French Onion Soup, for the Chill of It

Growing up, my family had a membership at a place called Lake Shore Yacht & Country Club.  We didn’t ever “yacht.”  I don’t really remember seeing many boats, for that matter.  But I do recollect my mother making us go to early morning swim team practice.

Which arguably functioned as a creative, aquatic form of maternal punishment, as the water heater in the Central New York “yacht club” pool was broken more days than not.  (It is worth mentioning that Syracuse is rumored to see more gray than Seattle.)

This, of course, was balanced out by dinner.

We would get to eat in the clubhouse on Saturday nights about once a month.  My dinner selection was predictable.  Usually a turkey club (no cheese), cut into quarters, with a side of ruffled potato chips.  Or chicken fingers and fries, the unofficial dinner anthem of American 10-year-olds.

And occasionally, if I was very lucky, I was allowed a side of French onion soup.  It was served in those sturdy, brown and gray variegated crocks.  With a thick layer of bubbling cheese, which always burned your mouth a little bit.

Since switching over to my winter coat, I’ve had a craving for blazing hot burn-the-roof-off-your-mouth soup.  Consequently, I have also been faced with a surplus of sourdough, as a result of Dave turning Canary Square into a small bakery last week.  My memory went to Lake Shore.

And then to Tartine, wherein Chad Robertson has a decidedly non-fussy recipe that utilizes homemade chicken stock, leftover wine, and a little duck fat: all things I miraculously had on hand to substitute for the standard beef broth.  And I wouldn’t even question doing it again.

The whole endeavor lends a kind of therapy to a cold fall night.  The most crucial thing is that you coax the onions to relax and turn deep caramel.  Which involves feeding them cream, white wine, and—eventually—cheese.  (To make good French onion soup, you should wine and dine an onion much like you would a human.)

It’s a worthy process.  The flavor developed in such a short amount of time feels like cheating.  As does topping it with good crusty bread and enough cheese to cover, go golden, and then bubble in spots.

Such things will erase the memory of a chill every single time.  I bet mom knew that though.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Tartine Bread


1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp duck fat
6 yellow onions, cut into ¼ inch-thick slices
1 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock, homemade if possible
4 to 6 slices sourdough bread (this will depend on loaf size), cut to fit inside your crocks
5 ounces Gruyère, grated


In a large saucepot (or Dutch oven) on medium heat, add the butter and duck fat; when the fat starts to melt, add in the onions, salt, and cream.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent (10 to 15 minutes). 

Raise the heat slightly and cook the onions, without stirring, until their bottoms start to brown (about 5 to 7 minutes: feel free to check with a spoon if you can’t tell).  Stir the onions, scraping up any residue, and then add a ½ cup white wine to deglaze the pan.  Repeat this (browning the onions without stirring and then deglazing with ½ cup of wine) 3 more times; the onions should turn deep caramel in the process, getting darker with every stirring.

Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer; cook for about 15 minutes (or until the flavors meld, I cooked mine closer to 25 or 30).  Season again with salt, as needed (keeping in mind the soup might get a bit more concentrated in the oven).

While the soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Add the bread slices to a sheet pan and toast them until dry and brittle (10 to 15 minutes); remove and set aside.

Place oven-proof bowls on the sheet pan.  Ladle the soup into the bowls, filling almost all the way to the top; cover with bread slices (this can be one large slice or several small ones) and top generously with cheese.  Bake until the cheese is melted and golden brown and the soup is bubbling (this may take 20 to 30 minutes in large dishes, but it will cook faster in smaller ones: I had about ¾ cup-sized bowls and it took about 10 minutes).

Makes about 6 cups

-This can easily be made into a meal for one or two, with leftovers.  Bake off the number of bowls you need and place the rest of the soup in the fridge (you’ll want to keep the bread and cheese separate).  Assemble the soups and bake them off, as needed (it was fine starting with cold soup).

-How much seasoning you need will depend on how salty your stock is and how much you reduce your liquid.  Taste as you go. (Mine was well seasoned out of the pot, but got a little concentrated in the oven, so the second day I added a little water into the bowls before I put them in the oven.)


Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies, a Funny Thing Happened

There are few times in a person’s life when having an oatmeal cookie sounds like a bad idea.  Perhaps when giving birth, or when running a six-minute mile; otherwise, it’s fair game as far as I’m concerned. 

