Rustic French Onion Soup Bread Bowls (+ Homemade Croutons & Side Salad!)

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homemade french onion soup in bread bowls

What’s Up, Hungry People

Why is it that soup tastes so much better when served out of a bread bowl? Maybe it’s because I feel a certain level of nostalgia of when bread bowls first came onto the scene in my childhood where I was treated to chicken noodle soup bread bowls from Panera (where I first experienced such a high-brow meal) or just that bread is obviously the best vessel for soup simply because it makes the bowl into a secondary, snackable dish (literally).

Bread bowls started gaining popularity in the 1980s, particularly in San Francisco, as a novel way to serve clam chowder. This trend capitalized on the city’s historic connection to sourdough bread, which is a perfect complement to the creamy, rich flavors of the chowder. The concept of using a hollowed-out loaf of bread as an edible container appealed to both tourists and locals, enhancing the dining experience with a practical and delicious twist. Over time, the use of bread bowls expanded to include various other soups, stews, and dips, turning it into a popular choice at many restaurants and cafes across the United States.

For my bread bowls, I took it a step further and figured that there’s probably a better soup than a plain ol’ chowder that would be better suited for a bread bowl: French onion soup. Heck, it’s already served with a slice of bread and cheese on top, why not serve it up in a whole bread bowl instead.

The interiors of the bread won’t go to waste – instead we’ll be making them into a simple crouton that we can use to top our first course of salad. Fresh croutons are undisputably the best!

sourdough bread bowls with soup

Tips for Perfect Caramelized Onions for French Onion Soup

Caramelizing onions for French onion soup is a crucial step that builds a rich, deep flavor base. Here are some practical tips to get the best results:

  1. Choose the Right Onion: Yellow onions are ideal for caramelizing because they have a nice balance of sweetness and astringency which deepens as they cook.
  2. Slice Evenly: Cut your onions into uniform slices. This helps them cook evenly, preventing some pieces from burning while others remain raw.
  3. Use the Right Pan: A large, heavy-bottomed skillet or pot works best as it distributes heat evenly and has enough space to prevent the onions from overcrowding.
  4. Low and Slow: Caramelizing onions is a slow process; rushing it can lead to burnt onions. Cook them over low to medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent them from sticking to the pan.
  5. Be Patient: Depending on the quantity, caramelizing onions can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. They should be a deep golden brown with a rich, sweet flavor when done.
  6. Deglaze the Pan: Occasionally, you may notice bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Use a small amount of water, broth, or wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up those bits to incorporate them back into the onions for extra flavor.
  7. Seasoning: Adding a bit of salt at the beginning can help draw out moisture and sugars from the onions, aiding in the caramelization process. Be mindful of the amount, especially if your soup stock is already seasoned.
recipe for bread bowls and soup

Here’s What You Need

  • Yellow onions: Adds depth and sweetness when caramelized.
  • Olive oil: Used to cook onions evenly and prevent sticking.
  • Sugar: Helps in quicker caramelization of the onions.
  • Salt: Enhances the natural flavors of the onions.
  • Vermouth: Deglazes the pan, adding a complex flavor profile.
  • Onion broth: Serves as the liquid base, bringing a robust onion flavor.
  • Beef broth: Adds richness and depth to the soup.
  • Bay leaves: Introduces a subtle layer of herbal flavor.
  • Sourdough bread boules: Serves as both the serving bowl and an edible garnish.
  • Gruyère cheese: Melts well, offering a creamy texture and nutty taste.
  • Fresh thyme: Provides a light, aromatic touch to the soup.
  • Cooking spray: Prevents croutons from sticking to the baking sheet.
  • Italian seasoning: Adds a classic herb flavor to croutons.
  • Salad mix: The base of the salad, providing freshness and texture.
  • Salad dressing: Dresses the salad, adding moisture and flavor.
homemade croutons from insides of bread bowls

Let’s Cook

First off, grab your heavy-bottom pot and put it on medium heat. Pour in that olive oil and wait till it’s just shimmering—then it’s time for all those onions to jump into the pot. Give them a good sprinkle of salt and sugar. This isn’t a quick stir-fry; you’ll want to hang around and stir those onions for about 40 to 60 minutes. The goal here is to get them beautifully caramelized, transforming them from mere onions to a rich, golden foundation for our soup.

Deglazing the Pot

Once your onions have reached that gorgeous golden brown color, it’s time for a little pot magic. Pour in the vermouth (or white wine, if that’s what you have on hand) to deglaze the pot. Make sure to scrape all those tasty, browned bits off the bottom—that’s where all the flavor comes from!

Simmering the Soup

Now, pour in the onion and beef broths and toss in those bay leaves. Bring everything to a nice simmer and let it bubble gently for about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, get your oven preheated to 350°F because we’re not just making soup here; we’ve got bread bowls and croutons on the menu too.

