The cold and damp months of winter are just around the corner, which means there is no time like the present to dust off the Dutch oven and start preparing the season’s best warming recipes. And there is no better option than one overflowing with bread and cheese — two of the most important cold weather food groups. In conjunction with these ingredients, as well as the ever-so-important onion, there is an additional ingredient vital for making the perfect French onion soup to beat the fall chill: booze.
We’re all familiar with the warming quality of spirits — that cozy, soothing feeling settling in our chests after the first sip. When added to soup, alcohol can have the same effect, helping to bolster flavor and warm you up from the inside out. Myriad forms of booze can be incorporated into your favorite French onion soup recipe — from white wine, to sherry, to stouts — but brandy, with its full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor, truly takes the dish’s flavors to the next level.
“Brandy really just helps to concentrate all of the flavors together and works to bring out the flavors present in the herbs and the onions,” says Jonathan Pacheco, head chef at Café Paulette. “When all of the alcohol evaporates, you’re left with this really incredible warmth that lingers when the soup is finished.” Pacheco suggests adding the brandy when your onions have just started to caramelize — after which the onions can continue simmering in the brandy and when fully cooked down, will carry brandy’s warming essence with them as a complement to the broth. The No. 1 rule of cooking with spirits is if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it, so if brandy isn’t your drink of choice, other tipples like dry wines can be added in its place.
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When selecting which brandy to use in your soup, there’s no need to get fancy. “We use whatever brandy is left over behind the bar when making our French onion,” says Pacheco. He explains that Cognac can be used if you wish, but as it’s often on the pricier side, it may be best to leave it for drinking; it will not have any distinct flavor-enhancing effects from a standard brandy once the alcohol cooks off.
After our conversation with Pacheco, we at VinePair were inspired to create a booze-infused recipe of our own to carry us through the chiller months. This soup, featuring both red wine and brandy as well as two types of cheese, oozes comfort and practically begs you to curl up with a steaming bowl of your own this fall.
Boozy French Onion Soup
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 cups onions
- 6 cups beef broth
- 1 ½ cups red wine (preferably one that’s been open a night or two)
- ¼ cup brandy
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup Gruyère, shredded
- ¾ cup Swiss, shredded
- French bread
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
For the Soup
- In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat and add onions. Sauté onions and 4 thyme sprigs until fragrant. Onions should be softened and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Add the flour and thoroughly coat onions, simmering for another 5 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with red wine and brandy and allow to simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated.
- Add beef stock, beef broth, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and the remaining thyme sprigs to the pot. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 35-45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In soup crocks, add soup and top with bread and a generous portion of both Gruyère and Swiss cheeses.
- Bake until the cheese is melted, golden brown, and just starting to bake onto the sides of the crock, about 8 minutes.
For the Bread
- Turn on the broiler.
- Cut french bread into thick slices. Prep each slice with a drizzle of olive oil and rub vigorously with garlic clove.
- Toast bread under the boiler until golden brown, about 5 minutes.