If you’re as obsessed with Panera’s Autumn Squash Soup as I am, you’re going to love this version! There are lots of copycat recipes out there, but mine includes the special spices and textures that set this soup apart from other squash soups. Best of all, most of the work is done by the blender!
There was a time, many years ago, when the only place you could get a decent bowl of soup for lunch on the run was at Panera Bread. I still remember their Cuban black bean soup with loads of fondness because it was just the yummiest black bean soup I had ever tasted (and I was crushed when they discontinued it). And their forest mushroom soup? To.die.for.
Now, as a bonafide soup addict, I’d like to be able to say that my refrigerator is overflowing at all times with all sorts of homemade soup, but the truth is, I don’t spend all of my free time behind the stove: I eat out, too. And my current Panera obsession is their Autumn Squash Soup, which happy happy happy is back in season now.
Even better, my local Target carries it pre-packaged nearly year-round. Which means that in the depths of snowy winter, I can have a super tasty bowl of autumn squash soup for lunch right in my own kitchen, any day of the week, because thanks Target!
And I’ve been as happy as a squash soup lovin’ clam ever since, until one day at the farmers’ market, I spied, and fell in love with, the the butterkin squash. Yes, peeps, the butterkin squash: a butternut squash that grows in the shape of a pumpkin!
Holy guacamole, isn’t life grand! A pumpkin-shaped butternut squash.
So, I carried my butterkin squash home like I had just won the lottery and stood in my kitchen wondering what to do with it. Obvs, it had to be special because, butterkin squash! (Could the name be any cuter? I think not.)
And that’s when it hit me: autumn squash soup. It was time — long past time — to unravel the mysterious deliciousness of that Panera favorite. So I got to it, taste-testing lots of bowls of autumn squash soup, making notes, and tasting some more. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it! 😉
The Secret to Panera Copycat Autumn Squash Soup
So, let’s skip to the end and do the big reveal! Panera’s Autumn Squash Soup isn’t just dreamily creamy, it has texture, too: chopped onions in the soup are kept intact rather than blended into the soup, which provides a satisfying chew and a pleasant mouth-feel.
I also use a combination of roasted butternut squash and raw pumpkin puree, which adds a level of complexity to the squash flavors.
And then there are the spices. Believe it or not, autumn squash soup contains … curry. Not a lot, just enough to contribute a savory note that balances out the sweetness of the butternut squash and pumpkin. Knowing the curry part, you might be tempted to fire it up with your favorite spicy-heat blend, but stick with a mild yellow curry. The curry shouldn’t define the soup, only enhance it.
So, to deal with the onions, we blend up the squashes and soup liquids before cooking. And we also bloom all the spices with the sauteed onions, so that they’re as aromatic and flavorful as they can possibly be.
When combined, these turbo-charged ingredients create a full-flavored soup that you just don’t expect in a butternut squash soup. And all the heavy lifting is done by the blender! (See how easily the soup comes together in my one-minute video below.)
Do note that I like thick soups, so the photos of my autumn squash soup show a thicker result than what Panera normally serves up. Don’t hesitate to thin the soup with additional broth and a touch of cream in the blender for a thinner, smoother result. And if you happen to have pepitas in the da house … muah! I toasted some up with cinnamon and smoked paprika while the squash was roasting (instructions here).
Naturally vegetarian, and easily made vegan by using almond milk or thick and creamy coconut milk, autumn squash soup is a delicious option for Meatless Mondays (or in my case, any day ending in “y”).
- 18-20 ounces raw butternut squash flesh, cubed*
- 1 cup apple juice
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (plus extra)
- 14 ounce can pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive, vegetable, or coconut oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 large onion)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon mild yellow curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 ounces softened cream cheese
- 1/2 cup half-n-half or heavy cream
- extra vegetable broth or water, as needed
- Roasted pepitas for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400°F and line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper. Spread the squash cubes on the pan and roast for 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cubes are light brown. Remove from the oven and let cool a bit.
- Add the squash, apple juice, broth, pumpkin puree, and brown sugar to the blender jar. Puree until smooth. You might have to scrape down the jar during processing. If too thick, add 2 tablespoons of broth or water and process again. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a 4 quart Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and saute until they're soft and transparent. Sprinkle the cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, and salt over the onions, and stir for a minute or two to bloom the spices.
- Pour the squash mixture into the onions and bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes (keep an eye on the soup — it's likely to sputter). Reduce heat to low and let stand for a few minutes to cool slightly. Add the cream cheese and dairy, stirring until completely incorporated.
- Now, test for thickness: if you'd like a "soupier" soup, add more broth or water by the tablespoon, until it reaches your desired consistency. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.
- To serve, ladle into bowls and top with pepitas, or a swirl of heavy cream.