Prepping the Bread Bowls

While the soup is doing its thing, let’s tackle those sourdough boules. Slice off the top inch of each boule—think of it as a lid. Now, carefully hollow out the insides, leaving about a half-inch thick wall all around. These walls are what will hold your soup, so make sure they’re thick with no spots for leaks.

Crouton Crunch Time

Take those bread guts you just excavated and tear or cut them into chunks. Spread them out on a baking sheet, give them a light mist of cooking spray, and toss them with some Italian seasoning. Into the oven they go, until they’re golden and crispy, about 15-20 minutes.

Melting the Cheese

Don’t forget about those bread tops! Sprinkle a generous amount of Gruyère on each and slide them into the still-hot oven. Let the cheese melt and get all bubbly, about 5-8 minutes.

Assembling the Masterpiece

Place your now hollowed-out bread bowls on a baking sheet. Ladle the hot soup into each one, then sprinkle a good amount of Gruyère on top and a little around the edges for good measure. Pop the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the cheese on the soup is melted and beginning to brown.

Serve It Up

Now, set the stage with your fresh salad and those crunchy homemade croutons you just made. Bring out those cheesy bread bowls filled with your savory French onion soup.

Tips for Perfect French Onion Soup in Bread Bowls

  • Proper Caramelization: To achieve perfectly caramelized onions, patience is key. Cook them slowly on medium heat, stirring frequently to ensure they don’t burn. This process can take up to an hour but is crucial for developing the soup’s rich flavor profile.
  • Choosing the Right Bread: Opt for sourdough boules with a sturdy crust to ensure they hold up as bowls without getting soggy. The density and crispness of sourdough also complement the savory soup.
  • Serving Temperature: Serve the soup hot, but allow it to cool in the bread bowls for a few minutes before serving. This ensures the bread absorbs some of the soup without breaking down immediately.
  • Cheese Matters: Gruyère is preferred for its excellent melting properties and subtle sweetness that pairs well with the onions. Ensure it is evenly distributed over the soup for a perfect melt.
  • Homemade Croutons: For the best texture, tear the bread into chunks rather than cutting it. This creates more nooks and crannies, allowing them to crisp up better and absorb the dressing effectively in the salad.
french onion bread bowls with homemade croutons and salad

As we wrap this up, it’s undeniable that French onion soup finds its perfect match in a sturdy sourdough bread bowl. Adding a side of crisp salad and crunchy homemade croutons only elevates the entire meal, turning a simple dinner into a cozy feast.

Whether you’re reviving old memories or creating new traditions, this dish is sure to fill both the stomach and the heart with warmth. So next time you’re looking to impress or simply indulge, remember that sometimes the best meals are those that are both filling and heartwarming.

French Onion Soup Bread Bowls & Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

The Starving Chef
Enjoy a warm serving of French onion soup encased in a hearty sourdough bread bowl, topped with melted Gruyère and served with crispy homemade croutons.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Course Bread, Soup
Cuisine American, Bread, Dinner, Multi-Course, Soup
Servings 2


  • 4-5 yellow onions sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch sugar
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup Vermouth or can sub white wine
  • 4 cups onion broth can sub beef broth
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sourdough bread boules
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese shredded
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme + more for topping


  • insides of the sourdough boules cut into chunks
  • cooking spray
  • Italian seasoning
  • your favorite salad mix I used Romaine
  • your favorite salad dressing I used Caesar dressing


  • In a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Heat until shimmering, then add all the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and sugar. Stir for 40-60 minutes or until the onions are caramelized.
  • After the onions are golden brown, deglaze the pot with vermouth, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom.
  • Pour in the broths and add the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Prepare the bread bowls by slicing off the top inch or so of the sourdough boules with a serrated knife. Reserve the tops. Then, with the knife at a slight angle, cut out the insides of the boule, leaving about a half-inch of bread for the walls and bottom of the bowl.
  • Take the insides of the boule and either slice or tear into chunks. Spread the chunks out onto a baking sheet and spray lightly with cooking oil, then season as desired with Italian seasoning.
  • Toast the chunks in the oven until golden and crispy like croutons, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to lower the oven temperature slightly if the croutons are browning too quickly. Allow the croutons to cool while you assemble the salad but do not turn off the oven.
  • Take the tops of each boule and sprinkle gruyère onto each. Place them into the still-hot oven and allow the cheese to melt for 5-8 minutes.
  • Place the bread bowls onto a baking sheet. Ladle the soup into each bowl. Sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of gruyère on top of the soup and onto the edges of the bowl. Place the baking sheet into the oven and toast until the cheese on top of the bowls is melted and starting to bubble and brown.
  • Serve the salad with fresh croutons followed by the bread bowls and soup. Allow the soup to cool in the bowls for at least 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Keyword croutons, onion, soup, sourdough
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