On Facebook the other day, my friend Michael X. said that he was making french onion soup for dinner. This is one of my favorites, and it inspired me to do the same a couple days later. I asked Michael if he served up the soup in sour dough bread bowls, and he said no -- he loves the idea, but he is afraid they would leak.
I decided to take pictures of how to do it, to prevent leakage, and to encourage him to not fear the bread bowl. If worse comes to worse, you can serve the bread bowl inside a bowl bowl, and not have any worries at all about the outcome.
I started with Alton Brown's recipe for french onion soup, found here on the internet. I am a huge fan of Alton Brown, and only once have I been disappointed by one of his recipes (christmas sugar cookie dough. It came out like cardboard, hard and crispy and disgusting. We threw the whole batch out after it was cooked).
There are some tweaks to the recipe that I will state right off the bat.
I didn't have any beef consume, or consomme, and I had no chicken stock, so I used 20 ounces of beef broth that I had in a container in the fridge. We always keep some on hand for soups and whatnot... normally a container of chicken and a container of beef, but I didn't notice when I went shopping that we were out of chicken.
I used two vidalia onions, one red onion and three small yellow onions.
I would cut the apple cider in half, or not even use it at all. The soup was cloyingly sweet, which is too much for me, considering I don't eat a lot of sweets and I really notice when things are sweet... it hits my palette hard.
I would use more wine in the recipe. He calls for two cups, but the instructions say to pour wine over the onions to cover them. Two cups wasn't enough to cover them. But nothing got ruined - the wine reduced to a beautiful syrup and there is something so sublime about the smell of onions cooking in wine. Blissful.
And I left out the cognac, and my "bouquet garni" was more or less thrown in and not tied up in kitchen string. I didn't have any, but had plenty of bay leaves and parsley, so that got incorporated into the actual soup instead of removed from the soup.
For the bread bowls, I went to my local supermarket and ordered sour dough bread bowls a day in advance. They make them, but they usually only make a few and they sell out quickly. I could have gone to Panera or something, but the local market had them for me the next day, and they were about $1.25 each. Start by getting a nice knife and cut the top off straight across. Like this:
Then, using your fingers gently dig out the center of the bread bowl. Don't dig too close to the bottom or sides, because then all that will be left is the crust and you'll realize Michael's fear -- that you'll spring a leak.
As you can see, I've left plenty of bread inside the bowl, but it is still a nice big bowl.
You will then take the top, and cut it into little pieces. I like how these bowls were scored before baking, and that gave them the little criss cross tops, which were perfect lines to cut on. Take the cubed/cut top (and the insides of the bowls) and put them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with garlic powder, and toast them in the oven.
Alton's directions say to cut a loaf of crusty bread and then put it under the broiler, but I always find that burns the bread. Instead, I put the oven on about 450 degrees, and gently toast/heat until everything is crispy and crunchy, and not burned, about 5 minutes. I also do not apply any butter or olive oil to the bread... it toasts just fine without.
After your croutons are made, take your bread bowl and fill with your soup. Two ladle fulls went into my bowls here. Top with the toasted croutons, completely filling the top so you can't see the soup, and then cover with shredded cheese. I used Gruyere because it is my favorite, but you can use Swiss (Emental) or Fondita. Whatever makes you happy. Gruyere is my favorite because it melts so beautifully and browns so nicely. I should have shredded it smaller here, but we were in a hurry to get dinner cooked so Geoff (my kitchen assistant) used the slicer side of our grater and this was the result.
I ended up taking a lot of the left over bread guts and putting them back in the oven with some more Gruyere on them, and toasting them until the cheese melted. I then put them on top of soup in a regular bowl and ate it that way. I seemed to enjoy that a little more than the bread bowl.
The inside of the bread bowl after soaking up the soup gets a little, shall we say... snotty. The consistency of the bread was weird as I scraped the inside and pulled out a long rope of dough. It tasted great, but looked gross. And eating the bowl is always a great time. Whoever thought this up was kind of genius, if you ask me.
As for serving amounts, we ended up with four full bread bowls, a regular bowl full, and a small container of left overs. So I would say Alton's recipe claims to serve 8, it would be more along the lines of 6. Also, it would depend on your vessel of choice, bread bowl or some form of oven safe crockery.
So there you go. Don't fear the bread bowl.