FFWD – Cheese-Topped Onion Soup

Ready to eat, with banana walnut cake in the background.

French onion soup resides at the intersection of elegance and comfort. When I was growing up, it was ubiquitous on the menus of fine dining and family style restaurants alike. For children, it provided a little danger and frustration, too – warnings about the temperature of the bowl and its contents, the long wait to avoid burning our tongues and ruining our enjoyment of the soup (as well as everything that came after).

Breaking through the crust of cheese and bread was the beginning of our pleasure, pushing that crust piece by piece under the broth part of the ritual, and eating the sopping bits our next task, by which time the broth was finally cool enough to eat. Slowly cooked onions were a sort of miracle to me, unable to tolerate the taste of raw and lightly cooked onions well into my teens. The sweet-savoury flavour of slow-cooked onions became one of my favourites.

I was lucky enough to have a mother who took the time to make French onion soup at home, without the aid of packaged soup mixes (those were for dip, after all). I’m still lucky – it was my mother who spent an afternoon cooking these onions down. I’d started the soup at her house, then realized I’d have to leave sooner than I’d expected. She put the partly-cooked onions into the freezer, then cooked them in time for my next visit. My role in the making of this soup was much easier than it should have been, just a matter of re-hydrating the onions in broth, toasting the bread and grating the cheese.

As a sort of compensation, I baked Kim Boyce‘s banana walnut cake for dessert. It made me feel I’d really contributed to the meal. After all, it’s the slow browning of the onions that carries the flavour of this soup. Deglazing the pan with wine deepens that flavour, rather than changing it. When you add the broth, the onions plump and lighten, lending their colour and flavour to the soup. Everything else is subordinate.

We skipped the spoonful of cognac in the bottom, without feeling we were missing anything. I can see myself adding the cognac when using the soup to begin a celebration meal, though. We stuck to the comfort end of this soup’s identity on this night, following it up with some pasta sauced with pesto I made last summer and oven-roasted vegetables.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Cheese-Topped Onion Soup

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16 thoughts on “FFWD – Cheese-Topped Onion Soup

  1. Beautiful photo! I have memories of my Mom making French Onion Soup from scratch when I was growing up too. It always seemed special!

  2. Nice memories to have, and nice to cook with your mother. The photo of the
    soup is wonderful, and that delicious looking cake in the background looks scrumptious.

  3. I saw that cake lurking in the background – I am glad you shared what it was!
    What a nice thing for mom to do πŸ™‚ I am afraid that packets of soup were a staple of my childhood.
    Your soup looks lovely

  4. The intersection of elegance and comfort…I like that! Nice story about your memories of onion soup. This didn’t work for me but I’m going to try again today! Nice soup photo. Nice cake photo too:)

  5. We loved this, too! I couldn’t help but think of the scene in “Julie & Julia” when Julia stays up all night chopping a huge mound of onions just to get it right! LOL!

  6. Hi Teresa! Loved this post and your description of the soup as a childhood memory – it brought back memories for me. You’re right, this was always a soup I remember when we went to a nice restaurant or a special day at someone’s house. I really wanted to make this and still will but just too crazy around here the last few days!

    Great story – great photo and I bet it all tasted yummy too! Hope you’re having a good weekend.

  7. I dont think Im going to bother with the cognac next time since I dont think it made any difference. πŸ™‚ Love your cake contribution! Sounds fair to me!! πŸ™‚

  8. Gorgeous mouth watering photo of your cheese topped onion soup, makes me want to enjoy the experience all over again! The cake sounds good too, a feast to remember:-)

  9. As much as I loved this soup, my eye was immediately drawn to your cake in the background, so I’m glad that you shared about it. How nice that this soup was a family collaboration, even more to enjoy about it. I was also fortunate to have a mother who also made us from scratch French onion soup. Her signature toppers were a rye bread crouton topped with melted Muenster cheese. And, about that packet of dip mix, I always say “A party isn’t a party with out onion soup dip.”

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