david lebovitz’s french onion soup (from ‘my paris kitchen’)

david lebovitz onion soupSOME ONIONS WON’T LAST—you know, the ones whose tops didn’t brown down thoroughly before harvest, and may still look more like a scallion’s stalk, or store-bought ones sitting in that bowl on the counter a little too long. Solution: onion soup, specifically David Lebovitz’s onion soup from “My Paris Kitchen,” one of his popular books.

It’s a soup you can make and enjoy now, or freeze, depending on how many willing yellow onions you can get your hands on, and on whether you can resist eating it all right away. With my first bowlful, I didn’t even manage to wait long enough to melt the cheese on top of the recommended toast. It just smelled too inviting as-is (or was), and then, suddenly, gone.

copyright David LebovitzIf you haven’t met David Lebovitz, the story, in brief: In 1999, he left Chez Panisse and a career in the restaurant business. He moved from San Francisco to Paris—where he jokingly says Belgian endive is so inexpensive as to be the French version of “trash” lettuce, and reports there are more than 1,260 bakeries. Packing up little more than his best skillet, cookbooks and trusty laptop, David turned to writing, and his 2011 memoir, “The Sweet Life in Paris” (Amazon affiliate link), became a “New York Times” bestseller.

His website has likewise been a giant hit (and has an e-newsletter I enjoy); he is lately (as of 2021ish) moving more over to delivering his latest writing via a Substack newsletter.

No wonder he is so perennially popular. Besides having a way with food, he is a delicious storyteller, too, always layering in the essential ingredients of humor, tenderness and accessibility—even when he’s “remastering the classics” as is the stated goal of “My Paris Kitchen.”

He leaves his mark on coq au vin and croque-monsieur, cassoulet and lamb tagine, and delicious frites (made in the oven, a nod to the fact that most of us don’t have a deep-fryer in the kitchen the way French households often do). And there is dessert, of course; David was for many years a pastry chef. To the chocolate-dulce de leche tart, the salted butter caramel chocolate mousse, and coffee crème brulee, I say, help me! But there are simpler choices such as madeleine, too.

And there is the French onion soup—but not with beef stock, as is the tradition. David uses chicken stock, specifically homemade. (Small example of David humor: On his website FAQ page, he answers the inquiry about, “Finding Canned Chicken Stock in France” with, “You can’t.”)

I’m a vegetarian, so I skipped the chicken stock that David suggests in his recipe notes below, using vegetable instead (or half water and half vegetable stock if the stock is insistent-flavored). And as I said, I skipped the cheese, at least the first time around, as you can see in my monastic photo at the top of the page, compared to the positively elastic, in-action one from David’s book just below. Now seeing his version, who can resist this recipe from “My Paris Kitchen“?

 copyright My French Kitchen french onion soup (soupe à l’oignon)

recipe below copyright by David Lebovitz, from “My Paris Kitchen;” photo above from the book, copyright Ed Anderson (used with permission).

Serves 6

By David Lebovitz

Beef stock is thought to be traditional in this soup, but it’s heavier, and I rarely have beef stock on hand, so I use chicken stock. For a heartier stock, you can roast the chicken bones in a 400ºF (200ºC) oven on a baking sheet for 30 to 45 minutes, until well browned, then use those bones to make the stock.

soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/55g) unsalted butter
  • 2½ pounds (1.2kg) yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (180ml) white wine or sherry
  • 2 quarts (2l) chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed

toast ingredients:

  • 6 thick slices hearty white bread, or about 18 thick-sliced pieces of baguette, well toasted
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, for rubbing the bread
  • 3 cups (255g) grated Emmenthal, Comté, or Gruyère cheese


1. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

2. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for 1½ hours, stirring less frequently and decreasing the heat to avoid burning as the onions continue to cook down. (You may wish to use a flame diffuser if your cooktop doesn’t allow low enough heat.)

As the onions cook, if they brown on the bottom of the pan in places, use a spatula to scrape those appetizing brown bits into the onions because they’ll add flavor. The onions are done when they have collapsed into a thick amber-brown paste.

3. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and use a flat utensil to loosen any and all brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, stirring them into the onions. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, tasting it to get the balance right, adding a touch more vinegar, and salt and pepper, if desired.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Set six ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

5. Divide the hot soup among the bowls. Rub both sides of the toasted bread slices with the garlic. Put the toasts on the soup, then sprinkle the tops with the grated cheese. Bake the soups on the upper rack of the oven until the cheese is deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if your bowls can withstand the heat, you can set the cheese-topped soups under a hot broiler, cooking them until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Serve immediately.

more from david lebovitz

enter to win ‘my french kitchen’

My-Paris-Kitchen2I BOUGHT AN EXTRA COPY of David Lebovitz’s “My French Kitchen” (Amazon affiliate link) to share with a lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is answer this multi-part question in the comments box below the last comment on this page. (Note: the giveaway is over.)

Do you grow onions? Have you ever made onion soup? (If not, what’s your most onion-centric dish?)

No answer? That’s fine; just say “count me in” or the equivalent, and I will. But an answer is even better. I selected a random winner after entries closed at midnight Sunday, September 14, 2014, and another book for another round of the giveway that ended Tuesday November 19, 2019. Good luck to all.

(Photo of David Lebovitz from his website.)

