french onion and apple soup with cheddar and bacon croutons

Did we just skip right over fall and into winter? they’re predicting snow flurries here in Atlanta this weekend. Which is a good excuse for me to park my butt by the fireplace; so I’m not really complaining. Much.

So last night we ate dinner on the living room floor in front of the fire, and as I put the dish down in front of the boy, he exclaimed, “Hey! Soup with little grilled cheeses on top!”, which made me happy in a dorky way, because they do look like little yummy grilled cheeses. And it’s definitely been soup and grilled cheese weather.

This soup is loosely adapted from Everyday Dining with Wine by Andrea Immer (now Robinson). By “loosely adapted”, I mean I took her ideas for using apples along with the onions, and topping the croutons with cheddar and bacon instead of the usual Swiss or gruyere. For the broth though, I used my own recipe, which has more booze in it. When the apples break down, they give the broth another layer of flavor, more depth in a way, where I think a lot of French onion soup broths hurt. The addition of apples means that you can omit using flour to thicken the soup, which some recipes call for stirring into the onions prior to adding broth, as the apples break down and their natural pectin helps bind the whole thing together.

When you’re sweating the apples and onions together, don’t walk away too far, even though this process will take a fairly long time to caramelize the onions perfectly (up to an hour). However, the sugar in the apples seep out and could burn the bottom of your pot – while you do want crusty bits on the bottom of your pot, you do not want a burned layer. If you do notice burning, turn the heat down immediately and stir the onions and apples frequently. The apples will for the most part break up into bits. If you do have a layer of burn, do not be tempted to scrub it with a wooden spoon and mix it in, as this will result in a burned tasting soup. And if you’ve somehow walked away and, oh I don’t know, got on the phone with a client and then kind of forgot about what was going on the stove, carefully remove the onions and apples and put them in another pot to continue the process with a little more butter and oil.

Incidentally, do you know how to clean a pot that has a lovely layer of burn on the bottom that won’t come off?

Pour water into the pot until it comes up about an inch from the bottom. Add a few drops of dish detergent. Put the pot on the stove and bring the liquid to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, start scrubbing at the burned pieces. You may have to change out the water a few times. It takes gobs of time to do this and this process sucks, but it’s better than the alternative which is to throw out the pot – which in my case WILL NEVER HAPPEN as it’s my coveted huge Le Creuset.

Make a few extra croutons topped with bacon and cheddar to have on the side, because no one will turn those down.

French onion and apple soup, with cheddar and bacon croutons
- generously serves 4.

. 2 tablespoons butter
. 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
. About 2 ½ lbs onions, cut in half from root end to top, then sliced into skinny little half moons
. 3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼ inch slices
. 2 bay leaves
. Few sprigs of thyme
. Salt and pepper
. 6 cups chicken broth
. 3 cups beef broth
. 1 cup red wine
. One slug of brandy, Cognac, or even apple brandy or Calvados
. A good sharp cheddar, grated (I leave this amount up to you – you want enough to cover the toasts)
. 4 slices of bacon, cooked, drained on a paper towel lined plate, then cut into bits
. Baguette

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onions, apples, thyme, bay leaves, a couple of pinches of salt, and stir thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are caramelized (if the bottom of the pot is starting to burn, turn the heat down – see my note above). This step can take up to one hour. In the meantime, combine the chicken and beef stock in a saucepot and bring that to a simmer on the stove; turn heat down under that until ready to use.

Slowly add the wine while stirring. Slowly add the chicken and beef broths, at first one cup at a time while stirring, then dump in the rest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add the shot of cognac or brandy, and let simmer for a while – the liquid will reduce down. Stir every now and again for about 30 minutes, and taste for seasonings (salt and pepper).

When the broth has reached a nirvana-like state (when it’s to your liking), slice the baguette on a diagonal into rounds (figure a couple of rounds to cover each bowl you’re using, plus a few extra), and toast them on both sides. Turn the broiler on high. Ladle soup into oven proof crocks, top with the toasts, then top the toasts with a bit of bacon and some cheddar. Put the soup crocks under the broiler (I put mine on a baking sheet first then slide the sheet under the broiler – makes for easy removal) and let the cheese melt and become bubbly and golden. Remove soups from broiler, and using oven mitts, place crocks onto a paper towel lined plate so that they don’t slide all around, and serve.


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