Bistro French Onion Soup (Panera Bread Copycat)

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Caramelized onions meet rich beef broth, toasted bread, and melted cheese in this savory bistro french onion soup recipe. My copycat version of Panera's fabulous soup can be made ahead of time and even frozen so you always have some on hand. If you're a fan of the popular panera soup, you'll love it even more when you make it at home!

Love soup season? Try my husband's homemade version of Campbell's tomato soup, this easy copycat recipe for Panera's broccoli cheddar soup, or my cozy chicken and dumplings!

a bowl of panera bistro french onion soup with slices of french baguette on a plate

Bistro French Onion Soup Topped with Croutons Smothered in Gruyere Cheese

Classic french onion soup is something that most people won't think they'll like until they try it. I would know, I was one of them!

I am a huge fan of french onion soup ever since I made it myself in culinary school years ago, first eating doing a French restaurant style test in the school bistro. This is my take on the Panera Bread french onion soup since we aren't trying to pay these restaurant prices, honey. It's one of their most popular soups, so let's bring it on home.

You're going to make this savory soup like a pro, whether it's your first time or thousandth time. It's very minimal prep, minimal fuss, and just simmers on the stove for hours. Then we top bowls of soup with crisp bread and melty cheese...ugh, it just screams comfort on a chilly day!

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Why You'll Love this Recipe

  • Learn how to caramelize onions - this is something that many people believe is difficult, but it's really not! 
  • A very easy recipe to make - and I do mean easy. It's simply caramelized onions simmering slowly in beef stock with loads of flavor from the herbs and a little brandy. Top with bread and cheese and boom, you've got 
  • Perfect to make ahead or freeze for later - The flavors of the soup just get better with time, in my opinion. Freeze the soup or keep the soup in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Much more affordable than buying a bowl of soup at the restaurant - I like panera but I can make their famous soup right at home! Making many, many servings to enjoy for the same price as a bowl of the Panera french onion soup!
a pile of shredded gruyere cheese on top of bread on a french onion soup

What is French onion soup?

Onion Soup has been around for millenia, with different variations popping up all over Europe thanks to those plentiful, easy-to-grow onions. Back then, it was considered peasant food - just throw some onions in water or whatever broth you had lying around and serve with some old bread. 
French onion soup, the fancy-pants version, dates back to the 1700s in Paris. It was a hit in Versailles, where it was believed to cure hangovers because onions are packed with vitamins.
The dish really took off in the US in the 1960s when Americans started to get all fancy with their French cuisine, cheers to Julia Child for that.
It's funny how poor folks' grub always ends up being trendy, huh? Looking at you, Lobster Rolls.


  • Safety Mandoline - this is my favorite mandoline to use. It's very safe, even without the guard and is great for slicing and dicing.
  • Sharp Chef Knife
  • A large Dutch Oven Pot
  • Oven-safe soup bowls - these are my favorite bowls. They're functional, they look fancy, and they hold a lot of soup!
  • Baking Sheet - this is where we toast the bread and hold the soup bowls while they're in the oven for more stability.


Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

ingredients for panera's bistro french onion soup labeled
  • Yellow Onions - these can be replaced with sweet onions. Yellow onions are great stewing onions, they have a mellow, sweet flavor that makes for delicious soup. I've also had french onion soup made with red onions!
  • Oil and Butter - The onions cook in the butter, soaking in that good buttery flavor, while the oil is used to toast up the the bread.
  • Minced Garlic - use fresh garlic and grab a garlic press if you hate mincing garlic by hand as much as some of us do.
  • All Purpose Flour
  • Brandy - this is a classic addition; brandy is a liquor made from wine so it gives that
  • Beef Broth - This soup needs a great broth to really deliver all that good flavor. I love using some beef base to really amplify the beefiness of the 
  • Bay Leaf and Thyme - I used dried thyme in this recipe but fresh works great, too. Just use twice the amount of fresh thyme as in the recipe. 
  • A Day Old Baguette - you'll need some crusty bread cubes or slices that can hold up when we drop them on top of the soup. Cut the bread however you like.
  • Gruyere Cheese - this is the classic cheese on this classic soup. Use a young gruyere, not a super aged one. Older cheeses do not melt easily and will break and become gritty instead.

