Serves: 6

You simply can’t ignore French soupe à l’oignon. I agree it looks gorgeous served in those pretty round bowls but, one: it takes a lot of preparation; and two: it makes a lot of washing up. So it’s not very practical, I’m sure you’ll agree.


  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp neutral flavoured oil, such as rapeseed
  • 6 large onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 200ml (scant 1 cup) dry white wine
  • 3 tbsp of any type of cognac (Prefer to use rum or vodka? That’s OK, but choose an amber-coloured one)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 litres (8½ cups) good-quality beef or vegetable stock
  • ½ garlic clove
  • Slices of stale bread
  • 100-150g (1-1½ cups) grated hard cheese (Comté, strong Cheddar)


1Put a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium-low heat, add the butter and oil and then the onions. Season with salt and add the sugar. Leave to cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time – the onions must be golden brown.


2Pour in the wine, then the cognac, and flambé (watch out for the flames when doing this). When the flames have died down, scrape the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon to incorporate all the cooking juices sticking to it.


3Stir in the flour – this will give the soup a rich, syrupy consistency. Mix well and then add the stock. Turn down the heat as low as it will go and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. Rub a large gratin dish with the garlic and pour in the soup.


4Cover the surface with bread slices and top them with a generous layer of grated cheese.


5Grill (broil) until the cheese bubbles and turns a nice golden brown before placing the dish triumphantly in the centre of the table. The heat and steam are fierce enough to burn the table cloth, which admittedly would add considerably to the drama, but if you’re attached to the cloth, put a trivet or pot stand on the table first.


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