- Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 20 minutes.
- Add the salt and sugar, increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently, for a further 25–30 minutes until the onions are evenly browned and caramelised.
- Reduce the heat and add the sliced garlic. Cook gently for a further 1–2 minutes. Pour in the wine, turn up the heat and cook rapidly for a few minutes until the liquid has evaporated and the onions begin to dry out again.
- Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. The mixture will turn into a thick paste. Pour in a quarter of the beef stock, stir vigorously and bring to the boil.
- Add the thyme, bay leaf and the rest of the stock. Simmer for 30 minutes until the soup thickens.
- Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Add the Cognac (if using) and continue to simmer.
- Before serving, rub each baguette slice with the halved garlic clove and then toast. About 10 minutes before serving, heat the oven grill to maximum. Place 4–6 ovenproof bowls or large ramekins on a baking tray.
- Ladle the soup into the bowls and top each with a slice of baguette. Sprinkle the cheese generously over the top to cover both the bread and the soup.
- Carefully place under the grill and grill until the cheese is melted and beginning to bubble and brown, 4–8 minutes. Serve immediately.
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