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A sourdough bread in the shape of a turkey sits central on a dinner table surrounded by baskets of rolls. Illustration.

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Hear Me Out: There Should Be More Bread at Thanksgiving

Often relegated to filler, it deserves a rightful place as part of the feast  

Editor’s note: Thanksgiving traces its origins to an uneasy, temporary alliance between 17th-century English settlers and members of the Wampanoag Confederacy. This year, Eater is choosing to acknowledge that history in our coverage of the holiday.

Bread is frequently the best part of any meal, but you wouldn’t know that at Thanksgiving. Relegated to second fiddle in stuffing, or as a side of side dishes in cornbread and dinner rolls, bread is as sidelined and forgotten at Thanksgiving as those wilted green beans that your aunt keeps bringing but no one ever eats. When they’re done right, stuffing, cornbread, and dinner rolls can be the height of the Thanksgiving form, but for those of us who love Thanksgiving sides more than the big show, a fluffy dinner roll can do the irreparable damage of filling you up too fast.

Bread at Thanksgiving should not be filler, leaving you with little room for mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and pie. Instead, it should shine in its own right, be celebrated for its charm, and given its rightful spot at the adult table. No more shitty airless fluff. There are a number of ways to include bread in your Thanksgiving dinner menu that go beyond pale white buns. You just have to believe enough in the power of bread to make it happen. Here are a few suggestions to help you achieve that very worthwhile goal.

Artichoke Dip with Ripped Bread Dippers

When all your guests are arriving but you’re still running around cleaning bathrooms and basting turkey, the best distraction is artichoke dip. Throw the dip in a decorative bowl, rip up a loaf of sourdough bread, and arrange the jagged chunks around the bowl. Aside from being delicious, this will keep your guests from asking you over and over again: When is dinnertime?

Soup in a Bread Bowl

Bread bowls aren’t just for clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf: If you’re planning any kind of soup dish for your first course at Thanksgiving, bread is the best vessel. Whether you’ve got butternut squash soup on the boil or you’ve made Italian wedding soup in advance (as my family does, for whatever reason), no one will be disappointed to be eating it from inside a tiny loaf of bread. If you’re crafty and have some green pipe cleaners, you can even make it vaguely resemble a pumpkin.

Poilâne’s Thanksgiving Bread Turkey

Though technically made with so-called “dead dough” (or bread that is yeast-free, as to be manipulated into artful forms without spoiling its shape), decorated bread will set you apart from even the most Stewart-esque of Thanksgiving hosts. Take a tip from the queen of French bread, Apollonia Poilâne, in her cookbook Poilâne: “Decorating a loaf of bread in bas-relief, with, say, sheaves of wheat, is a venerable French tradition.” You can follow in those French footsteps by making a sourdough boule, baking it for one-third of the time, applying your dead bread decorations to it with a spritz of water to the surface, and then returning it to the oven to bake until it’s done. Sheaves of wheat or a jaunty-looking bread turkey will please any crowd.

Gigantic Cheddar Biscuits

Why wait for the next-day sandwich when you can have something better on Thanksgiving Day itself? A batch of gigantic cheddar biscuits — made with jalapenos or chilies or any other flavor you fancy — means your family and friends can assemble sandwiches themselves on the big day. Forget filling up a plate: try stacking up a biscuit sandwich.

Bread and Butter Pudding

Like stuffing but sweeter, bread and butter pudding is an excellent way to finish any Thanksgiving meal, not only because it’s the perfect canvas for any number of flavors (from pineapple and coconut to cinnamon and raisin, to start), but because it’s a wonderful way to use up the extra bread you have from making stuffing. Were you gifted a panettone too early in the season? Now you can turn it into bread pudding. Put your guests on pie duty.

Hoagie Rolls for the Next-Day Turkey Sandwich

For many discerning holiday enthusiasts, the day after Thanksgiving is the highlight of the season. The crowds are gone, the leftovers are plentiful, and it is finally time to eat your next-day sandwich in silence. When you’re doing your grocery shopping for the big meal on Thursday, make sure to pick up a dozen long sandwich rolls for the day after. The best way to enjoy your triple-stacked turkey-mashed-potato-gravy-cranberry sandwich is on a hoagie roll, accept no substitutes.

Cindy Echevarria is a freelance illustrator based in Miami. She’s inspired by bright color palettes, badass women, and the tropics.

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