French Onion Soup
Bubbling Gruyere cheese and crispy baguette top a brothy base full of perfectly braised onions in this showstopping French onion soup recipe. Whether you’re making it to warm up on a cold day or for a delicious date night in, this feels luxurious and cozy each and every time.
A must-order every time I go to a nice restaurant, I will never turn down French onion soup. There is something about the look of a beautifully bubbling load of cheese, browned to perfection over crunchy bread.
If you’ve ever thought that it would be too difficult to make at home, I’m here to tell you that it is TOTALLY doable and you will be absolutely enamored with the results.
The smell in the kitchen? Oh man! Let’s get started!
What is French onion soup, exactly?
Onion soups have been around since Roman times, as onions were easy to grow in many climates for very little. The version of French Onion soup that we are used to here in the U.S. originated in the 1800s. In the 1860s, a New York restaurateur brought the recipe to the U.S., and it was originally served with a crispy crouton. It is known for its base of rich, buttery broth packed with caramelized or braised yellow onions. The topping of crispy bread and melted cheese is an absolute must!
This style can sometimes get confused with English onion soup; the British version has yellow, red, and white onions along with shallots and fennel. You may also find it with various types of broths and usually has sage included.
French onion soup ingredients & swaps
- Onions: Yellow onions! The simpler the better! These impart the perfect amount of flavor and aren’t too sweet.
- Cheese: To me, there is no better cheese in a French onion soup than Gruyere! However, shredded Swiss or provolone also works very well. Just be sure to find something that is easily shredded or grated, as that’s what will give you that amazing gooey cheese stretch we all love.
- Bread: Our recipe calls for crispy baguette, but I know that may not be available to everyone. A sliced Italian bread would also work, but really any crispy white bread will do you justice in a pinch (this includes croutons if needed!).
- Sherry: We use sherry do deglaze the braised onions, and as you can see in the photos below – it’s delicious! ]If you don’t have sherry, you can replace it with white wine, brandy, or dry vermouth. If you don’t have any alcohol in your home, an apple cider or white wine vinegar would be a good choice as well.
- Pots and Bowls: You will need a large heavy-bottomed pan (or Dutch oven) that is at least 7 quarts for this french onion soup. This will go into the oven, so be sure that it’s oven-safe (and broiler-safe, as well, if you don’t have individual broiler-safe crocks to serve the soup in).
How to prep the onions
This recipe calls for braising the onions in the oven for three hours instead of laboring over caramelizing them on the stove, noting that the low and slow braise imparts a much deeper flavor.
How to make French onion soup: step-by-step
Braising the onions
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place an oven rack in the middle position. Next, prep your pan with cooking spray.
- Once the oven is preheated, add the butter and onions to your oiled pot and add a teaspoon of salt.
- Cook uncovered for one hour and remove to stir.
- After the first stir, put the pot back in the oven, with its lid ajar. Cook for another 60 minutes until the onions are softened and golden brown. Remove to stir, and put them in for a final 30-45 minutes.
- Once done braising in the oven, remove the pot and place it over medium-high heat on your stove. Stir slowly and constantly for 15-20 minutes, reducing to medium heat if they are getting too hot/brown.
- Once they’ve been stirred on the stovetop, add 1/4 cup water to the pan and begin scraping the crispy bits from the bottom. You want to cook this down until the liquid has evaporated and there is another browned crust ready to deglaze. You will deglaze with water two to three more times until the onions are dark brown.
- Stir in your sherry and stir frequently, until completely evaporated. This takes about five minutes.
Finish putting the soup together
- When the onions are done, stir in your broth (both chicken and beef), another 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf, and scrape up any final brown bits. Increase the heat to high and bring to simmer.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
- While your soup simmers, toast your baguette at 400 degrees until dry/crisp. This takes about 10 minutes. Don’t add any butter or oil here – we want the bread to be crispy and plain, so it can soak up our delicious broth!
Broiling and serving the French onion soup
- Once your French onion soup base is ready, adjust your oven rack to about 6 inches from your broiler element and heat the broiler.
- Line a baking sheet with some parchment, and place four oven-safe bowls or crocks on it.
- Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly around edges (usually 3-5 minutes)
- Cool 5 minutes before serving. This is beautiful with a fresh salad!
More of my favorite soup recipes:
French Onion Soup
Stay cozy and warm with this amazing French onion soup! With a combination of beef and chicken stock, oven-braised caramelized onions, French baguette, and Gruyere cheese, you’ll want to eat this all winter long.
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
French Onion Soup Recipe
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
- 6 large yellow onions, about 4 pounds, halved and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
- Table salt
- 2 cups (500 ml) water, plus extra for deglazing
- ½ cup (120 ml) dry sherry
- 4 cups (940 ml) chicken broth
- 2 cups (480 ml) beef broth
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
- 1 bay leaf
- Ground black pepper
- 1 small baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) shredded Gruyere cheese, about 2½ cups
- Braise/Caramelize Onions: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in the pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1½ to 1¾ hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
- Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat if necessary. (Scrape any crust that collected on spoon back into onions.) Stir in ¼ cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
- Finish the Soup: Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
- Broil with Cheesy Baguette Slices: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1¾ cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.
- Equipment: 7-quart Dutch oven / Broiler-safe soup crocks
- Onions: Use yellow onions for the best balance of flavor.
- Broth: This recipe calls for a combination of beef and chicken broth; you can adjust the ratios based on what you have on hand and substitute stock if you'd like.
- Baguette: Sliced French baguette is the traditional topping for French onion soup, but any crusty bread will suffice, and if you're in a pinch, you can use big croutons, too!
- Cheese: Gruyere is the standard, but shredded Swiss makes a great substitute.
- Broiling: If using ordinary soup bowls, sprinkle the toasted bread slices with Gruyère and return them to the broiler until the cheese melts, then float them on top of the soup.
- Make-Ahead: For the best flavor, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.
- Storage: Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- Freezing: The soup can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Do not freeze the cheese-covered bread with the soup; freeze the soup separately and add the bread and cheese before serving.
- Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Photography by Lauren Grant.