French onion soup from Julia Child need not be intimidating

  • Soupalooza's Eileen Brown tackles the multi-stepped recipe of Julia Child's for French Onion Soup. It takes awhile but it's worth the wait.

      Soupalooza's Eileen Brown tackles the multi-stepped recipe of Julia Child's for French Onion Soup. It takes awhile but it's worth the wait. Eileen Brown | Staff Photographer

Updated 11/18/2020 12:42 PM

I love everything about Julia Child -- with the exception of actually making her recipes.

I guess you could say I was intimidated.


Then I saw an article about her favorite dish for a working lunch -- a tuna salad sandwich. True to her style, she was particular about the tuna (oil-packed), the mayonnaise (Hellman's always), the onions (Vidalia) and the bread (Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread or an English muffin).

Now, this was something I could tackle. So, like any cooking experiment, one thing led to another. I made the tuna salad sandwich (delicious!), bought a few Julia Child cookbooks and I was off to the races.

And, of course, I made her French onion soup. No, it did not turn out like the one pictured in her cookbook "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" -- not even close. It is more complicated than most other French onion soup recipes with a lot of extra ingredients, but the results are worth the effort, and it's simple and special at the same time.

As a Julia novice, I went with her recipe line by line. Who am I to tinker? Still, I was a bit surprised at her choice of Swiss cheese and not Gruyere, but the taste profiles are close enough, so feel free to switch the cheeses out. She also uses white wine, but I have a friend who swears by red wine. Go with what you have on hand.

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One more thing to note: Plan to spend a lot of time at the stove with this, as caramelizing onions is never an easy proposition. It always seems to take at least twice as long as the recipe calls for, and this recipe is no exception. (I was planning to eat at 7:30 p.m. and it turned into a very continental meal at 9 p.m.)

But now that we're spending more time at home, what's the hurry? As Julia said, "Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should."

• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

Julia Child's French Onion Soup

5 -6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 to 2 pounds)

1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 tablespoons butter

teaspoon sugar


1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons flour

6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)

cup wine (dry white wine or dry white vermouth)

salt and pepper

12 ounces swiss cheese, grated

4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated

one half raw yellow onion

2 -3 tablespoons cognac

8 slices French bread (about 1 inch thick)

4 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

Place heavy bottom stock pot or Dutch over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil, 2 tablespoons butter to pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent.

To brown or caramelize the onions, turn heat under pot to medium or medium high heat. Add teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add 3 tablespoons of flour to the onions.

Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes trying not to scorch it. (If the flour does not form a thick paste, you can add a bit more butter here). Stir in about 1 cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the cooked-on bits.

Add the rest of the stock, wine to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the "croutes" (toasted bread), heat oven to 325 degrees. Drizzle each side of the bread slices with a bit of olive oil and place on baking sheet. Cook the croutes for 15 minutes in oven on each side (30 minutes total).

Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a casserole dish.

At this point you can add the 2-3 tablespoons cognac and grate the raw onion into the soup. Add a few ounces of the swiss cheese directly into the soup and stir.

Place the toasted bread in a single layer on top of the soup. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning.

Drizzle with a little oil or melted butter.

Place in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Turn on broiler and brown cheese well.

Serves 4

From "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home."

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