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French Onion Soup In Cupcake Tins? French Onion Soup In Cupcake Tins

A cupcake baking pan messily filled with French onion soup
Photo by Kelly Conaboy/Illustration by Chris Thompson

Necessity is the mother of invention. This is why we have towels made specifically for drying hair, and why we have peanut butter M&Ms. We needed those things. And yet, despite humanity being around for many decades, there are still things we need that have yet to be invented: a fruit that is structurally similar to a banana but doesn’t taste like a banana, for example, or a better version of human teeth. But chief among these bountiful unmet needs is—and I’m sure you’ll not only agree but also say it aloud with me as I type—a way to make French onion soup at home that doesn’t necessitate ownership of the small ceramic crock pot bowls in which French onion soup is traditionally served.

The traditional, oven-safe bowl is necessary primarily for the final step in the French onion soup recipe, which requires placing the bowl into a hot oven or under a broiler to melt the gruyère cheese on top and toast the bread underneath it. The bowl is also necessary for its depth, which allows for a lot of soup; enough that the toasted bread can absorb some, and leave the majority for consuming qua soup.

I don’t want to own these bowls because, first of all, where am I going to put them? My cabinets are full. Already stuff is falling out of them every time I open the doors. “Maybe you should get rid of some of your mugs”—no, those are sentimental. “Maybe you don’t need several different styles of martini glass”—actually yes I do and, just so you know, I’m no longer feeling safe in this conversation. The bottom line is I refuse to buy and attempt to store a bowl that is meant to be used in only one recipe. 

So what’s the solution? I’m certainly not going to not have French onion soup. It’s a top-tier soup, and quite possibly my favorite. Looking around my kitchen for a functional bowl alternative, I mostly encountered more problems: a pie tin would provide too much surface area, and a mug too little; a Dutch oven-sized French onion soup would be fun but ultimately not practical. The best bet, it seemed, was to attempt to make 12 mini French onion soups in a cupcake tin. 

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a recipe online for how to make 12 miniature French onion soups in a cupcake tin. I could only find recipes for French onion soup-flavored muffins, which is not what I want even a little bit. It seemed I would have to take matters into my own hands. Of course I foresaw a few potential problems:

  1. Because each cupcake hole can only hold a small amount of soup, that soup may become fully absorbed by the bread. 
  2. It may be difficult to get the correct soup-to-bread-to-cheese ratio in a small space.
  3. While eating, the soup may get cold, in particular the last soup gotten to.
  4. Obviously one won’t be able to remove the soups from the tin, and the tin may be hard to transport, or set at a table in an elegant way.
  5. It may, just in general, be difficult to eat soup out of a cupcake tin. 

Knowing the potential difficulties ahead of me, I pressed on with great bravery. 

The recipe I used was this Sara Bonisteel one from the New York Times. It’s a classic, no-frills version of a French onion soup recipe with all the usual suspects: the eponymous onions (the expatriation begins post-caramelization), butter, a little flour, beef stock, white wine, gruyère cheese for melting on top. It calls for using slices of French bread to cover the top of each bowl, which I thought would almost certainly absorb too much of the soup available in each cupcake hole. Rather than risk it, I decided to make little croutons and use those instead. For the croutons, I used this other New York Times recipe from Samin Nosrat. As it turns out, I didn’t need to. If you can imagine the way you might make croutons—the general ingredients, the general things you do with them—rest assured that that is indeed the way you make croutons. Recipe not necessary. I added a little fresh sage to them, as sort of a Kelly twist (my name is Kelly), and it did nothing. 

Otherwise, I followed the recipe—I caramelized the onions for an hour, I added all the ingredients. I had to buy dry sherry for it, and it only calls for a tablespoon, so I just went ahead and put in a bunch more than that in. But I basically followed the recipe, which ended up being about twice as much as I needed for the tin. If you’re thinking about making this recipe yourself in a cupcake tin, you can go ahead and cut it in half (and add more sherry). 

Ladling soup from a pretty red Dutch oven into cupcake tins on a granite countertop
Photo by Kelly Conaboy

When I ladled the soup into the cupcake holes I thought, Well, damn. This might work out after all. It seemed fine. Then when I put the croutons on top I thought, Well, damn, I certainly didn’t make enough croutons, and it certainly seems like the croutons are going to immediately soak up the soup in a way that bread may actually not have, since the bread would have sort of floated on top, while the croutons are just fully in the soup like it’s miso soup and they’re tofu. At this point I thought I might have to attempt this part of the recipe twice, which I did not want to do at all due to laziness. So I sprinkled on the gruyère, put it in the oven, and hoped for the best. 

And guess what, loser? (Sorry for the contempt—I could feel you doubting me and I’m reacting out of latent trauma.) IT WORKED! 

A spoonful of French onion soup being lifted out of a cupcake tin, trailing behind it strands of stretchy gruyere cheese.
Photo by Kelly Conaboy

The potential problems did not prove overly problematic at all. The croutons did not absorb the soup, and provided a pleasant crunch. Each hole yielded about two bites, and they were all blindingly hot, from beginning to end. My fiancé and I ate all of them very fast while standing over the tin in the kitchen, as if we were participating in a sort of whack-a-mole-style eating contest. Experientially it was very similar to eating French onion soup in a normal way. It tasted like delicious French onion soup. In my mouth, it felt like incredibly hot French onion soup that was burning me. It was basically perfect. I loved it. 

So there’s an idea for you, if you want to make French onion soup at home. 

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