Oatmeal cookies say warmth, and fall, and comfort, and sweaters.  And these do not suggest otherwise.  A coworker named Anne first brought them into work, thick with white chocolate and dried cranberries.  And while I don’t really love either adornment in other sweet things, I quickly decided they were some of the best cookies I’d ever known.  Right up there with these guys, these guys, and grandma’s rum balls.

So I got the recipe.  Swapped in butterscotch and apricot for the chocolate and cranberries.  Then I baked and I tasted, hot out of the oven. 

The cookie was okay. It was not one of the best I had ever known. 

I ate three more, just to be sure.  And then I put the rest in plastic bags, sealed them in, and went to bed feeling a little sick.

But a funny thing happened overnight. Those boring little cookies morphed into something else entirely.  Something nutty and chewy, with a dose of oats thick enough to suggest they mean business.  Plus a caramel undercarriage hitting from a few different places, and just enough salt to balance it all out.

I’m going to go ahead and say that browning the butter is a must, as is baking them the night before you need them.  The walnuts are in there for a reason, so resist the urge to take them out if you can. You’ll need good quality oats too, along with a little patience.  I suspect you can hang loose with the chocolate and dried fruit.

The rest pretty much takes care of itself.  We’re not birthing a child here, mind you, but having a recipe like this still feels like a win.

Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies


½ cup walnuts
2 2/3 cups old-fashioned oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chopped dried apricots
6 ounces of butterscotch chips
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract


Toast the walnuts until fragrant (either in the oven or in a pan; I used a cast-iron skillet); set aside.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.  In a medium bowl, add the oats and sift in the flour, baking soda, and salt; add in the apricots and butterscotch.  Finely chop the walnuts and stir in until everything is well combined.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat until it turns golden brown and fragrant (about four minutes); this happens very quickly so be sure to watch.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the browned butter and whisk in the sugar until well combined (a minute or two).  Add in the eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla and whisk until well combined.  Add in the dry mixture and stir until just combined.  (The mixture will be thick.)

Chill the batter for 15 to 30 minutes; meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Once chilled, scoop the batter using a tablespoon to gather up a heaping amount (about 2 to 3 tbsp) of dough and gently round it loosely into balls spaced 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.

Bake until lightly golden and just dry to the touch but still soft in the center (about 10 minutes).  Slide the parchment onto wire racks to cool.  Line the sheets with more parchment and repeat with remaining batches.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

-Let the walnuts cool slightly so they aren’t piping hot when you mix them in.

-My oven runs a little hot, so I ended up dropping the temperature slightly, but these cook pretty quickly so watch them.

-These freeze beautifully.  And I confess I’ve even eaten them that way.  They really do get better with age.

-If you don’t have muscovado, use dark or light brown sugar and don’t look back.


Concord Grape Pie with Leaf Lard Crust Will Do That

When I put this pie into the oven I thought, this has to be the goddamned ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.  Pie making is typically not a graceful process.  (At least for me, you may be brilliant at it.) I usually vow to never make another as I close the oven door.

And this adventure was even more tenuous as it involved lard, and its rendering.  Leaf lard, though poetically named, is the fat around the kidney of a pig.  It’s wonderful for pastry because it doesn’t taste too piggy (or renal-y) and makes things incredibly tender.  But you need to melt it down to separate out the chewy parts.  

You get a beautiful golden liquid, which turns snow-white when chilled.  And in the liquid you have chicharron-like morsels bobbing about, which ultimately get strained.  It’s actually not a terribly difficult process. Though, if you spill some when hot, you’ll be cleaning up white waxy bits for days. 

Still with me?  Let’s get back to pie.  I first heard of grape pie during a weekend trip to the Finger Lakes a few years ago.  It was advertised on a small roadside sign, but unfortunately the shop—which looked suspiciously like the baker’s actual house—was closed.  I still think about it every October. 

Well, the 1st was my birthday.  And now that I am in my 31st year, I thought I would wait no longer for grape pie.  

Good thing.  It’s a beautiful fall dessert.  My friend Deb said it reminded her of childhood, something about it she just couldn’t place.  Then she ate two pieces. 

