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Let bakeries help you with the T-day meal

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So much to do before Thanksgiving, so little time left to do it. Smart cooks know there is no disgrace in enlisting local bakers to take rolls, breads and desserts off their hands. Two Orlando bakeries in particular have become so important to many Central Florida meal planners, it's hard to imagine the holiday without them.

For almost five years, Arlean Gulley's family-owned Sweet Potato Pie (247 E. Michigan St., 407-246-0011) has spread the gospel of the shop's namesake dessert year-round.

"I was raised on sweet potatoes in Louisiana," says Gulley. "I could never understand why people waited for holidays to make them into a pie." Since she opened her pint-size bakery, Gulley has created a loyal fan base that now knows a great sweet potato pie has no season. Her homemade sweet potato pies range from $10.95-$17.95 and elevate the traditional fillings to divine indulgences. The proof is in the fluffiness of the fillings, a skill that comes from years of baking and keen intuition.

A few miles east of Gulley's shop is the grandddaddy of Orlando's independent retail bakers: Charlie's Gourmet Bakery (3213 Curry Ford Road, 407-898-9561 or charliesgourmetpastries.com). Charlie Hawks, a fourth-generation baker, worked at Wolfie's in Miami for 20 years before he opened his own bakery in Orange County in 1971. Today, Charlie's son Gary is at the shop's helm.

The menu is standard in scope, but over the years the bakery has become a party-planner's mecca for cookies, cakes, pies and — oh, my — those parkerhouse rolls ($4.80 a dozen). For Thanksgiving, you can head to Charlie's for pumpkin pie and the like. If you opt for its legendary peanut butter pie ($11.95) or sultry and rich chocolate walnut pie ($12.95), I'd wager there will be no dessert leftovers.

More independent bakeries of note

Supermarkets and chains such as Panera are good, dependable sources for holiday breads and pies. Beyond the local cupcake and cake artisans, here are few independent bakeries you may have overlooked:

Cafe De Colombia Bakery, 2512 S. Semoran Blvd., Orlando; 407-249-0202

Clara's Bakery, 815 W. S.R. 434, Winter Springs; 407-834-1224

Croissant Gourmet Bakery, 120 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park; 407-622-7753 or CroissantGourmet.com

Davis Bakery & Co., 12001 Avalon Lake Drive, Suite G, Orlando, and the Winter Park Farmer's Market (at New York and New England Avenues); 407-207-0205 or davisbakeryandcompany.com

Dessert Lady, 120 W. Church St., Orlando (downtown); 407-999-5696 or dessertlady.com

Dolce Bakery & Café, 992 E. Osceola Parkway (in the Renaissance Park complex), Kissimmee; 407-201-6828 or Dolce-usa.com

Fortuna Bakery, 12701 S. John Young Parkway, Orlando; 407-855-7070

Lacomka Russian Bakery & Deli, 2050 N. Semoran Blvd., (Casselton Corners), Winter Park; 407-677-1101 or Lacomka-Orlando.com

La Gourmandise French Bakery & Pastry Shop, 359 W. Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach; 386-672-5594 or FrenchBakery.net

Mon Delice, 557 E. Third Ave., New Smyrna Beach; 386-427-6555

My Father's Bread, 335 S. Highland St. and 115 W. Third Ave. both in Mount Dora; 352-735-5655 or myfathersbreads.com

Olde Hearth Bread Co., look for their goods at the Winter Park Farmer's Market on Saturdays and the Audubon Park Community Market (Stardust parking lot, 1842 E. Winter Park Road) Monday evenings; oldehearthbreadcompany.com

Pao Gostoso Brazilian Bakery: 5472 International Drive, Orlando; 407-447-8946

Yalaha Country Bakery, 8210 C.R. 48, Yalaha; 352-324-3366 or yalahabakery.com
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