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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cheese-topped Onion Soup - French Fridays with Dorie

The first thing Jim said when he tasted this was, "I love this soup!" This is noteworthy because the word "love" does not slip easily from his mouth. In fact, the first time he told me he loved me, many years ago, he hedged his bets. He said, "I think I might love you"--not exactly an undying declaration--in case things didn't turn out so well.

But he didn't hedge his bets with the soup.

I was, frankly, a little less enthusiastic. Oh, it tasted good, but 4 pounds of onions is a whole mess of onions. Four pounds of onions make you cry. As I stood sniffing and sobbing, I tried to remember all the antidotes for onion tears. Aren't you supposed to cut them under water? I didn't want to stop to google the cure, so I just persevered.

And persevered some more. After an hour and ten minutes of being stirred over very low heat, my onions showed not a single sign of caramelizing. White as snow.

So I did exactly what Dorie cautions against: I turned up the heat.

After 20 minutes on medium, and then, desperately, on medium-high, they finally showed signs of browning. I turned the heat back down, and cooked them for another half hour. After over TWO HOURS of being stirred, the onions finally caramelized.

They weren't the only ones that needed a fortifying glug of cognac at this point.

I wonder why we used chicken broth instead of beef broth for the soup. The broth got browner than I thought it would, but beef broth would have made it even darker and, I think, more flavorful. I might try it with beef broth next time, assuming there ever is a time when I feel like stirring onions for a few hours.

I had a little loaf of homemade bread that I'd made in the morning (the bread took less time to rise than the onions took to cook).

I opted for Comte cheese, solely because I'd never tried it before. I learned that there are strict regulations governing Comte:

"Only milk from Montbeliarde Cattle is permitted, and each must have at least a hectare of grazing.
Fertilization is limited, and cows may only be fed fresh, natural feed, with no silage.
The milk must be transported to the site of production immediately after milking.
Renneting must be carried out within a stipulated time after milking, according to the storage temperature of the cheese.
Only one heating of the milk may occur, and that must be during renneting. It may be heated to no more than 40˚C.
Salt may only be applied directly to the surface of the cheese.
A casein label containing the date of production must be attached to the side of the cheese, and maturing must continue for at least four months.
No grated cheese may be sold under the Comté name."

I was very happy to learn that the happy French cows had each had at least a hectare of grazing land. In case you wondered, and I'll bet you did not, that is the equivalent to about two and a half acres.

The cows are contented. The cheese melts nicely and tastes very good. I'm still not wild about peeling and stirring four pounds of onions.


  1. All your process photos look amazing! Great post!

  2. I wasn't the biggest fan of this soup, but I only cooked my onions for an hour! It was all so pale!!

  3. I split my cheese between the Comte and Gruyere - so good. I also cheated by having The Dude cut up my tears for me :-)
    It looks great!

  4. Whenever I have to chop a large number of onions I keep a candle lit by my cutting board. No idea if this is just a psychological thing or if there is real science behind it, but it seems to help. I any case, no tears here.

  5. there definitely were tears in my kitchen, but I'm going to try the candle trick next time. Great pics!

  6. Interesting info on the Comte, thanks for sharing. The onions did take a long while, I
    think a little higher heat would be better, but I tried to follow Dorie on this. The soup
    was delicious and hubby truly enjoyed it. I'll take my chicken rice anytime.

  7. It really is annoying that the onions are so slow to caramelize. I don't like the advice to cook it on the lowest heat possible. I think it can be cranked a bit with no harm coming to it.

  8. Light a candle. I keep one nearby (in the kitchen) for storms, when electricity goes out, and, onions. I also didn't think I could slice and dice 4 pounds of onions, no matter how sweet they were, I cut the recipe in half. There were only two of this tasting and criticing this recipe so it worked well. Liked your explanations, especially the information about the Comté.

  9. I guess we all had problems with the caramelizing! I can't wsit to try Comte.

  10. Interesting that it took so long to carmalize. I was also wondering when reading the recipe why it called for chicken broth and not beef.

  11. Every time I have to slice a big batch of onions, I decide I'm going to buy onion goggles. Then, when it's over, I decide it's a silly expense. What we suffer for dinner sometimes!

  12. My onions never did brown, higher heat for me next time. I've always used beef broth in French Onion soup.

  13. Great post! What a fun story. I didn't want to like this soup because it was such a pain, but I really did. Your bread looks perfect too.

  14. i did a half recipe and thank goodness! :) the easiest "cure" for chopping onions is to soak the bits and halves in a bowl of cold water as you go, and once you slice them in half initially, run them under cold water and rinse the natural juices off and that helps to cut down the intensity, but if you have a un-scented candle to burn while you are cutting them that works too. :) this was so many onions that none of those worked for too long... i kept having to refresh the bowl of water and it eventually hit a point where the onions couldn't be contained in the water.... :( great job! love the color you got on your onions!

    Alice @