Panera Inspired Autumn Squash Soup

We are firmly into the fall season and just like with any season, there are a variety of ingredients and flavors that may come to mind for you just like they do for me. The other morning while we were having breakfast, my wife Lori mentioned that she missed the Autumn Squash Soup that is offered by Panera at this time of year.

Given the current health situation in the world, simple things like running out to Panera to grab a bowl of soup are not always as simple as they once were. These times have called for more creative thinking on occasion and it got me thinking something that I often think, even outside of a world health crisis… Can I make that? So, I set out on a quest to try.

This particular “can I make that” quest had an extra layer of difficulty attached in that I had never actually tasted this soup! So, I relied on the memory of my wife for inspiration along with a visit to the Panera website which offered a terrific description of the flavors in the soup as well as a full list of ingredients.

Creating a knock off type of recipe can be a fun quest, but keep in mind as you create that without the actual recipe you won’t have a 100% match and let’s face it, sometimes you just want the original! That aside, you may find that you have created a match that is 90%, 95% or maybe even 99% of the way there and is more than close enough to satisfy your desire for a particular dish when you can’t get to the original or simply don’t feel like going out!

When I was done cooking, Lori gave it a try and said the ingredients that I went with came very close to the mark which was very nice to hear. The one main difference she noted was mine was a bit less sweet than the one you get at the restaurant. The reason for that is simple – Panera adds sugar, brown sugar and a sweet cream to the mix. I personally don’t care for an overly sweet soup, so I left the two kinds of sugar out and instead of sweet cream to give it that smooth final finish, I substituted plain Greek yogurt.

Those changes also no doubt resulted in a less caloric version of the soup as well as greater control for the individual eater. For those that prefer the greater sweetness, they can go ahead and add a little brown sugar, honey or perhaps even Stevia to their portion. The other big difference is Panera’s version is vegetarian and in the one I created, I used chicken broth – this could easily be swapped out for vegetable broth if you prefer.

Here is the recipe!

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Olive oil for roasting and sautéing
  • Roasted pumpkin seed for garnish

Preheat oven to 425. While the oven is heating, put the butternut squash and carrots in an oven safe pan and toss them with a tablespoon of olive oil – I also like to toss in a bit of salt, but this is optional. Place the pan in the heated oven and roast the vegetables until they are soft when tested with a fork – approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Toss them periodically while they are roasting to promote even cooking and prevent them from sticking to the pan.

While the vegetables are roasting, grab a pot around 5 quarts in size – I used my 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven which was the perfect size. Add a half tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and start heating the oil. Toss in your chopped onion and a pinch of salt if you like and sauté the onions until they are a bit soft, but not mushy.

When the onions are ready, add in the cinnamon, garlic powder, pepper and curry powder and toss them with the onions until they are all blended together. Next add the chicken broth, apple cider and can of pumpkin and bring it to a boil, then gently simmer it for 10 minutes and set aside.

When the butternut squash and carrots have finished roasting, add them to the pot of broth and bring it back up to a boil and then simmer for another 15 minutes with the lid on. After 15 minutes, remove from the heat and take off the lid.

Your soup will be slightly thick already, full of flavor and maybe even good enough to eat – but we’re not quite there yet! The next step is to blend everything together. If you have an immersion blender, grab it now and blend everything together until smooth right in your pot. This is my preferred method because it is much simpler and cleaner than using the regular blender.

If you’re using a regular blender, transfer the soup to the blender in small batches and blend each batch together until smooth. Just a word of caution if you are using a regular blender… be sure to let the soup cool quite a bit first. Blending very hot foods or liquids in a blender will release steam that will literally blow the top off of the blender! How do I know this?? I’ll just leave you with this image – it is more than 10 years later and I still remember every minute of cleaning freshly roasted pureed pumpkin off of the kitchen walls and cabinets like it was yesterday!

Once you have finished blending the soup, stir in the Greek yogurt until fully blended – this adds a touch of creaminess and extra smoothness to your soup giving you the final product below:

Serve your soup topped with the roasted pumpkin seeds as a garnish. This recipe was enough to make 4 servings and we enjoyed it for lunch two days in a row – our son made that possible by passing on his share. He’s not a particularly picky eater, but even so… the sight of pureed squash and pumpkin was enough to make him say “no thank you” as any 5 year old might do!

After Thoughts

One of the great things about cooking for me is once I have tried the master recipe, my mind immediately starts going into “what else can I do with this” mode. I often like to consider substitutes or other options. Some immediate thoughts that came to mind were:

  • If Greek yogurt isn’t your favorite thing, you could always go back to the original Panera concept and add something more like heavy cream or perhaps half and half to go a little lighter.
  • The pumpkins seeds are a great garnish on this soup, but how about some crispy bacon or prosciutto crumbles instead?
  • What if you don’t happen to have curry powder on hand or you aren’t particularly a fan of it? Curry powder is an interesting mix of warming spices – Google it and see. Maybe you don’t care for the sum of the parts, but do like some of the spices in the mix. Along with the curry leaves you will find things like cumin, coriander and turmeric – any of them would make a great substitute.

Did you enjoy this recipe? Have any ideas of how you might change it up? Comments are always welcomed!

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