Breads and the turkey, burnished to a glow

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

THANKSGIVING, like so many of humankind's rituals, celebrates transformation, and the golden brown color of its centerpiece food -- glistening roast turkey -- symbolizes not only the transformation of the seasons, but the turning of strangers into friends, pilgrims into homebodies, anecdote into myth.

In the golden brown colors of Thanksgiving, most of all, the transformative power of cooking finds full expression.

The rich, royally festive color of the bird as it's paraded to the table is a testimony to our joy in turning the stuff of everyday survival into a holiday pleasure. The alchemy of flambéed Cognac brings a deep brandy-brown to the turkey pan sauce. The colors of Thanksgiving breads -- a deep auburn-tinged loaf of brown-butter pecan bread or the ale-colored braids of yeast braid made into a wreath -- speak of the ancient mystery of flour and leavening transmuted.

And the gold and brown gleanings of the woodland and the pantry -- mushrooms, nuts and bread -- are reconfigured into dishes that play subtle shades of brown against each other (such as stuffing) and into haute side dishes such as a savory bread pudding studded with chanterelles the color of Southern California's autumn-golden hillsides. The seemingly subdued palette of the Thanksgiving plate is of course made up of a range of nuanced hues. Mushroom-brown, walnut-brown, wheat-gold brown: It's a minimalist's rainbow.

So let's not take the browns of Thanksgiving for granted or mistakenly dismiss them as dull. Turn the heat up on the turkey at the end of roasting to burnish the skin; brush the rosemary and black-pepper breads with oil to deepen the color. Carefully caramelize those golden chanterelles for the savory bread pudding to highlight their glow. Uncovering a mushroom-walnut stuffing for a final few minutes of baking allows it to finish with a golden, slightly crisp crown. And browning the butter for the pecan bread gives the sweet slices added depth, not only of flavor, but of visual appeal.

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