Baking for Bookworms: French Onion Soup from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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There’s nothing better on a gloomy fall day than soup. Especially if it’s French onion soup inspired by Harry Potter…It’s the little things in life, really. French onion soup will always have a special place in my heart. This is by no means a quick recipe, but the flavor explosion is well worth the effort.

The seventh book is not the first mention of French onion soup in the series (Molly Weasley makes it too), but its appearance in this book signifies the creation of a new home. With all the upheaval the main characters face, it’s natural that after leaving behind everything they’d known they’d seek refuge in a familiar place. Their treatment of Kreacher says a lot about the kinds of people they’re going to be, and it shows that even the most hardened hearts can be swayed by love and respect.

This soup comes towards the beginning of the book, right after Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave the Burrow:

“He began to spoon soup into his mouth. The quality of Kreacher’s cooking had improved dramatically ever since he had been given Regulus’s locket: Today’s French onion was as good as Harry had ever tasted.”   (227)

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Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds onions (halved and cut into 1/4 inch slices)
  • 3 tbs butter cut into three pieces (if you use salted butter, use less salt)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or white wine (if you don’t use wine for cooking, just throw in  a 1/4 cup chicken broth or beef broth)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

for the top:

  • small baguette cut in slices
  • shredded or sliced gruyere

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spray a casserole dish with vegetable spray. If you have a Dutch oven, this is the time to break it out–I don’t have one, so I made do with two casserole dishes (though you could use a 9×13 inch pan). Or if you’re not making this for a crowd, you could easily halve the recipe and it would all fit in a casserole dish.

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Anyway, put a lid or tin foil over the dish (adding the butter and some salt and pepper on top) and put it in the oven for an hour. After an hour, take it out and stir it. Then stick it back in for at least another hour, or until the onions are soft.

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Take the dish out of the oven and transfer it to a large pot (this is where the Dutch oven would come in handy because you could just put that on the stove). Cook the onions over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until all the juices evaporate (15-20 minutes). Keep cooking it a little longer until the onions start to brown and then add 1/4 cup of water, letting it evaporate.

Onions should be this dark before adding your sherry and broth.

Onions should be this dark before adding your sherry and broth.

Repeat the process of adding the 1/4 cup of water and letting it evaporate 3 more times, or until the onions have a gorgeous, dark caramel color. Then add your wine, if using and let it evaporate (5 minutes or so).

Stir in two cups water, chicken broth, beef broth, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for half an hour or more.

When you’re ready to eat the soup, throw it in some broiler safe crockery. Top with a toasted baguette slice (I put mine in the toaster oven with a little butter) and add the gruyere. Buy a baguette or be like me and forget to buy it and bake it instead (recipe follows).

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Put the ramekin-type things on a rimmed baking sheet and put under the broiler until bubbly, about 3-5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes or so and then serve.

Adapted from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.

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Quick French Baguette

If you’ve been curious about making yeast breads, this is a good bread to start with, it’s fast and almost foolproof.

Adapted from this recipe from Girl Versus Dough

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
  • 3-3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

In a bowl or in a stand mixer, whisk the yeast with the water and let sit for 5 minutes. Add flour and salt and whisk or use a paddle attachment and combine. Either knead the dough by hand for ten minutes, or use the dough hook on the stand mixer and mix on medium speed for five minutes.

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When the dough is smooth and stretchy, shape it into a ball and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place for an hour, or until it doubles.

Punch the dough down, divide into two pieces, and roll each piece into a twelve-inch long log. Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let the bread rise a little more while you preheat the oven to 400F (around 20-30 minutes).

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Remove the plastic wrap and slash the dough several times with a sharp knife. Put the baguettes in the oven, reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until golden brown (20-25 minutes).

Take the loaves out of the oven, spritz them with a little water to deepen the color, and transfer them to a cooling rack.

The house smells wonderful when you spend the whole day baking. What’s your favorite thing to make in the fall?

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