Everything I've learned about cooking has come from cookbooks and practice... lots of practice. And if there's anything I've gathered from my experience in the kitchen, it's that if you want to learn how to cook, find the trustworthy cooks and follow them. For me, I always go back to the queen, Julia Child.
Though few and far between, there are recipes out there that not only lead you to an appetizing result, but also make you feel like you're really something in the kitchen - more than just able to read a recipe and follow procedure. Julia Child's French Onion Soup is one of those recipes. It embodies a satisfying quality that makes it the very thing someone would seek out to get their fix.
This is the kind of dish you make when you're looking to spend some serious time in the kitchen, but don't really want to have to work that hard. It's simple, delicious, and all it really involves is cooking down onions, simmering broth, toasting bread, and broiling. The secret to a successful French Onion Soup is patience. Make sure to give yourself a few hours to allow this soup to develop what Julia would call "the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew."
French Onion Soup
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 by Julia Child
Cook's Notes: In my photos I've stacked the toasted baguette slices halfway on top of each other. It actually works better if you are able to fit them into the bowl in a single layer! You'll get a much more even brown and the overall aesthetic will be even greater!
1 1/2 lbs. thinly sliced yellow onion (about 5 cups)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp flour
8 cups beef stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp cognac
1 French baguette
1-2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan, I prefer Gruyère
1 Tbsp olive oil or melted butter
To cook the onions: Put the butter and oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot and heat until melted over medium low. Pour in the onions, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
Uncover and raise heat to medium. Stir in salt and sugar. Cook for 30-40 minutes until onions are golden brown. Make sure to stir frequently so that onions don't burn.
Sprinkle in the flour and stir continuously for 3 minutes.
Important: After adding the flour, make sure you actually stir continuously! If the flour burns it will give your soup an awful burnt taste!
Remove the pot from the heat and blend in beef stock and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer partially cover for 30-40 minutes.
Before serving, stir in the cognac.
To make the hard-toasted French bread (croutes): Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the baguette into 12-16 1-inch slices and lay the slices across a baking sheet in one layer. Place the baking sheet in the middle level of the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
After the first 15 minutes, remove the baking sheet and brush each side of the baguette slices with olive oil.
To assemble: Preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into oven safe bowls, float a slice of the baguette or two (if there's room) on top of the soup, and sprinkle on a handful of cheese on top. Sprinkle with a little oil or butter. Put all of your bowls on a rimmed baking sheet and place under the broiler for a few minutes or until lightly browned. Keep a close eye so that they don't burn.
Serve immediately and enjoy.