When my husband and I lived in New York City there was a restaurant down the block from our apartment that served the most delicious French onion soup. During the Autumn and winter months we’d often go for an evening stroll, then snag a corner booth at this restaurant on our way home where we’d treat ourselves to steaming bowls of soup topped with crispy baguette slices and melted Swiss cheese.
It’s hard to believe, but that was almost ten years ago. Since then we’ve migrated north to Vermont and though there are many delightful restaurants here, none of them are down the block. With our evenings dipping into the 20’s lately, I’ve been on a quest to find a satisfying French onion soup recipe to replace those warming bowls I remember from NYC.
I found it.
The recipe comes from a new cookbook by one of my favorite authors: Beatrice Ojakangas. I first discovered her recipes in 2008 when I stumbled across her book, “The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.” I made her Cardamom Coffeebread – also known as pulla – and was impressed by the quality of her writing, not to mention the fluffy bread that resulted from her directions. Then, when I made her vetekrans – a deliciously decadent yeasted coffee cake topped with an almond glaze – I was hooked. I own nearly all her books now… so you can imagine how excited I was to learn she had come out with a new one.
Beatrice’s newest book is called “The Soup and Bread Cookbook,” which was featured here last month as the giveaway book for October. My friends, this book is a delight. From recipes for Honey Whole Wheat Cranberry Bread (pictured above), to Spicy Black Bean Soup, to Herbed Monkey Bread, to French Onion Soup – every recipe we have tried has been 5 star quality. The munchkin can’t get enough of the cranberry bread (we’ve made it three times already) and everyone has devoured the soups. What more could you ask for?
The subtitle for this book is “More than 100 Seasonal Pairingd for Simple and Satisfying Meals” and that accurately summarizes what the book is about. The soup recipes are organized by season and each one is introduced with a short story or description along with an accompanying bread recipe. For instance, the recipe for Acorn Squash Soup is paired with a “Stir-It-Up-And-Bake-It Many-Seed Bread” (love that title) and the Potato-Leek Soup is paired with a Rosemary Baguette. Several of the soup recipes include stovetop and slow cooker instructions, which is a huge plus for those of us who love our slow cookers. The French Onion Soup recipe below is one example of such a recipe.
When I made this soup on Sunday it was one of those chilly Vermont days where all we wanted to do was snuggle up inside and enjoy some quality time together as a family. So we lit the fireplace and I got this soup going on the stove top. It took 4 1/2 hours from start to finish, but it was hardly any effort since most of that time was to allow the soup to develop the sort of full bodied flavor that is the hallmark of a quality French onion soup. While the sweet onions were cooking the munchkin and I made a loaf of Country Hearth Bread. The house smelled amazing.
When dinnertime rolled around we carried steaming bowls of soup into the family room, then ate them in front of the fire along with hunks of bread torn from our freshly baked loaf. Talk about comfort food on a cold Autumn evening.
- 6 large sweet onions (about 3 lbs), halved and sliced into half-moons
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns (we used ¾ tsp ground black pepper)
- 8 cups beef stock or low-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons brandy, Cognac or dry sherry (optional, we used dry sherry)
- 12 slices of a good quality baguette
- 2 cups shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Jarlsburg cheese (we used slices of Swiss cheese), plus more for serving
- In a soup pot, combine the onions and butter and cook over low heat, stirring to coat the onions thoroughly, until softened, about 30 minutes. (If using a slow cooker, cover and cook on high until the onions are softened, about 1 hour.)
- Add the sugar, salt and peppercorns and stir well. Increase the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 2 hours. (Cook on high for 4 hours in the slow cooker.) Add the stock or broth and brandy (if using). Cook for 2 hours longer (or 2 hours in the slow cooker).
- Preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into 6 ovenproof bowls and place 2 slices of the baguette in each bowl. Sprinkle liberally with cheese and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the top is bubbling and brown. Serve immediately. Pass extra cheese at the table.