French onion soup – The Julia Child way

Time to take out those “cozy” cooking recipes – Fall’s back and Winter’s right around the corner!

Soupe à l’onion is simple and good. Prepare it in advance for an après-ski at home with friends or as a winter week-night dinner in front of the TV. First off, its possible to vary on the “traditional” French onion soup by replacing the vermouth or wine with dark beer – a practical tip if you have neither at hand, or simply a way to be different.  Ricardo’s take on onion soup with beer is very good, though it involves more ingredients.

Here’s my recipe for onion soup (with very slight twists on Julia’s). Using your own beef stock when possible will give your soup a richer and more personalized flavour, though using pre made stock is fine too (let’s be honest – very few of us make our own stock from left over bones and meat, and even fewer keep some in their fridge “just in case”). I tend to find ready made stock too salty and use reduced sodium broth instead; this ensures that the end product is not overwhelmed by the fake stock taste.


  •   5 to 6 cups of thinly sliced yellow or red onions
  •   Olive oil
  •   2 – 3 tablespoons butter
  •   ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
  •   1 teaspoon salt (optional)
  •   3 tablespoons flour
  •   6 cups beef stock
  •   ¾ – 1 cup vermouth (red or white wine also work well – I used red wine in the pictures since I had no vermouth)
  •   1 bay leaf
  •   3 tablespoons of Cognac
  •   Salt and pepper
  •   Grated cheese to gratin the soup (A mix of gruyere, emmental and a bit of parmesan is my favorite. You can also try a mix of gruyere and strong cheddar).
  •   Slices of French bread to place atop each bowl (baguette sliced, or any thinly sliced miche)


  •   Place a large pot (preferably with a thick bottom) over medium-low heat.
  •   Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.
  •   Add the sliced onions and mix until they’re evenly coated with oil and butter.

  • Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes or until the onions are translucent and soft.
  • Uncover and raise heat to medium-high to brown the onions – mixing every two or three minutes.
  • Cook uncovered while stirring frequently until onions have browned and reduced a lot (this takes another good 30 minutes and is the trick to great onion soup – if you look at the image below, I could have left my onions to brown another extra 10 minutes without a problem since they’re still quite pale. Also, while Julia Child doesn’t do this, its possible to add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to both season the onions and help them caramelize. Your onions will brown whether you do this or not, and you can choose to season only at the end.
  • When the onions are browned reduce the heat to medium-low and gradually add 3 tablespoons of flour.

  • Mix the flour and onions over low heat for 2-3 minutes to form a thick paste. Add a little bit of butter here if necessary.

  • Gradually add 1 cup of warm stock to the onion and flour paste. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get the browned bits.
  • Proceed to add the rest of the stock, vermouth (or wine or beer, depending on your variation) and bay leaf. Let simmer for at least another 30 minutes.

  • Lightly butter the bread slices and lightly toast both sides in preheated oven (325 degrees Fahrenheit or broil on low)
  • Add Cognac to soup and remove bay leaf.
  • Adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste and transfer individual portions into oven safe bowls. Dress each bowl with toasted bread and cover generously with cheese.

  • Grill soups and gratin the cheese at broil until the cheesy tops are brown.
  • Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Tip: I like to prepare onion soup in large quantities so I can enjoy a bowl here and there during the week for lunch. Refrigerating the soup makes it thicken and intensifies the flavours. In order to get the right texture and taste, gradually adding water to your refrigerated goo before heating it is a good idea. Personally, I find that onion soup is always better the next day – like pizza!

You can also enjoy this fantastic Julia Child “Bon appétit” video on making French Onion soup. She throws in a few useful tips on poaching eggs and chopping onions like a pro!


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Categories: Food


Aspiring food writer, serious traveler, media enthusiast and communications specialist from Montréal, Canada. Follow me on twitter @aalavoie

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2 Comments on “French onion soup – The Julia Child way”

  1. October 2, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Let me know how it does!

  2. October 2, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    This looks delicious! Cannot wait to try it out. xxx

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