There’s nothing more comforting on a cold day than a warm bowl of French onion soup. What sets this soup apart from other soups is the layer of melted cheese on top, often flowing over the sides of the bowl to make a beautiful golden crust. To put a modern spin on this classic French dish, we switched out some of the key ingredients and incorporated something unexpected: a coffee stout.
French onion soup is a basic soup of caramelized onions in broth, finished with a dash of sherry, and topped with a crunchy crouton with lots of melted gruyere cheese.
We chose to use coffee stout instead of the traditional sherry because it brings smoothness and color to the soup, with just a hint of coffee taste. Additionally, instead of the traditional gruyere cheese, our chef chose a combination of Swiss and provolone because both cheeses are great when melted. Plus, by combining two different types of cheeses, you can create a more dynamic flavor. To create this signature cheese layer, we used a salamander broiler, which produces heat from above, making it the perfect tool for melting cheese in a matter of minutes.
People have enjoyed onion soup dating as far back as the Roman Empire, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that the French started caramelizing the onions—a simple step that transformed a very simple soup into something more sophisticated. Legend has it that King Louis XV (pictured to the right) was at his hunting lodge one evening and the only ingredients in the pantry were onions, butter, and champagne. So, French onion soup was born! The truth of this story is somewhat unsubstantiated, but it’s a fun legend nonetheless.
In the 1960s, Julia Child’s popular cooking TV show sparked a newfound appreciation for French cuisine, bringing into vogue such dishes as beef bourguignon and, of course, French onion soup. That’s when this soup became a real staple on restaurant menus across the United States.
You’ll find French onion soup on nearly every kind of American menu, from cozy diners to fancy country clubs. This soup is popular for many reasons. First off, it’s inexpensive to make and requires just a handful of common ingredients that most kitchens will have stocked for other recipes. Onions have a long shelf life, don’t require special storage space, and have a savory flavor that’s familiar and comforting on a cold day.
Onions are inexpensive because they grow well in many different environments and have a long harvest period. When we calculated the total cost to make 8 servings of French onion soup, it fell around $5.18. That's only $0.65 per serving! Most menus will sell this soup for about $5 per serving, leaving a significant profit margin of $4.35. Of course, these numbers will vary slightly, depending on which specific ingredients you choose. But chances are, you can make a great French onion soup for just pennies per cup.
This recipe makes 8 servings of 1 cup each. You can expect a total cook time of about 65 minutes, but most of that is just waiting for everything to cook down. So, while that may sound like a long time, you’ll be free to work on other tasks while your flavors develop. It’s important not to rush these steps because, as your onions cook down, their natural sugars are released, creating that beautiful flavor that is essential in French onion soup.
This recipe calls for beef stock, but you can easily substitute vegetable stock for a vegetarian version. Check out the video below to learn how to make coffee stout French onion soup.
Croutons make sense for a few reasons. They’re a perfect use for day-old bread that almost any restaurant will inevitably have in their kitchen. Using your day-old bread for croutons is a great money-saving strategy because you won’t need to purchase premade croutons, and you also won’t be wasting the bread you already have.
For our crouton, we simply:
1. Cut a sandwich roll with a cookie cutter
2. Sprayed it with regular cooking spray
3. Seasoned it with salt and pepper (but you can get creative with the seasonings here)
4. And then toasted the bread in the oven
You can complete this step prior to beginning your soup, or do it while you wait for the onions to cook.
A sachet d'epices is a little pouch full of aromatics and spices that’s used to infuse flavors into a liquid. The pouch is usually a simple square of cheesecloth that’s loaded with herbs, tied into a bundle and then dropped into your broth to be removed later. You can use the stems of herbs because they hold up really well while cooking, and you can save the leaves for garnishes or other more delicate uses.
Coffee stout French onion soup is a modern take on a classic French recipe, making it a great menu item for nearly any kind of restaurant, from tavern to French fine dining. Requiring only a few basic ingredients, this soup is a great way to make something impressive out of items you likely need to keep stocked for other recipes. You can showcase your creativity by switching up your choice of cheese or trying out different techniques to make the perfect crouton.