How to Make French Onion Soup

Step 1 | Let's start sweating these onions. Add the chopped onion to melted butter in a large pot or dutch oven pot and season with salt and pepper. Let that cook down over medium heat until golden brown.

caramelized onions with flour mixed into them

Step 2 | When it's golden brown, add the garlic and let it cook for a minute, then add the all purpose flour and stirring it in thoroughly. Let that cook for a minute as well to cook out the raw flour.

french onion soup simmering in a dutch oven pot

Step 3 | Add in the bay leaf and thyme, then pour in your beef broth. Bring to a boil -- this is to bring the temperature up so it easily simmers. Reduce the heat to medium low and bring everything to a simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally so the onions don't stick to the bottom. At the end of cooking, remove the bay leaf.

Step 4 | Preheat the oven and drizzle olive oil over the baguette slices on the baking sheet. Season with some salt and pep, then place the baking sheet into the oven to toast the bread.

Step 5 | Ladle the soup into your oven-safe soup bowls and place the bread on top. Top the soup and bread with a generous amount of the gruyere cheese.

Step 6 | Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese is golden brown, and serve nice and hot.

Variations on the Panera Bistro French Onion Soup

  • Swap the brandy for white wine or sweet vermouth. Don't do alcohol? Just use beef broth instead.
  • Serve this soup in a tasty bread bowl! Try a sourdough bread boule for extra flavor.
  • If you like a thicker soup, give the soup a little beurre manie -- a French technique using butter and flour mixed together as a thickener. Just stir some in just before you finish cooking the soup.
  • For a gluten-free soup, use gluten free bread and flour.
  • I've use black pepper focaccia croutons as the bread component, made with my favorite homemade focaccia and toasting the bread cubes in the oven until crisp.

Pro Tips

  • Caramelized onions take a long time to cook, but it's well worth it for their deep flavor. Expect it to take at least 40-50 minutes before they're perfectly golden brown.
  • Slice the onions thinly, as thin as you can, in narrow semi-circle slices! This is why I love the mandoline, it consistently gives me thin slices.
  • Store-bought croutons are great to skip a step with. Add the bread cubes on the soup rather than a piece of bread and keep it moving, sis.
  • Don't have any oven-safe bowls? It's okay, make some cheese toasties! While the soup is simmering, toast the bread as in the recipe, then top them with the cheese and place back into the oven under a low broil to melt the cheese.

Make-Ahead Storage and Reheating

Make-Ahead: Make soup today, have soup tomorrow! Cook the soup base (that's the onions cooked in the broth) a day or two before you want to serve. Then follow storage instructions.

Storage: Cool the soup and store in airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Reheat: When you're ready to eat, warm the soup up in a saucepan over medium-low heat, pour into oven-safe French onion soup bowls and top with toasted French bread and healthy gratings of cheese then put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, golden brown, and bubbly.

Freezing: If you want to freeze your French onion soup, first allow the soup to cool completely to room temperature. Then spoon the soup into freezer-safe containers or zip-top freezer bags, even better if you freeze them in individual-sized potions by putting them into freezer-safe zip-top bags and freezing them flat so they thaw quickly.

Seal the containers and freeze the soup for up to 3 months.

To thaw, leave the containers in the fridge overnight and follow reheating instructions when ready to serve.

a spoon sits in a bowl of french onion soup


What is the difference between onion soup and French onion soup?

Most onion soups don't care what you throw in them, but French onion soup is a bit picky. So instead of just using beef broth, regular onion soup will throw in whatever stock, bread, and onions they have lying around.
French onion soup is specific about using yellow or red onions, beef broth, and a French baguette.

What does French onion soup taste like?

French onion soup is tastes savory, sweet, and very comforting all in one perfect bite. Perfectly caramelized onions swimming in a luxurious beef broth, and that piece of crisp bread on top that turns into a yummy sponge soaking up all that goodness. Top it all off with some gooey, melty cheese that adds the perfect creamy touch!

Should French onion soup be thick or thin?

French onion soup is usually more on the thin side, like a brothy soup with softened onions. It's not thick like a stew, though you can thicken it slightly if that's your preference.

