Recipe Review

Why I Won’t Be Making Julia Child’s Classic French Onion Soup Again

published Jan 29, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshot: Getty

If there’s anyone I trust to have a solid French onion soup recipe, it’s Julia Child. The author of several iconic cookbooks, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she helped introduce America to French cooking. I even studied her recipes in culinary school!

When planning which recipes to include in our French onion soup recipe showdown, it only felt right to include Child’s recipe, which is published on The recipe looked simple enough, and includes all the elements of a traditional French onion soup. Here’s what I thought when I cooked it at home.

Get the recipe: Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshot: Getty

How to Make Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

Child’s recipe is pretty straightforward. You’ll start by heating a combination of butter and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Next, you’ll add a generous amount of sliced onions and cook until tender. At this point, Child instructs you to add both salt and sugar to the onions, then continue to cook them until they’re a “dark walnut color.” The recipe states that this will take 25 to 30 minutes, but mine took quite a bit longer. Once caramelized, you’ll add flour and cook the onions three to four minutes more, then remove from the heat and let cool.

You’ll then whisk in a few cups of hot beef stock until incorporated, then add the remaining stock along with a splash of cognac and dry white wine. Loosely cover the pot and let it slowly simmer for one and a half hours. Child notes that if too much liquid evaporates during cooking you can add a splash of water, though I didn’t find this necessary.

Once the soup has simmered, ladle it into four oven-safe bowls and top each portion with toasted French bread and shredded Gruyère cheese. Melt the cheese under a broiler and serve immediately. Bon appétit!

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

I hate to say this, but I really didn’t like this soup. I know it’s a classic recipe, but it was my least favorite of the four I tested. The soup was fairly simple to make, but it was just way too sweet. Cooking the onions with sugar — even though it was just a half teaspoon — added too much sweetness to the broth. It completely changed the flavor of the soup and overpowered the savoriness.

The recipe also doesn’t call for any herbs, so it lacked the subtle background flavor you get from letting the broth cook with fresh or dried herbs, such as thyme or a dried bay leaf. The classic topping of toasted bread and Gruyère cheese was nice, but it wasn’t enough to balance out the overly-sweet broth. I respect Julia Child and look up to her, but this soup just wasn’t for me. I’m sorry!

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You’re Making Julia Child’s French Onion Soup, a Few Tips

1. Omit the sugar: Half a teaspoon of sugar doesn’t sound like a lot, but it made the soup way too sweet for my liking. I suggest ditching the sugar and cooking the onions with just butter and salt. They might take a bit longer to caramelize, but it will result in better-tasting soup.

2. Set aside at least 45 minutes to cook the onions: Child’s recipe instructs you to cook the onions for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are a dark walnut color, but I found it took closer to 45 minutes to fully caramelize them. Plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to brown them so they are as flavorful as possible.

3. Consider adding a bouqet garni (herbs tied together with twine) to infuse the broth with additional flavor: While the broth tasted fine, it lacked a lot of the nuanced flavors I liked in some of the other soups. To boost the flavor, consider adding a bunch of herbs (such as thyme, bay, and parsley) tied together with a string. (You can learn how to make one here.)

Rating: 5/10

Have you ever made Julia Child’s French onion soup? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshots: Getty, Shutterstock, Serious Eats, Getty