And I think that’s a pretty appropriate description.  It’s slightly unusual, but balanced by a familiar memory of Welch's.  When cooked, it resembles blueberry pie, until you notice the inky purple color.  Plus the crust is insanely tender and flaky. (Lard will do that.)

So it’s solidified its place as an annual autumn pie, despite being a tad fussy.  Because after it’s all over, and bubbling hot out of the oven, and gorgeously golden brown, you forget what a bitch it is to work with. (Good pie will do that.)

Concord Grape Pie with Leaf Lard Crust


for the pie crust

245 grams (1¾ cups) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
110 grams (1 stick) of butter, cold
118 grams (about ½ cup) leaf lard, cold
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp whole milk
1 egg (for the top)
demerara sugar (for the top)

for the filling

2 pounds concord grapes
scant ½ cup sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
4 to 5 tbsp cornstarch (use the larger amount if the grapes are really liquid-y)
pinch of salt


In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt (for the crust) until combined (about 10 to 15 seconds).  Cut the butter into 6 pieces and the leaf lard into 1-inch chunks.  Scatter the butter and lard over the flour and mix on low speed until clumps the size of walnuts form (about a minute).

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk; add to the mixture on low speed until the dough barely comes together (about 30 seconds); it will look rough and will not be well-formed.

Dump the dough onto an unfloured surface and then gather it into a mound.  Using the palm of your hand, push down and smear out the mound, starting at the top; work around clockwise until the fat is smeared into the dough and the dough comes together (this usually takes between 1 to 2 rounds, or 4 to 8 total smears).

Gather up the dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 4 hours.

When you are ready to make the filling, remove the dough from the fridge (to let it warm up so it can be rolled).

Over a medium bowl, remove the skin of each grape by pinching it with your fingers (it will come off easily); place the skins in the medium bowl and the fleshy green pulp into a medium saucepan.  Continue until all the grapes have been separated into pulp and flesh.  Set the skins aside and cook the pulp for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat until the seeds separate from the pulp (this will be easy to see).

Strain the pulp over the bowl with the skins, pressing down to extract all the liquid and pulp (you’ll actually have quite a bit).  Discard the seeds; set the grape mixture aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Get out an 8 or 9-inch pie pan.  Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.  Generously flour your work surface, your rolling pin, and 1 half of the dough (the dough is much easier to handle well-floured). 

Roll out the dough until it’s about 12 inches in diameter, pushing the pin out and gently rotating the dough as you go.  Loosely roll up the dough around the rolling pin and then gently onto your pie pan.  Ease the dough into the pie pan and leave about a ½ inch overhang around the edges.  (If it rips a bit, simply piece it back together.) Stick the pie pan in the fridge.

Place the sugar mixture into the saucepan with the grapes and stir to combine.  In a small bowl, beat the egg and get out a pastry brush.  Flour your work surface again and roll out the second piece of dough in the same manner as the first.

Take the pie pan out of the fridge and pour in the grape mixture (if you are using an 8-inch pan you may have a little grape mixture left over, depending on the depth of your pan, so just pay attention as you are pouring so you don’t overfill).  Wrap your second piece of dough around your rolling pin and over the pie.  Crimp the edges together and cut a few vents in the center.  Brush the top with beaten egg and generously dust with demerara.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes.  Along the way, check the pie to make sure the edges aren’t getting too dark, if they are cover them with foil (I had to do this after about 20 or 25 minutes, and actually turned my oven down to 300 for about 15 minutes, but I think my new oven runs a little warm).  Bake until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.  Cool before serving.

Serves 8

-Here’s some information on leaf lard (why it’s wonderful and how to render it). I found mine from the farmers’ market, though a butcher shop may have some they’ve already rendered. 

-The grape filling will be mostly liquid, but will gel as it bakes. 

-In my research, leaf lard crusts had a ratio of 60% butter to 40% lard.  However, laziness—and an abundance of lard—prevailed for me.  (I didn’t want to cut into another stick of butter and so I went 50-50.) I don’t think I’ll look back.

-Be ready to use a little extra flour, if necessary.  The framework for this piecrust is from Joanne Chang.  It uses slightly more fat than many other recipes, which means it’s incredibly tender, but a little harder to work with.