Make this homemade French onion dip recipe for a rich, creamy caramelised onion dip that will take you back in time to the dips you helped your mum make for backyard barbecues by stirring French onion soup mix into cream cheese or sour cream. This onion dip recipe makes an even more delicious dip and is worth the little extra effort.
If, like me, you’re yearning for simpler times when pandemics were things of the past you learnt about in history class, when guests were greeted with cheek kisses and bear hugs not elbow bumps and foot taps, and the only people who weren’t doctors who wore surgical masks were actors playing doctors on day-time TV, then make this homemade French onion dip recipe right now.
It was inevitable that I’d get around to doing a homemade French onion dip recipe for a caramelised onion dip made from scratch. After all, the festive season saw me making smoked salmon dip, baking cheese straws and assembling prawn cocktails, and, as regular readers know, I love my retro classics such as devilled eggs, beef Stroganoff and chicken Kiev thanks to my Russian heritage.
But this homemade French onion dip recipe wasn’t a family recipe. When I helped mum prep hors d’oeuvres for weekend get-togethers, backyard barbecues and dinner parties at home in Sydney in the 1970s, the French onion dip that she had me make came from a recipe on the Continental French Onion Soup packet.
All I had to do was combine the dried soup mix with sour cream and cream cheese and as much as I liked dipping my finger in to test the thing, I much preferred sliding olives onto toothpicks, and arranging the pickled onions, cubes of cheddar and cabanossi, and Jatz biscuits and barbecue shapes in mum’s fancy serving platters.
But like the Coolabah wine cask that sat beside the Crock-pot on the kitchen counter, the purple leather bean bags and new colour television in the lounge room, Don Dunstan’s Cookbook, and ABBA, that French onion dip felt so modern. And yet it wasn’t.
I’ll tell you more about that and my homemade French onion dip recipe for an incredibly rich and creamy caramelised onion dip in a moment. Before I do, I have a favour to ask…
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Now let me tell you about this homemade French onion dip recipe for a caramelised onion dip made from scratch.
French Onion Dip Recipe for a Rich Caramelised Onion Dip from Scratch
I created this homemade French onion dip recipe for a creamy-rich caramelised onion dip because I’ve had cravings for that packet-made dip from the Seventies but much prefer to make things from scratch. They just taste so much more delicious, whether it’s a Thai curry paste or Cambodian herb and spice paste – which we prefer to pound in a mortar and pestle to using store-bought pastes, which never taste quite right and are nearly always too salty – to homemade Sriracha and sweet chilli sauce, olive tapenade and creamy hummus, tartare sauce and homemade crackers.
Serving French onion dip made from Continental French Onion Soup and cream cheese and sour cream may have felt very modern in Sydney’s western suburbs in the 1970s. Yet French onion dip made from the dried French onion soup mix had been fashionable since the early 1950s in Australia due to clever marketing.
On the back of the Continental French Onion Soup packet was a recipe for French Onion Dip made with the contents and a tub of cream cheese. My Russian-Australian mother added sour cream, because sour cream flows through the veins of Russians. If not sour cream, mayonnaise, which I’ve added to the mix in my recipe.
Interestingly, Continental, which was established in Australia in 1947, introduce its dried soup mixes in 1951, kicking off with chicken noodle soup, at the same time as Swiss brand Maggi, which was already a household name in Australia, due to Maggi seasonings and stock cubes. Neither were new, however…
Italian-born Julius Maggi, who invented protein-rich dried soups to tackle malnutrition, began manufacturing the world’s first dehydrated instant soups in Switzerland way back in 1885, becoming a pioneer of industrial food production. The iconic bottled Maggi seasoning, so ubiquitous here in Southeast Asia, went into production in 1886 and the first Maggi beef bouillon cubes in 1908.
By the time Maggi products launched in Australia, Maggi had been acquired in 1947 by Nestlé, another pioneering Swiss company, which started out in 1866. Also known the world over, but for its condensed milk, baby food and chocolate, Nestlé was another household name, having established production facilities in Australia in 1914, and launched our beloved Milo in Australia in the 1930s.
While many Australians still make French onion dip with Continental’s French Onion Soup mix, New Zealanders remain loyal to two Nestlé products – Maggi onion soup mix and Nestlé’s canned reduced fat cooking cream, the key ingredients they use to create the Kiwi onion dip invented by Rosemary Dempsey, a home economist who worked in Nestlé’s Auckland test kitchen in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Across the Pacific in the USA, dried onion soup mix had also been around for a while before finally taking off in 1941 when Continental’s onion soup was re-branded as being made by “the Lipton people” – as in global tea brand Lipton, started by Scottish tea merchant Thomas Lipton, who opened his first Lipton shop in Glasgow in 1871.
