Who knew that baking comes complete with its own definition? Honestly, everything has a technical definition, but baking has never needed a definition. Baking, to me, is the easy thing to do in the kitchen.
Cooking is hard – too many ingredients, too many pots and pans and bowls and things going on at once. Baking is essentially a handful of ingredients all mixed and then baked together…or any kind of dessert whether it has to be baked or not. Easy, right?
Yes, until you realize baking actually means ‘preparing food using dry heat.’ What on God’s green earth is dry heat? Apparently, it also has a meaning, but we’ll not be getting into that today.
We’re going with our own definition of baking – desserts and other fattening things that can be placed in the oven or not placed in the oven but are still desserts (no one ‘cooks’ dessert, people…no one). Now that we’ve had this useless and boring important vocabulary lesson, let’s focus on things we care about. Baking.
Let’s talk about Thanksgiving Baking
More specifically, Thanksgiving baking. Just when you thought the days of preparation and cooking and mentally preparing yourself for a house filled with people you love (many you love so much more in small, infrequent doses), you remember dessert. And breakfast.
People must eat before you feed them dinner, as annoying as that is. We’ve prepared 20 of the best Thanksgiving baking recipes we could find, broken them down into groups of similarities, and we’ve tried to keep them simple but effective. We’ve even thrown in a few things that you can serve and act like you baked them when you did not.
Hey, some of us are not strong in the kitchen. Time is also a thing. And let’s be honest, Netflix is dropping all the Christmas movies just a few days before Thanksgiving, and we will probably overindulge in those and not have the energy to handle even more food preparation. Don’t judge…learn.
Things it Looks Like You Baked So Everything Thinks You’re Even More of a Rockstar
Listen, we know; it’s a lot. So, here’s a few simple cheating moments you absolutely need in your life this Thanksgiving. Things you did not bake or even make, but no one will ever know you didn’t slave all day over it. The key here is to do it all the day before so there is no evidence it’s not homemade.
1. Mini Pumpkin Pies
Buy some pumpkin pies at the store – the kind that are already made. Use a small round cookie cutter and cut small round pumpkin pies out of your big pumpkin pie. Arrange them on a serving platter, add whipped cream to the top, and serve.
2. Bakery Bread Loaves
Buy your favorite breads, unwrap them, and place them in your own baking dishes or on a serving platter. It might help to pre-slice them and warm them quickly before serving. No one will know.
3. Coconut Cake
These are found in the freezer section. Buy one, put it in a cake dish the night before, add some berries to the top. It’s so good when it’s served cold, so put the cake dish into the fridge and keep it there overnight.
4. Bakery Muffins
Just pick your favorite flavors and serve. Go the chic route and serve them from a darling basket lined with a holiday-inspired linen.
5. Any Cheesecake
They make. You buy. You put it on a serving dish at home, and you take it out of the fridge in your own dish when it’s time to serve. Add some brownie points by topping with whipped cream or fruit or extra chocolate or something appropriate.
Breakfast Items that Last All Day That People Will Fill Up On and Not Eat the Food You Spent Days Preparing
These are simple, but they also work best when you serve them with a side of mimosas.
6. Cinnamon Rolls
Here’s the deal – this can be very easy, or it can be very complicated. Here’s my favorite homemade cinnamon roll recipe. You can follow it and make these ahead of time (prep the dough the day before and bake the morning of).
If it’s just too much work and you don’t have the time, buy the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls in the grocery store, follow the instructions, and enjoy. They have different flavors, different frostings, and you can bake them a little longer for firmer rolls or a little less for softer rolls.
This is your baking party, friend. Some years I make them ahead of time and do the very mom-of-the-year/stepford wife thing and sometimes I let the kids make them out of a metal tube. No one really cares either way.
7. French Toast Casserole
We love it because you can make it ahead of time, store it in the fridge, and bake on Thanksgiving morning. It saves a lot of time – and necessary oven space – on the big day.
- French bread
- Vanilla extract
- Brown sugar
- Cinnamon (not cinnamon sugar, please)
- Powdered sugar
- Your favorite fresh berries
- Syrup (maple or bust, folks)
It’s a simple make – just cut your bread into small cubes. Use as much or as little as you want depending on the serving size and pan size you’re using. Don’t forget to grease the baking dish, though. Grab a large bowl, and mix your eggs, milk, vanilla, and brown sugar. There are not right or wrong amounts – you know how to make French toast, so you also know how much to use.
The key here though is to make enough to really soak the bread in your baking dish. Toss your French bread cubes in your baking dish, pour the French toast ‘dressing’ over the top, and cover with saran wrap. You can put this in the fridge overnight.
To bake, simply preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Check on it at the 30-minute mark, and then add 10-15 additional minutes if needed.
This is because everyone has a different oven situation – some are fast, some are slow, some need a little less time, and some need a little more time. You know your oven. Now, if you want a rich French toast experience, cut up a half stick of butter and place the cubes on top of the bake prior to baking. If you respect your cholesterol levels, skip this one.
