Take a leap of faith, right into the dip end

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

It all started with an excess of onions. I won't bore you with why I had so many on hand, but I indulged in a personal fantasy of caramelizing a ton of them in my slow cooker so I'd always have some on hand to lend their deep, complex sweetness to whatever dish I desired. With so many to spare, I looked through my files for inspiration and ended up in a most unlikely place: coffee cake. Namely, a really basic vanilla coffee cake with a simple sugar streusel, which I thought that might work well with the onions swirled through. My recipe featured sour cream, and I thought that would work too, since if you add onion to sour cream you get French onion dip, which is a food I love more than is probably rational.

Assemble a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup mix and with a flick of the whisk, you have a party. It loves chips of all sorts, and every possible vegetable. It works in a plastic bowl or in a hollowed out loaf of crusty bread; they are all just dip delivery services, and the dip is the star. Stir in some thawed and drained frozen chopped spinach and you ratchet up the fancy. Ditto topping with crispy fried onions. Since my beloved Chicago Bears are a long long way of ever getting back to a Super Bowl, the game is really just my annual excuse to make French onion dip and buy a bag of Jay’s Waves potato chips.

And you can guess where my brainwaves went from there.

If the cake has sour cream in it, and onions, and onion dip is just sour cream and onion soup mix, what would happen if I swapped out the plain sour cream for onion dip? And since streusel is just a little bit of a crispy topping on a coffee cake, with nuts for crunch and texture, and potato chips have crunch and texture, and potato chips are really BFF with onion dip, the leap was not so big.

And the result? Brilliant. Like most coffee cakes, it isn’t too sugary, and the potato chip topping gives a welcome pop of salt. The caramelized onion, if you didn’t tell anyone, might be mistaken for dates or figs, which also get that same dusky complexity along with their sweetness. The cake doesn’t taste oniony, per se, but it is there in the background, which is what makes it the perfect brunch dish. It is very happy next to eggs and bacon, or lox and bagels, all of which are fabulous friends with onion.

I’m not saying that I will ever give up on my beloved French onion dip on game day, but I might have to make double batches so that I can put this in my brunch rotation the morning after.

French Onion Dip Coffee Cake with Potato Chip Streusel

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis


1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups French onion dip
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup caramelized onions, chopped fine (see note below)

For the streusel:
1/2 cup coarse raw or demerara sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed potato chips (I used plain, but obviously sour cream and onion would work fine here)


1. Heat your oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray or butter well.

2. In the bowl of your stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with your hand mixer cream the butter and sugar will well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well blended after each egg. Add the vanilla and blend well.

3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl to blend, then alternate adding onion dip and flour mixture to the batter in thirds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

4. Using your fingers, distribute the caramelized onions in an even layer over the top of the batter.

5. Mix the topping ingredients in a small bowl, then scatter evenly over the onions, and pat the mixture lightly into the top of the cake.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until browned on top and a tester comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack, slice into squares for serving.

Note: If you don’t have caramelized onions on hand, you can make a small batch just for this recipe by cooking half a medium onion, thinly sliced, in a tablespoon of butter over medium low heat for about 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently. But I definitely recommend making a big batch in your slow cooker or multi cooker when you have a chance to keep in your freezer.