French onion soup and herbed brioche

I wussed out for this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge. I wasn't very daring. The challenge was to make a soup and an accompaniment. If you were really daring, you could try your hand at consomme, a lovely clear broth made by clarifying a delicious soup into something even more delicious and beautiful.

Truth was, I did try to be daring, but I failed miserably and didn't try again. Sad, but let's face it, if it didn't get done during my week-long staycation, it wasn't going to happen.

The nice thing about trying a consomme and failing is that the failure is still absolutely delicious. We enjoyed the heck out of our french onion non-consomme, particularly when paired with the wonderful brioche suggested by the challenge's hostess.

One day, I'll attempt consomme again. Until then, I'll be lucky if I get dinner on the table once this week, with the crazy schedule waiting for me when I returned to work after vacation...

Blog-checking lines: Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

I did get to prepare stock the right way for the challenge. I love making stock. This time, I stuck with vegetable stock, mostly because when I make beef stock I like to use cheap meaty bones, and the best place to get those around here is too far for me to travel when on staycation. The veggies were all conveniently located 1/2 a mile away, at Kroger, so vegetable stock it was.

The hostess, Peta, is from Australia, where the vegetables must be teensy tiny. For Texas-sized vegetables, I used about 1/2 of the quantity she included below (14 oz of onions is about 1 medium Kroger onion!)

Vegetarian French Onion Soup/Consommé
(For a vegan option do not use the egg white technique use the freezing method).

Servings: 6

Step 1 - Stock

5 quarts cold water
14 oz onions, about 4 medium
14 oz carrots, about 6 medium
7 oz celery, about 4 large ribs
2 leeks
1¾ oz dried mushrooms, about 12
9 oz tomatoes, about 2 medium
7 oz broccoli stalk, two large stalks
Bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf [I added tarragon], tied together)

Step 2 – soup
5½ tablespoons (3 oz) butter
2 lbs yellow onions, sliced in rings
1½ Tbsp brown sugar
4 Tbsp cognac or port
¾ cup + 1 Tbsp red or white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
2 Tbsp (1 oz) Dijon mustard
2 quarts mushroom/vegetable stock (from Step 1)

Step 3 – Consommé (Using the egg white raft technique)
1 clove garlic - finely minced
1 lb brown mushrooms
2 large egg whites, beaten
1 cup crushed ice

To Serve
6 slices of brioche, sourdough or French baguettes
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

Step 1 – Stock

Chop the vegetables into a roughly equal size (1/2" or so cubes). Sweat the vegetables in the oil or butter until soft.

Put ingredients in a stockpot and cover with cold water.

Cover with a lid, then bring to a boil on medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, skimming foam from surface, for 1-2 hours.

Strain stock through a muslin-lined sieve. Discard solids.

Step 2 – Soup

Melt butter in a large saucepan and add the onions.

Add sugar and a little salt to help the caramelisation process.

Cook over medium to low heat until the onions caramelise to dark brown. Stir regularly. This can take hours. Don’t be tempted to increase the heat to speed it up.

Deglaze the pan with cognac/port and wine and then pop in a couple of sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and the mustard and cook together.

Pour in the stock and reheat.

Step 3 – Consomme (clarified with egg whites)

Fry the mushrooms until brown and cooked. Allow any juices to cook off.

Add garlic and cook gently for 1 minute. You don’t want any burnt bits which will make your stock bitter.

Strain off any fat or remaining juices.

Allow the mushrooms to cool. This is so your egg whites don’t cook.

Strain the soup to remove onions etc.

Place egg whites in a bowl. This is the time to taste your stock and decide if it needs salt and pepper. Add seasoning to the egg whites.

Whisk the whites to a bubbly froth and add the crushed ice. Add to the cooked mushrooms. Mix together.

Add this mixture to the simmering stock. Whisk for a slow count of three.

Let it heat slowly back to a simmer. Don’t stir it again.

The raft is a delicate thing. It is vital it doesn’t break apart (if it breaks apart it will all mix back into the soup and you’ll have to start again with the egg whites [mine didn't ever come together, and I didn't know what 'start again with the egg whites' meant - did I have to add more mushrooms to new egg whites? I didn't have any more mushrooms!]). You want to bring it up to a simmer very slowly. Keep a close eye on it. Try to push the middle back so you get a good hole. Once the raft is substantial, break a little hole in it if there isn’t already one.

As the consommé simmers, you will see bubbles and foam come up through your hole. Skim the foam off and throw it away. When the bubbles stop coming up and the consommé looks clear underneath, then you’re ready to take it out. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for ten minutes.

Removing the consommé from underneath the raft is another nerve-wracking procedure. You want to break as little of the raft as possible, but you have to get underneath it to remove the liquid.

Enlarge your hole with a ladle and spoon it all out as gently as you can. You can strain it if you want too but hopefully the liquid is clear.

Once you’ve removed all of the consommé from the pot discard the raft. If you have never made a consommé before, victory dances and loud cheering are totally appropriate [there were no victory dances or cheering in our kitchen].

Now you are ready to serve. You can add a crouton as you would for the soup but I would put the crouton on the side so as not to interfere with the beauty of a bowl of crystal clear consommé.

Obviously, this is not my photo. This is what consomme should be.
This was mine. See? No need to put that crouton on the side. Dump it right in there, where it belongs!
If you, as I, do not have a consomme at this time, return those strained onions to the soup. Top a thick slice of bread that will fit into the bowl with grated gruyere cheese, a pinch of pepper and chopped thyme and grill the top until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden. Put these on top of your hot bowl of soup. Enjoy. It'll be delicious.

The brioche I served with the onion soup was just as lovely as it is in that amazing consomme photo (you know, of the consomme I did not make) above. Mr Leaven is rather addicted to the brioche, and it will absolutely be making a return appearance around these parts.

Herb and Garlic Brioche

2 cups (280 gm) all-purpose plain flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk, warm
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tsp Italian mixed herbs, dried
1 tsp freshly crushed garlic
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped basil
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.4

Slowly mix the warm milk, butter, herbs, and 2 of the eggs into the flour mixture

Knead until the dough is smooth. The dough is ready to rise when it is completely smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until it is doubled in size.

Transfer the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface and punch it down a few times.

Finely chop the fresh herbs and mix with the garlic.

Press the dough out into a rectangle then spread with the chopped herbs.

Roll up like a swiss roll and place on a lined baking tray.

Cover the pan and allow the dough to rise until it is doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the dough covering, gently brush the loaf with the remaining beaten egg, bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until the brioche is golden brown. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, and then transfer it to a wire cooling rack.

There is a nifty gelatin technique for making consomme where you don't have to make any raft at all; you freeze the liquid with gelatin, which traps all the impurities, and you're left with a lovely clear and flavorful liquid. I promise I'll give that one a try one day. Until then, this was a fun challenge, as always, and even though I failed it was fun to try. I also thoroughly enjoyed the French mushroom and onion soup, and will prepare that again too.

Thank you, Peta, for another great Daring Cooks' month!

For the pdf with lots of erudite information on soup and stock and consomme, as well as several recipes, click here. And to see people who succeeded at the challenge, check out the Daring Kitchen website!


  1. Well I think you did a wonderful effort on this challenge yes you are right even if the consommé doesn't work out. I love the look of the first photo well done. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. Everything looks wonderful!!! great job.

  3. I gotta tell you, yours looks SUPER to me! French onion soup is SO yummy, and that bread looks scrumptious. Awesome job.


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