait to get on that plane in 2 days!
    French Onion soup is the ultimate comfort food and your recipe looks very promising. The pictures are even better.
    What a nice husband you have. Mine promised to help me clean tomorrow before the trip…we’ll see!

  16. Congratulations on your engagement anniversary – just read the truly lovely story about it! You two look happy and it does sound like you married very well:)
    I went on a first proper date with my boyfriend in Paris this May, and spent four wonderful days in town. Didn’t see much of the touristy side of town, as we were busy looking at each other and discovering tiny cafes and restaurants;) I’ve now moved back home to Estonia after 7 yrs in Scotland, and in with him, and am truly happy for the Paris trip.
    PS We’re not engaged yet, but he cleans the house and makes mean cannelles when I ask for them:)

  17. now that is a nice recipe! i have a fool-proove recipe for onion soup myself but yours seems to be a bit more sophisticated … adding cognac? oh yeah! i’m a big big fan of soups in general and this one definitely goes straight to my favorites.

    by the way, your blog, your pictures and your inspiring stories are just AMAZING. all the best for you and your husband.

  18. He does look a bit like Ryan Phillipe….what a sweet post too. It’s awesome that he cleaned the house while you were out cavorting. THAT is a superb catch!

  19. wow, this is a really sweet entry, and a lovely photo of you two. Congratulations on the second engagement anniversary :)

    Now, I´ve never had onion soup (don´t kill me, I´m from a pretty different culture :P But I guess I should try it soon (that is, when the temperature decides to go down a little bit), this recipe looks pretty easy and I´m sure the onion flavor is astonishing.

    Do you think the cognac can be replaced by whiskey or omitted altogether?

  20. Shelly

    I have to agree with you on the onion soup. When I made it for hubby for his birthday, I wasn’t too sure about it in the first place, but when we ate every single bit of it and looked for more, you’re right, sold out. I’m thinking about adding it to my winter soup menu now!

    You two are just the cutest couple! And happy engagement anniversary!

  21. Rick

    Hi guys, first time coming to the site but I love it. Wanted to let you know that I tried the Onion soup recipe and was extremely impressed. Quick suggestion, add the cognac and let it simmer a little bit, let it cool and have it the next day. Definitely better the day after!

  22. First of all, happy engagement anniversary!
    My husband loves French Onion Soup and I never tried it (nor attempted to make it), until I met him! And now, I love it too. I tried Ina’s recipe a few anniversaries ago, it was not a fave and hard to find the veal stock. On Tuesday night, I tried the America’s Test Kitchen recipe and it wasn’t too shabby. I used red onions and had everyone’s eyes tearing up!

    I look forward to trying Julia’s next to compare- it sounds divine!

  23. Alyson

    What if I don’t have cognac? I’m scheduled to attempt french onion soup this week, and would love to use this recipe but not love to buy cognac. Thanks!

  24. Signe

    In your recipe for French onion soup, whenever you have a fraction in the measurement an A with an accent mark comes up in front of the fraction: ½. I wonder if this is supposed to be a 1 (my guess) as in 1 1/2, or if the  should be ignored. I wonder, are you using a French keyboard? Does the recipe call for one and a half pounds of onions and one and a half cups of wine or one half pound of onions and one half cup of wine? ¼: does this mean one and one quarter teaspoons of sugar or one quarter teaspoon of sugar? I would like to try the recipe but don’t want to put three times as much wine in it as I should!

  25. colleen

    I read your comment and the recipe reads correctly on my screen, here it is:
    one and a half pounds of onions
    half of a cup of wine
    one quarter of a teaspoon of sugar

  26. deb

    Signe, Colleen — We just cleaned up this entry so it should read okay now. (The error stems from some lingering encoding issues on the site that I will not bore you with!) If you see any of those “A” characters still, just ignore them–the recipe without them is still correct.

  27. Hello, Could you please give the recipe for Onion Sauce? A brown onion sauce, little sour in taste that is served with Chicken or beef steak? My son loves the restaurant recipe and nowadays asks to go there every day. I hope you could help me out.

