Cooking from the Bar Cart: Butternut-Apple Bisque with Calvados

Silky squash and crisp apple combine for a soup brimming with autumn spirit

Photo: © Katherine Cobbs / Blueline Creative Group

When the first crisp sweater-weather day in the South arrives, it’s pretty magical. Soon after the last tomato is plucked from the vine, mowing gets replaced by leaf-blowing, and football, fires, and upcoming holidays take center stage. My cooking changes with the season, too. Simmering pots on the stove and braised dishes in the oven become more common now as many of fall’s freshest ingredients call for longer, slower approaches. More time doesn’t necessarily translate to more complexity, but gentle cooking does provide an opportunity to develop more nuanced flavors. 

Incorporating spirits into your cooking is a great way to do that with minimal effort. Once the alcohol evaporates, only its flavorful essence is left behind. A general rule is to pair like with like and choose booze that will echo the flavors of a dish. In this case, Calvados, an apple (or pear) brandy made in Normandy, France, lends just the right notes to a winter squash and apple bisque. Roasting earthy winter squash like butternut—or sugar pumpkin, Hubbard, acorn, or delicata—with apples and aromatics concentrates their sweetness. Added during simmering, the Calvados highlights the flavor of the fruit and complements the squash beautifully. Cream rounds everything out and is what makes a pureed soup a bisque. If you prefer, you can easily swap the apples for pears such as Bosc or Bartlett and choose Calvados made from pears.

Make this soup up to a couple of days before you plan to serve it to let the flavors intensify, then reheat it gently until warmed through before garnishing to serve. Drizzling an additional teaspoon of Calvados over each serving is optional, but oh-so delicious.

See other recipes in our Cooking from the Bar Cart series.


  • Butternut-Apple Bisque with Calvados (Yield: about 8 servings)

    • 2½ lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed

    • 2 semi-tart apples, such as Jazz, Pink Lady, or Cortland, peeled, cored, and cubed

    • 1 leek, white and light green parts, sliced ¼-inch thick

    • 2 large shallots, quartered

    • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil

    • 1 tsp. smoked paprika

    • 1 tsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

    • 6 cups chicken stock

    • 1 bay leaf

    • ½ cup Calvados, divided

    • 1 cup heavy cream, divided

    • Grated nutmeg

    • Tarragon leaves

    • Apple matchsticks


  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, toss the squash, apple, leek, shallots, and chopped tarragon with the olive oil, smoked paprika, salt, black pepper, and ground nutmeg; divide between 2 large sheet pans. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender, tossing halfway through cooking.

  2. Place the squash-and-apple mixture, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

  3. Remove bay leaf and carefully puree the soup in a blender in batches until velvety smooth. Return the puree to the saucepan and stir in ⅓ cup of the Calvados and ½ cup of the heavy cream. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. 

  4. Ladle the soup into warm bowls. Drizzle each serving with about 1 tablespoon of the remaining cream. Sprinkle each serving with about 1 teaspoon of the remaining Calvados, if desired. Garnish with grated nutmeg, tarragon leaves, and apple matchsticks.

Katherine Cobbs is a cookbook author and editor. Her recent books are Pantry Cocktails (2021), Tequila & Tacos (2020), and Cookies & Cocktails (2019) published by Simon & Schuster. She also developed recipes for Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook – Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.