However, it wasn’t until 1954, soon after the dehydrated soup was relaunched as Lipton Onion Soup that a dip made from the dried soup mix and sour cream was promoted as California Dip. Unlike in Australia and New Zealand, ‘French’ did not appear in the name of the soup mix or dip.
French onion soup and French food generally were very fashionable in Australia in the 1970s (and 1950s and 1960s). My mum made a heavenly French onion soup. My parents also had a French restaurant in the mid-70s. All of which makes me wonder why mum didn’t make a French onion dip from scratch. She could have been making it with her Breville Kitchen Wizz, which sat right next to the Snack’n’Sandwich Maker.
Tips to Making this Homemade French Onion Dip Recipe for a Rich Creamy Caramelised Onion Dip
As usual, I only have a few tips to making this homemade French onion dip recipe for a rich and creamy caramelised onion dip. I use our round flat-bottomed carbon steel wok for the onions, as it heats up faster and retains heat better than a fry pan, which means your onions will caramelise faster.
While we think of low, slow cooking when it comes to caramelising onions – and that’s how you should do your onions for a proper French onion soup – for this French onion dip you can speed up the process and still get a great caramelised taste and golden-brown colour by shifting the heat between medium and high.
Keep a close eye on the onions so they brown but don’t burn. When on medium, let the onions sit and sizzle in the oil. Then turn the heat up high and use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir-fry the onions, turning the heat down again to let them sit and sizzle.
Using this method in a carbon steel wok, it will only take you 20 minutes or so, rather than the hours spent slowly caramelising onions in a pot on low heat for French onion soup.
When the onions are just about done, add the sea salt, white pepper, garlic powder, ground paprika and ground star anise, stir well to combine over low heat for another minute or two, then turn off the heat and transfer the onions to a cold dish to allow them to cool, then refrigerate until needed.
If you don’t do a lot of cooking with spices, start with half my suggested measures, taste, and add more little by little to suit your palate. We love intense, complex flavours, but not everybody does.
While we recommend a mortar and pestle for herb and spice pastes, for dips such as this, and the smoked salmon dip I shared a few weeks ago, a food processor will do the job for you.
You could also make your fried shallots from scratch, but store-bought fried shallots will work well, as long as they’re crunchy. You can buy them online (see previous link), if you can’t find them in the Asian section of your supermarket or a specialist Asian grocery store.
Make sure to taste the dip again after whizzing all the ingredients together, and adjust the seasoning/spices to suit your palate if needed. If the flavours are too intense for you, add more sour cream, cream cheese and/or mayonnaise.
Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve immediately with crackers, chips, crudités, or Jatz biscuits for a real nostalgia trip. If you’re making the dip ahead and refrigerating it, take it out an hour or so before serving so it softens, then garnish with a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots and finely sliced scallions/spring onions.
Homemade French Onion Dip Recipe
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 380 gram onions diced
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp ground paprika
- ¼ tsp ground star anise
- 140 g cream cheese
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ½ cup Kewpie mayonnaise
- 1 scallion/spring onion finely sliced
- 2 tbsp crispy fried shallots
- In a wok, heat oil, then fry diced onions over medium to high heat – alternate between the two to speed up the process, taking care not to burn the onions – stir occasionally for 20 minutes or so until onions are a golden-brown colour and caramelised, then turn heat down to low.
- Add the sea salt, white pepper, garlic powder, ground paprika and ground star anise to the caramelised onions, stir well to combine over low heat for another minute or two, then turn off heat and transfer the onions to a cold dish to allow to cool, then refrigerate until needed.
- In a food processor, blend the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, half the finely sliced spring onion/scallion and one tablespoon of crispy fried shallots for a minute or so, just until well-combined. Alternatively, stir vigorously by hand in a mixing bowl. Taste, and adjust the seasoning/spices to suit your palate if needed.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining slices of spring onion/scallion and crispy fried shallots and serve with Jatz biscuits for a real nostalgia trip – or crackers, chips or crudités.
- Alternatively, refrigerate until needed then remove from fridge an hour before serving and stir to soften, then garnish.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our easy cheese straws recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.