  28. Susan

    I made this onion soup yesterday. Wow! This was the best onion soup I’ve ever had, anywhere. I used lower sodium, half broth and half stock, both; it was the first time I haven’t needed to drink gallons of water afterward. It was so well flavored; I loved the cognac finish. This is the perfect time of year for this.

  29. sireesha

    deb. i love your writing and your recipes. i’m a vegetarian; does veg stock have the same desired effect as chicken/beef stock in recipes? what would you suggest i add to veg stock to make it more full in flavor? thanks!

    1. deb

      It will depend on the recipe, but no, all stocks have different effects. To me, the beef stock flavor is central to traditional onion soup. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a delicious one with vegetable or mushroom stocks.

  30. jrad

    Sireesha, if you want a ‘fuller’ flavour you may want to try adding a bit of something like vegemite or marmite to the stock. It has an added savoury-ness to it that may mimic beef stock nicely. You’ll have to do it to taste however as I’ve only hear it be recommended before and never tried it outside of a vegemite sandwhich or 9 :)

  31. Monica R.

    I tried this two weekends ago and I must say it was more delicious than any other French Onion soup I’ve had. And I ate quite a bit of it in Paris! Since I got over the “first-time-making-this-hump”, I’d like to try Provolone over the top with shredded Gruyere in the soup the next time I make it.

  32. Debra

    Just made this for my husband and me. I used homemade chicken broth and substituted brandy for cognac. It was very, very delicious. I know with the chicken broth it is not authentic to the original and doesn’t taste exactly the same.
    I will make it again for sure.

  33. v

    made this this past week, along with the salad, and it was great! I used homemade vegetable stock (mom is a vegetarian), and it was still delicious…..thank you, Deb! Everything from your blog always turns out fabulous!

  34. marilu

    i absolutely love french onion soup and cooking in general, but with the ingredient lists with some recipes and the complexity, ive always been tentative to try. my sisters and i are now addicted to your recipes. i will be sure to try this french onion soup with the beef stock that you recommend and one that’s a vegan-friendly style with a stock made from shitake mushrooms. im so excited to eat~ thank you, deb <3

  35. Mommela

    What’s the yield on this bad boy? I’ve got to cook for a crowd and don’t know how many times to multiply the recipe. Thanks!

  36. anna

    so, i know i’m about 4 years late to the party, but i made this tonight and had to come tell you how wonderful i think you are (you’re wonderful!) for posting this. this soup is fantastic!!

    it’s practically un-mess-up-able, too. i didn’t have brown stock, so i subbed half beef and half veggie. i didn’t have cognac, so i threw in a glug of bourbon. still, completely delicious. thanks for the recipe, deb :) this one is a keeper!

  37. KARYN

    It’s a rainy, dismal afternoon and soup seemed the only right thing to make for dinner. Of course, my first stop was SK in search of an Onion Soup recipe. You always deliver beyond my hopes.

  38. alexandra

    love this recipe. made it when my ma met my boyfriend’s ma. was a hit. am going to make it to see my gparents saturday since we will get into the 30s for a low at night and 50s for the high. perfect for a chilly day. yum yum yum. thank you smitten kitchen! love using the recipes on your site!

  39. Charlotte

    I should never doubt Julia. I’ve had a hankering to make homemade onion soup for two weeks now, and upon consulting my Julia books, I thought that lo and behold, this is the king of the onion soup recipes. Then I got lost in your blog, as per usual, and had to sneak a peek at your onion soup recipe…that same exact recipe I have been meaning to fix!! This must be God’s way of telling me that this is the way onion soup is to be. Thanks for reminding me. :-)

  40. Katie

    I just made this tonight for my husband and I. I had some freetime and was looking to make something more time consuming than usual, and this was perfect!! We are huge fans of french onion soup, and I was impressed that this lived up to all of my expectations!

  41. winegirl

    My mom bought me “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for my birthday, and the onion soup is the first recipe I’ve made. And it is perfect. Ahhhh Paris.

