Celebrating the Tour de France with food writer Felicity Cloake

In our final excerpt from Felicity Cloake’s new book 'One More Croissant for the Road', she shares her recipe for classic French Onion Soup – the perfect dish to celebrate the end of her personal Tour de France.

A note from Felicity: When I cycled round France last summer in search of the best recipes it had to offer for my new book, it wasn’t exactly soup season – or if it was, then it was Vichyssoise rather than a steaming bowl of onion and Gruyère. After a day on the road, however, I was quite happy to sink my face into this rich soup, whatever the weather; there’s little more comforting than this intensely savoury broth, thick with sweetly caramelised onions and topped with a bubbling raft of cheesy croutons.  

Often credited to the bars and cafés clustered around Paris’s old Les Halles market, where it was served as a pick-me-up for traders up early and revellers out late, or to the bouchons of Lyon, Champagne also has a good claim to have popularised the dish, even if it doesn’t shout quite so loudly about it. Interestingly, onion soup has a reputation in France as being an excellent way of masking the smell of booze, and is thus frequently cited as a good thing to have the morning after the night before – the idea of which, much as I love it, makes me feel a bit queasy.

According to legend, King Louis XV, hunting in the region of Chalons-en-Champagne, though clearly not very successfully, found himself ravenous with hunger, and nothing in the kitchen but onions, butter and champagne – and just like that, a culinary legend was born. The soup is also sometimes credited to Stanislas, Duke of Lorraine and sometime King of Poland, who apparently took a fancy to it while travelling through the region to see his daughter the Queen at Versailles, and insisted on learning how to make it. Both of these tales suggest the French aristocracy was rather handier in the kitchen than I would have imagined… but why spoil a good yarn with hard historical facts?

Though it was harder to find in sun-drenched July than I might have greedily hoped, even in Chalons itself, a particularly memorable onion soup did pop up on my last night in Paris, to my delight – a final reward for all those kilometres pedalled.  

An excerpt from One More Croissant for the Road

STAGE 19 

BAR-LE-DUC TO REIMS 

Soupe a l’Oignon Gratine 

There are many ways to make French onion soup – red wine, beef stock and more than the odd slug of brandy – but this one, bulked out with stale bread like many old recipes, is based on a soupe à l’oignon à la Stanislas’ from 1831, though with wine and stock rather than the original water, because apparently I have fancier tastes than the King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Count of the Holy Roman Empire and Duke of Lorraine. 

Serves 2, generously, or 4, more elegantly 

2 tbsp butter 

3 fat onions, peeled and finely chopped 

1 stale piece of sourdough or other robust bread 

Butter, to spread 

300ml dry white wine 

800ml good chicken stock 

For the croutons, if desired (you desire them) 

2 thin slices of baguette 

Olive oil, to brush 

50g grated Gruyère 

1 Melt the butter in a frying pan over a low heat and gently, slowly, fry the onions until soft and golden. 

2 Meanwhile, toast the bread, then butter and cut into small pieces. Cut the crusts off, and cut these into extra-small pieces. 

3 Turn the heat up slightly, add the bread and fry, stirring almost continuously, until the onions brown. 

4 Transfer the onions and bread to a saucepan over a medium heat, add the wine and stock, and leave to simmer gently for 20 minutes. 

5 If you want croutons, in defiance of the Champagne recipe, brush the slices of baguette with oil and toast under a hot grill until golden, then turn over and repeat. Once the soup is ready, divide between ovenproof bowls and put one in each. Pile with cheese and grill until golden and bubbling. 

To purchase a copy of 'One More Croissant For The Road' click here.

French Onion Soup at Côte