French Onion Soup

So, it snowed last night in Kansas City. In May. It was actually quite beautiful, the new green leaves shaking off the rapidly accumulating snow. I thought the trees looked like teenagers, offended that they were cold but not quite willing to do anything about it. I know. these late snowfalls are harmful to the new growth, but really, I'm sure you can imagine what I mean.

My response to unexpected cold weather is predictable. I make soup. I'd already been planning to make french onion soup last night, the snow just made it all the more appropriate.

I love french onion soup, it's my go-to choice in many restaurants. I'd never made it before and decided this would be a good time, since soon it will be too warm for the long cooking process and, besides, I had some great beef stock in the freezer.

I used the recipe in Julia Child's classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's clear, simple and really, really good. Because this is a story blog as well as a food blog, I will add that my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came from my mother-in-law, who loved to cook and collected cookbooks as avidly as I do. I don't know if she used this volume, it's unstained, but I'm rapidly fixing that problem.

I sliced a pound-and-a-half of onions (about 5) in my food processor. Doing this by hand would have been horrendous, I'm sure I would have used every tissue in the house. I then cooked them over low heat in 3T butter and 1T olive oil, in a large, covered, heavy-bottomed pot. They were wilted after 15 minutes, then I added 1t salt and 1/4t sugar (this helps with caramelizing).

I stirred the pot every 3-5 minutes, over medium heat, uncovered. After about 45 minutes they were a lovely golden brown.

I added 3T flour and stirred continually for 3 minutes, thus making a roux rich with onions.

I removed the pot from the heat and poured in 2 quarts of simmering beef stock and added 1/2 cup dry white vermouth. I put it back on a low light, stirred as it came to a simmer, partially covered and let it cook for about 30 minutes. I stirred it from time to time, adding salt and quite a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

As the soup was cooking, I sliced 1/2" rounds of baguette and toasted them in a 325 oven. At 15 minutes I brushed both sides with olive oil. At 30 minutes I pulled them from the oven, rubbed each side with a cut clove of garlic and put some grated jarlsberg cheese on top. Jarlsberg was what I had in the house and seemed like a close enough substitute, though perhaps this makes it Alsatian onion soup. I put the bread back under a broiler for a few minutes until it was melted and toasty.

As the cheese melted I added 3T brandy (aka cognac) to the soup, stirred, and removed it from the heat.

Once the cheesy bread was done I put a slice in each bowl, topped with soup and served.

It was really, really good. I have to add, I'm feeling really good about the fact that it was so homemade, since I'd made the broth last time I had beef bones. Next time I may make the bread as well.

The whole process took about 3 hours. I'd urge you to try it, some cold, snowy day.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer


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