Paris in a spoon. Let the onions have a slow low cook so the flavours fully develop. Baking the cheese croutons on the soup bowls pulls everything together.
- Peel the onions. Slice each one in half vertically. Slice each half vertically into thin slices. Slice or crush the peeled garlic.
- Melt the butter on a low heat in a pot/casserole large enough to take the vegetables. Add the onion. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat all the pieces. Add the garlic. And star anise.
- Cover the pan. Cook the onion very lowly on very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring sometimes to prevent sticking/burning. Add the sugar. Cover once more. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the onion is very soft and mushy. Again, stir occasionally. Remove star anise.
- Increase the heat slightly. Remove the lid. All the onion mix to bubble and start to cover. Stir. Lower the heat a bit and cook for another 15 minutes or so until well browned and caramelised but without burning. You’ll need to check and stir a few times for even cooking.
- Meantime, heat the stocks and water in a separate pan until hot.
- Remove the onions from the heat. Add the flour, a teaspoon at a time, stirring as you do, for even distribution and to avoid lumps. Now, add the hot stock very gradually, stirring as you go. And the alcohol of choice once the stock is in. Strip the thyme leaves and add.
- Let the soup boil for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat so it barely simmers. Cover partially.
- Simmer very slowly for a further 30 minutes. Add a drop or water or extra stock if the soup becomes too thick. Season with salt and pepper, tasting. If the soup is too sweet for your taste, add a drop or two of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice or brandy. You are looking for a rich, luxurious, balanced onion finish. The soup is ready to eat now. Or let the flavours develop further by cooling, chilling and re-heating the next day. It also freezes well.
- Make croutons on the day of eating. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Slice the bread thinly. Rub each slice with 2 drops of olive oil and a cut clove of garlic. Lay the bread on a baking tray.
- Bake the bread until crisp – 5-10 minutes but check as it burns just like that. Remove.
- Pre-heat a grill to high or whack the oven up to top temperature. Grate or thinly slice the cheese.
- Ladle the soup into heat proof bowls. Top each one with enough croutons to cover the top (slice to make them fit if you need to). Cover the bread with cheese up to the edge and over if using sliced.
- Sit the bowls on a tray under the fiercely hot grill or the top shelf of the oven. Grill for a few minutes (watching) until the cheese bubbles and starts to blister into brown bubbles.
- Wearing protective gloves, slip the bowls onto plates. Serve up immediately and dig in. This is scorching hot and glorious so watch you don’t burn your mouth.