Famous-Barr was a chain of department stores in St Louis (which, sadly, were all converted to Macy's in 2006). The stores had cafeterias with a wide-ranging menu, but French Onion soup was the only thing I ever ordered; thick and rich, it was covered with a layer of melted cheese atop slices of French baguette and served in a brown pottery soup bowl with a handle. Another slice of baguette came on the side, along with packets of real butter.
I hadn't had it for years, but decided that French Onion soup would be great for dinner. When I got home I Googled the recipe. As I read through it, though, I realized I had a problem...the recipe called for 3 1/2 hours of cooking time, and overnight refrigeration to meld the flavors together. I wanted to eat it in 90 minutes. However, with some creative thinking I was able to put dinner on the table right on time. If the soup suffered for it, I didn't notice.
The original recipe (which I halved):
Famous-Barr's French Onion Soup
Yield: About 4 quarts
5 pounds unpeeled onions
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
3 quarts beef broth (regular or low-sodium)
1 cup white wine, optional
Caramel coloring or Kitchen Bouquet, optional
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Sourdough or French baguettes, thinly sliced, optional
Swiss or Gruyere cheese, optional
- Peel onions and slice 1/8 inch thick. Melt butter in a 6-quart (or larger) stockpot. Add onions; cook, uncovered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Sprinkle with pepper, paprika and flour and add bay leaf; sauté over low heat 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Slowly pour in broth and wine, stirring constantly. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
- As soon as the soup boils, reduce heat to low and simmer very slowly for 2 hours.
- If desired, adjust color to a rich brown with caramel coloring. Season with salt. Refrigerate overnight so flavors can blend.
- To serve, reheat soup. If desired, pour into ovenproof crocks or bowls. Top with a slice of bread and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Heat under the broiler until cheese melts and bubbles, about 5 minutes.
To serve, I put the bread in two bowls, poured hot soup on top, then added a slice of Swiss to each. It was really good!