The bread winners

Times Staff Writer

Fragrant, yeasty, redolent of hearth and home — nothing crowns the meal like fresh rolls and just-made breads in the Thanksgiving bread basket.

But with all that cooking to do, who wants to start baking bread? This year, we prefer to leave it to the professionals.

We asked the best bakeries in town what they'd be making for Thanksgiving, then tasted dozens of breads and rolls looking for flavors that would shine as part of the traditional menu, as well as for some new and appealing ideas. Here are the delicious winners. Choose the one that sounds the best, or put together a selection.

Place your order a few days before the holiday and have a non-cook or guest pick up the goods at the designated time.

Old-fashioned: These golden-brown, pull-apart rolls from La Brea Bakery are so gorgeous they'd also make a great centerpiece. Soft and rich with butter and milk, they're a variation on classic parkerhouse rolls (named for the Parker House hotel in Boston), with a familiar, nostalgic flavor but in a different shape.

Parkerhouse rolls: $6 a dozen, $4.50 a half-dozen at La Brea Bakery, 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 939-6813. Order by Monday for pickup Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to noon. Seasonal spice: With their sunny color and sprinkling of pepitas, these pumpkin rolls are an evocative addition to the autumn table. Soft and not too sweet, they're spiced with cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Pumpkin rolls: $5 a dozen at L.A. Bread Bakery & Café, 3119 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-8600. Order by Tuesday for pickup Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Farmhouse fresh: These hearty rolls from Berolina Bakery in Glendale are made from a Swedish recipe that blends wheat and coarse rye flours with a light touch of molasses. A sprinkle of cracked wheat on top adds rustic character. Perfect for a mini-turkey sandwich the day after.

Bergman rolls: 40 cents each; Bergman loaves: $1.90 at Berolina Bakery, 3421 Ocean View Blvd., Glendale, (818) 249-6506. Order by Tuesday for pickup next Wednesday. (The bakery is not open Thanksgiving Day.) Touch of France: This show-stopping brioche is as delicious as it is handsome. The 2 1/2 -pound loaf is 15 inches long, so the slices seem to go on forever. And it's light as a feather, welcome during the feast and afterward for snacks.

Brioche loaf: $16 at L.A. Bread Bakery & Café, 3119 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-8600. Order by Saturday for pickup on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Salty: Pretzel bread, a middle-European favorite, is a standard on the menu at Röckenwagner restaurant and is also sold at Röckenwagner's farmers market stalls. Deep brown, shiny and sprinkled with salt, it's available as rolls or baguettes. For Thanksgiving, it's best to arrange pickup that day at the restaurant at a stand set up outside for bakery sales.

Pretzel rolls: $1 each; pretzel baguettes: $5 at Röckenwagner, 2435 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-6504. Order by 3 p.m. next Wednesday for pickup on Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Toothsome: Frank Hervé Commereuc of Le Pain du Jour in Santa Monica puts whole hazelnuts, walnut halves and raisins into the sumptuous loaf he calls "three seasons bread." It's full-bodied but not sweet, so it marries well with dishes on the Thanksgiving menu and still makes a statement of its own.

Three seasons bread: $6 at Le Pain du Jour, 828 Pico Blvd., Suite 2, Santa Monica, (310) 399-4870. Order by 5 p.m. next Wednesday for pickup Thanksgiving Day from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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