  42. Aurelia

    Ha ha. I just followed a trail over to your old blog that began with a search for what to do with all of my pears. I spat in laughter at the mafioso pinky ring.

  43. Anna

    Growing up, I couldn’t stand this stuff…granted, my mom used to make it from the powdered mix. Bleh. Our sorority house cooks made some a few weeks ago and I tried it again and consequently fell madly in love! I literally just finished eating a bowl from my own batch from this recipe now that I’m home on winter break. It was really yummy! I used low-sodium beef stock and added more salt as needed (honestly it may even need more, but that’s a good thing, right?) I’m really intrigued by a former commenter’s use of mushroom stock. I also really loved how few pans were needed to make this and how I could clean up as I went…my parents certainly appreciate it, too.

  44. sara

    So 4 years on I made this recipe tonight for St. Thorlac’s Day dinner (lunch) for my boyfriend and– he loved it! I made it with coq au vin (Julia Child’s recipe, of course), brussels sprouts cooked in butter with shallots (I tried the new brussels sprouts/chestnuts recipe but apparently bought bad chestnuts) and made the heaven and hell cake from Saveur (sub raspberry mousse for peanut butter). His first question was, “That’s not soup, is it?” (because he is notoriously not soup-friendly), followed shortly by “How’d you find a recipe for Flemish onion soup!?” It was wonderful– thanks!

  45. beth

    I’ve tried a million recipes (Tyler Florence, Ina, GH) and this is by far the best and simplest! Made it in a dutch oven, which had really even heat and let the onions carmelize really well. Thanks for another great recipe!

  46. Alina

    I know this post is old, but I’m just discovering French cooking (and the need for soup on cold winter nights). Do you have any recommendations for the brand of white wine? And the cognac? I don’t have any alcohol at home…

    Thank you for the recipe! I look forward to trying it out sometime this week!

    1. deb

      Alina — I don’t believe in using anything fancy to cook, no matter what TV chefs tell us. I use wine that is inexpensive but tastes passable. If you don’t want to splurge on Cognac, you can use brandy. Cognac is more or less “famous” brandy.

  47. Adrianne

    I love this recipe! My friend made it for us one eveing in October and I knew I had to try it again, so scrumptious. Thank you. I used sherry instead of vermouth&cognac and whole wheat thinwich bread instead of french toast – because its all I had – and it still turned out so well!

  48. Joy

    I love soup and have been wanting to try a Julia Child’s recipe! Thanks so much for posting this! I can’t wait to try it out. Here’s to the love of Paris!

  49. My favourite early morning-drunken-rambling-around paris food?

    French onion soup and creme brulee at au pied de cochon at 4 in the morning. mmm.

  50. Lucibme

    Recipe sounded good right up to the point where you add stock or bouillon. I did not like french onion soup before I made it using fresh homemade beef stock. That was the reason that I did not like onion soup … the stock. Found a recipe that started with roasting bones, and it was FABULOUS … so I encourage all to make your stock first. Yes, this becomes an all day ordeal but the taste is so worth it ;o)))

    Loved your story and the pictures am looking forward to more of your recipes!

  51. Liz

    I have made French onion soup with water instead of broth as a student due to poverty. If the onions are well enough carmelized it comes out fine. I never use sugar it is unnecessary and was taught my French chefs in cooking school years ago. The onions should be caramelized until they are a very deep dark brown, always way more than you think possible. The flavor comes from the caramelization. It is getting snowy again I think I will make this tomorrow for dinner. Also Deb is right, more onion is always better. For me it is white wine, not cognac and it must be dry. I had some a few years ago in Versaille (the town, not the castle) and it had thyme in it. I am still thyme ambivalent in this case. The cheese is where one should splurge, I also use a good gruyere. Emmenthaler would do in a pinch.

  52. Margaret

    I just made this but I left of the white wine. I didn’t want to open a bottle and I didn’t have any vermouth. I ended up adding in the Cognac just before the beef broth. It’s delicious and I already want to make it again I might add a splash of something to make it a little tangy. Perhaps that’s with the wine would’ve done