There are many different ways of making a French onion soup: some recipes involve wine, some cognac, while others use both. I’m supposing that most regions of France, if not most families, will have their own method and ingredients list for their onion soup recipe.
Epoisses is a cheese from Burgundy and I haven’t seen it used for the characteristically lavish crust, but for me it’s a no-brainer: the cheese is soft and pungent, accompanying the sweet onions perfectly.
Here I’ve rounded out the Epoisses with some Comté. Caraway is something I eat regularly with Epoisses – if not caraway bread I just scatter the seeds over spoonfuls of the cheese. I find the sweetness of pink onions – Roscoff or Rosanna – makes for the best soup, but if they prove a little trickier to come by, just use half red and half brown.
– 1 x French baguette, torn into chunks
– 1 tbsp garlic oil (or olive oil, if you prefer)
– 1 tbsp caraway seeds
– 150g Epoisses cheese, chilled
– 100g Comté cheese, coarsely grated
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 100g unsalted butter
– 500g pink onions, finely sliced
– 2 tbsp plain flour
– 175ml dry white wine
– 1 litre beef stock
– 1 tbsp onion chutney (optional, but damn good)
– Fine sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
2. For the croûtons, place the torn baguette onto a baking sheet and toss together with the garlic oil and caraway seeds. Bake for 5–10 minutes, or until dry and crispy.
3. For the soup, heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan or casserole over a high heat. 4. When the butter melts, add the onions and cook for 10 minutes or so, until they are starting to colour around the edges.
5. Once they are gently browned, reduce the heat to low and cook slowly for anything up to 40 minutes. The onions should caramelise deeply, and smell strong and sweet.
6. When the onions are caramelised, add the flour and stir to coat the onions. Increase the heat to high, wait a minute for the pan to get hot, then pour in the wine and let it bubble and evaporate almost entirely.
7. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, partially covered. Stir in the chutney, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.
8. Preheat the grill.
9. Divide the soup between serving bowls – make sure they’re heatproof – then scatter over the croûtons.
10. Slice the Epoisses into fairly thin slices (do so quickly before it starts to melt) and lay them on top of the croûtons. Scatter over the Comté and grill until the cheese has melted and burned a little at the edges.
John Whaite won the third series of The Great British Bake Off. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu, though his love of food came from learning at his mother’s knee. He writes for the Telegraph and is resident chef on ITV’s Lorraine. He is the presenter of ITV food programme The Chopping Block, out in April 2016. He has also opened his own cooking school John Whaite’s Kitchen. Comfort is his third book.
With the concept of hygge emphasising the importance of enjoying the sensual, warming things in life, cosy cooking has taken on a new life. John’s new collection of enticing recipes will have you cooking up a comforting feast in the kitchen.