  1. Lisa says:

    I have tried to grow onions but without much success. I think I’m too scattered a gardener and my husband brings the most beautiful onions home from the Farmer’s Market so I gave up on them.
    My favorite onion-centric dish is a recipe from Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir A Light at the End of the World, written after her husband’s sudden death. I do not have a name for the dish (I didn’t copy that page) but it is heavenly divine for something so simple. It’s an onion sauce made by sautéing 4 large onions &, 2-3 oz pancetta in olive oil. After it sauces it’s served over pasta (I use linguini) with parsley added and copious amounts of freshly grated Parmesan. I can’t stop eating it.
    Can’t wait to try David’s soup!

  2. suzanne says:

    I love David & read his blog regularly. He’s a great baker & chef but also such an entertaining writer. I recommend any of his recipes. I have been gardening for move than 45 years but never have had success with onions. Not sure why but since they’re usually abundant @ my local farm stand I just buy from them. I make onion soup @ least once a winter but don’t think I’ve made David’s. I’m going to try his recipe over the holidays. Thanks for the microgreens tutorial as well. Somehow I missed it in the paper so very glad to see it today. I usually do a few windowsill greens every winter but they’re never great. I’ve been inspired to dust off my seedling trays and grow lights & am already dreaming about how I’ll use those cilantro & basil greens-thanks again

  3. Deanna Huston says:

    This past bizarre year, I have experimented a bit more in the garden. I moved to an abandoned cottage in SW Vermont and began some soil and raised bed building just before the state went into lock down. I know first hand about the frustration of trying to find quality plants and seeds on the internet and lying in wait for the mailman when I was successful. One thing I tried and found to work well was starting onions from the root section of store bought onions. After rooting them in water and setting out in a garden bed I got a great harvest. The onions were fresh, tasty and essentially free. The process was surprisingly easy, though keeping my house cat out of them was surprisingly hard. Onions are essential for flavor.

  4. Paula says:

    Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe looks great. Not sure I would add the sugar since sautéed onions have so much sweetness already. I agree that veggie stock might make the soup lighter. Thanks for posting this. I do make onion soup but I will tweak my recipe with some of Mr. Lebovitz’s ideas. Gruyere cheese would make it all come together. Happy Hearty Holidays.

    1. Cindi says:

      I love onion soup can’t wait to try this recipe. I didn’t grow onions this past year ( garden got in late and was smaller due to knee surgery in Feb. but they are in the plans for 2021. I am trying garlic this year and the crazy weather in VA has them growing now but hopefully they will do ok over the winter. Making soup later this week.

  5. Kathleen Adams says:

    We enjoy Swiss steak, a ‘swissed round steak’ braised with onion. Onions are an essential vegetable in my kitchen. Our garden is too small to plant onions. But at the local farmer’s market, you can find large candy onions.

  6. Mary Farrell says:

    I grow onions every year, and have made onion soup many times. But why, oh why, do you invite us to answer the questions for a drawing, after stating that the giveaway is OVER?

  7. Leesa says:

    I have never made French Onion soup but I want to try. I just purchased a good bottle of sherry and I think it would be delicious in this recipe!


    I love Copra. Easy to start from seed. You can set them out early. After harvesting, they keep for a long time and make great onion soup.

    I also love Egyptian Top Onions.

  9. Eileen says:

    We’ve not yet grown onions but have had good results with hardneck garlic so we ought to try onions.
    Many times I have prepared and enjoyed the onion soup from my fifty-year old copy of Julia Child’s MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING.
    During the long winter which lies ahead, I will definitely try the David Lebovitz recipe.

  10. Liz says:

    I do grow onions, on purpose now. But the best one I ever grew appeared, to my considerable surprise, in the middle of a flower bed where apparently an onion set had been dropped unnoticed! I had used sets for scallions, but as a new gardener hadn’t realized how easy it was to let them continue to maturity. Thank you for featuring David Lebovitz’s book: I just ordered a copy for my daughter as a Christmas gift.

  11. Vicki Carson says:

    Outside, a cold mix of rain and snow is falling on our three day old snow. My kitchen, however, is filled with the smell of cooking onions, and the Gruyere is already grated in anticipation. This is the perfect lunch for a cold, wet, gray day! Thank you!

  12. Martha Wood says:

    I grew onions once and did not do a through harvesting job. For years I had random wild onions in my vegetable garden. Now the grocery is my onion source.

  13. Mary C Farrell says:

    I grow onions every year, and have made onion soup many times. I’ll try it with chicken instead of beef stock. While I don’t put onions in chocolate pudding, they are an ingredient in just about anything savory.

  14. Anne Holmes says:

    Yes I’ve grown onions! It’s my belief that in France they must say “An onion a day keeps the doctor away” because they always use onions in the best savory recipes. My onions are usually the hard white ones & seem to be quite “hot” from my soil. One of my favorite recipes is one I call Spanish chicken made with lots of onions, lots of garlic, lots of thyme, artichoke hearts & chicken thighs. We love it. I follow you & David Leibovitz & take all the advise & suggestions you both give very earnestly! You are the best.

  15. Cheri Rightmyer says:

    Yes! Been growing onions for decades. Love the ‘Candy’ cultivar. Yes, have made onion soup. Love David Leibovitz’s recipe. Must try it soon!

  16. Wendy says:

    I love onion soup. I am always surprised when sugar is added to a savory recipe.

    I eat a plant based diet so I am sure (as you did Margaret) I can make this recipe vegan. I will try adding
    a bit of sugar and see what a difference it makes. (I may add some vegan cheese)

  17. Susan Rieske says:

    Yes! I grow lots of onions! Chives, bunching onions, white and yellow Spanish, Walla Walla, and I’m still harvesting leeks. I love Michael Ruhlmans No-Stock French Onion soup. I will have to try David’s.

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