Some years ago, there used to be a cafe on St Martin’s Lane in London called, if I remember correctly, the Penguin. There’s a boutique hotel on the site now but back then it was a bistro with a bar and a handy place to meet up with friends. It did a superb onion soup which I ate at every opportunity, breathing allium fumes over potential boyfriends. It took me a long time to find a husband.
Unlike classic French onion soup this wasn’t dark with beef stock, but pale, made with chicken broth, a splash of cider and a dash of cream. It retained the deeply flavoursome caramelised onions and the molten cheesy croutons, the sort you eat too soon because they’re so irresistible, then curse because you’ve blistered the roof of your mouth.
Although it originated in Normandy … most French recipes with cider and cream seem to come from Normandy … this is (of course) a Suffolk version. Cultural appropriation is what us Brits are good at.
This recipe is adapted from one on the BBC Good Food website. It stands or falls on the quality of the stock, so try to use a deep-flavoured one.
Suffolk Onion Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 kg onions, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
1/2 tspn sugar
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp plain flour
300 ml Aspall’s cider (or another dry cider)
1 litre chicken or ham stock, or a well-flavoured vegetable stock
A splash of cream
1 slice of baguette or good white bread per person (halved if necessary)
120g medium-hard cheese, grated (I used Suffolk Shipcord)
Melt the butter with the oil in a big heavy-based pan and add the onions, stirring them to coat. Clamp on a lid and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until soft.
Stir in the sugar and cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes more, stirring often to stop the onions catching. They should be squishably soft and golden.
Warm the stock in another pan. If it’s ham stock, make sure it isn’t too salty.
Add the garlic to the onions and cook gently for another couple of minutes, then stir in the flour. Turn the heat up to medium and gradually pour in the cider, stirring continuously.
Now add the hot stock, then salt and pepper to taste, put on the lid and cook at a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat, check the seasoning and stir through the cream.
Toast the bread on both sides and pile the cheese on top. Grill until molten. Ladle the soup into bowls and float the cheesy croutons on top.