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📖 Recipe

a bowl of panera bistro french onion soup with slices of french baguette on a plate

Bistro French Onion Soup (Panera Copycat)

Eden Westbrook
Make this gourmet Bistro French Onion Soup recipe like Panera Bread with caramelized onions, rich beefy broth, and crisp baguette covered in Gruyere cheese.
4.94 from 31 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 45 minutes
Course Soups & Stews
Cuisine French
Servings 6 servings
Calories 730 kcal


  • 6 yellow onions sliced thinly into half moons
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
  • ¼ cup brandy or dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 cups beef broth low sodium
  • 3 cups French bread sliced or cubed into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil to drizzle onto bread
  • 2 cups gruyere cheese shredded


  • Melt the butter and oil together in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add in the onions, then stir to coat the onions in the butter and oil. Cook for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure none of the onions burn.
  • After fifteen minutes, season the onions with the salt and a generous helping of fresh black pepper. Stir to cover the onions in all the seasoning. Let the onions cook for about 40-50 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so until the onions are a deep brown-amber color. If the onions are sticking to the pan, turn the heat down a bit and splash in a bit of the alcohol or broth and stir. The caramelization happens slowly, it will not happen quickly; if you turn up the heat, the onions will burn.
  • After onions are caramelized, add the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, then toss in the all-purpose flour and stir well to coat the onions and garlic. Stir for one minute to cook out the raw flour taste.
  • Add thyme and bay leaves to the pot. Then splash in broth, a little at a time, stirring well to ensure there are no lumps of flour. After adding about two cups of broth, add the rest in one cup at a time and stir the broth to ensure no lumps. Bring to a boil.
  • Turn down heat to medium-low and partially cover your pot with a lid. Simmer for 3 hours, stir occasionally to make sure no onions are sitting at the bottom burning.
  • Taste soup and season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves.

To serve:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  • Drizzle the olive oil onto the baguette cubes and let crisp up in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
  • Divide the French onion soup into oven-safe soup bowls that are on top of a baking sheet. Top each bowl with cubes of toasted baguette and grate a generous amount of Gruyere cheese on top of the bread in a thick layer.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese is melted, then turn oven to broil and broil the soup for 1-2 minutes. The cheese should be bubbly and browned. Remove carefully from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Serve hot.


Freezing French Onion Soup

If you want to freeze your French onion soup, first let it cool completely to room temperature. Then spoon the soup into freezer-safe containers, even better if you freeze them in individual-sized potions by putting them into freezer-safe zip-top bags and freezing them flat so they thaw quickly.
Seal the containers and freeze the soup for up to 3 months.
To thaw, leave the containers in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to eat, warm the soup up in a saucepan over medium-low heat, pour into oven-safe French onion soup bowls and top with crisp French bread and healthy gratings of cheese then put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, golden brown, and bubbly.


Serving: 1gCalories: 730kcalCarbohydrates: 75gProtein: 31gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 17gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0.5gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 2998mgPotassium: 525mgFiber: 5gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 781IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 559mgIron: 6mg
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  1. This looks at least as good as the soup I had in a restaurant whose name I can't recall but it was in Les Halles, Paris - and as you say, the beef broth was everything. I had no idea it was good for hangovers! Lovely recipe and presentation.

  2. I'm a huge French onion soup fan, and this was just perfect! The broth was so rich and flavorful. I just loved the flavor the brandy added -- so delicious!

  3. I absolutely had no idea that French Onion Soup is sooooo old! That's super interesting food history. Nonetheless, it's definitely a classic that has stood the test of a loooooong time, for good reason. It's delicious - and we all need a perfect, never-fail recipe like this one. Thanks!

    1. So glad to have found your page just a mere week ago! I’ve made your lemon bars, Mac n cheese and shrimp n grits within a span of a week! Everyone has loved and devoured every recipe! This is for sure my next meal this coming week!

  4. Bernice Hill says:

    Now this is the kind of health food I can get behind. It is a bit of a chore to make it but if you make a giant batch, it freezes so well. Perfect for thawing out for those days when you are hungover!

  5. French Onion Soup has always been a favorite of mine and this recipe sounds delicious! I will be pinning it for later.

  6. Growing up this used to be one of my favorite soups. I have not made it in some time so now I am inspired by this!

  7. I'm not gonna lie, the first time I had French onion soup, I cried happy tears! It's perfect for warm days!

  8. Oh yeah! Your photos are beautiful and gives that French Onion Soup it's due. I would absolutely use the white wine.
    Sounds delicious!

  9. I love love love French onion soup! Such a comforting meal!

  10. Allison - Celebrating Sweets says:

    Nothing beats classic French Onion Soup. This is absolutely perfect for a chilly day!