Remove from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes. Top with your favorite berries, some powdered sugar, and serve. Add your own syrup.
8. Crescent Roll Breakfast Bake
Full disclosure – we host both Thanksgiving and Christmas in our home because we have a thousand kids and a large home, which means space for our parents and siblings and nieces and nephews and all the cooking. This also means my husband and I feed everyone breakfast on both holidays, and this is the one dish we make every single year no questions asked.
It’s our favorite, and it’s everyone else’s favorite. I found the recipe on Pinterest probably a decade or more ago and I’ve had it memorized since. I can’t even remember whose it is or where I found it. It is not healthy (which is why we only have it two mornings a year), but it’s easy to make ahead and store before baking the morning of. Here’s what you need:
- 2 Packages of crescent rolls
- A package of Jimmy Dean hot sausage
- Cheddar cheese (two cups)
- Eggs (four large)
- Milk (3/4 cup)
- One yellow onion
- 1 green pepper
- Butter (I use a full stick because calories and cholesterol and stuff does not matter to me on Thanksgiving Day)
- Salt and pepper
Start by browning your meat in a pan. Chop your onion and green pepper into small pieces while the sausage is browning. Add the online and pepper to the meat when it’s almost done browning and let it get soft in the mixture. Next, grease a baking dish. 9×13 is the best size. Lay the crescent rolls along the bottom of the dish. Cover the entire bottom, and don’t worry if the rolls overlap. That’s totally fine and delicious.
Grab a medium bowl and mix your eggs, milk, softened butter (don’t melt it because it will curdle your eggs) and your salt and pepper. Once the meat is done – drain it – and pour it on top of the crescent rolls. Next, add your cheddar cheese to the top of the meat. Finally, pour your mixture on top of the cheese, add a little more salt and pepper to taste, and cover. You can cook it in the morning on 350 for 40 minutes. Cool and serve.
9. Croissant Casserole
I don’t eat casseroles unless they’re for breakfast and it’s a holiday, and this one is a fan favorite. It looks healthy, but I assure you it is not. Here’s what you need:
- Croissants (pre-made straight from the bakery)
- Your favorite fruit (of the berry variety)
- Cream cheese
- Lemons (actual lemons because you need both the zest and the juice)
- Vanilla extract
- Half and half (milk does not work for this recipe)
Rip your croissants into pieces and throw the small pieces into a baking sheet. You can try to class it up by cutting them into small pieces, too. Your choice. It’s just extra dishes. You want to bake these for 8 minutes just to brown the croissants.
While those are baking, throw a package of softened cream cheese (14 oz.) into the bowl of your mixer, then add six eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, 1.5 tbsp. vanilla extract, 1 ¼ cup sugar, 2 cups half and half, and mix well. This should create a lovely custard-consistency mix.
Next, place half of your toasted croissants into a baking dish (9×13) and add half the custard mix. Place the second half of your croissants on top of that, then add the rest of the custard. Top with your favorite berries, cover, and place in the fridge for the night. Bake in the morning at 350 degrees – covered with foil – for 30 minutes. Remove your foil after 30 minutes and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes.
Let it cool, add a casual dusting of powder sugar to the top, and voila.
10. Mini Muffins
There is something about a mini muffin my kids love more than anything. Oh, who am I kidding. It’s the chocolate chips. Either way, these take – and I mean this literally – 10 minutes start to finish. I buy the ‘just add milk’ packages of muffin mix found in the baking aisle (they are bags of muffin mix), and I buy chocolate chip, blueberry, and mixed berry.
Using a medium dish, empty a packet of muffin mix into the bowl, add a half cup of water (I don’t like mine with milk, so I substitute water), and mix. Now, spray a mini muffin pan with Pam, fill each little cup up ¾ full and bake for approximately 6 minutes. Remove, serve. The best part about these is that everyone gets a warm muffin to eat, but the kids can make them on their own and you can save one more cup of coffee (or a mimosa).
Desserts You Can Bake Yourself But That Also Have Variations Giving You The Freedom to Overachieve or Do the Bare Minimum
Baking is one of the more fun things about the holidays. Still, Thanksgiving is a food-filled holiday with a ton of prep and a lot of work, so we want to keep these desserts simple and straightforward. Not too much prep, and not too much time…and loads of variations depending on your person level of enthusiasm on this holiday week.
11. Apple Pie
I cheat when I make apple pie. Once upon a time, I did make my own crust. Now I have four kids and one of my hands is busy holding my mimosa so that the stories my mom has already told me 78 times sound more interesting the 79th (Deb…I love you, and I’m only joking). Back to the topic at hand – I do buy a pre-made crust (the dough, though). Actually, I buy two. I’ll get to that.
Line a pie dish with the dough for your crust. Let your husband cut and peel eleventy billion apples for you and have him place them in a large mixing bowl. He uses 8-10 Granny Smith apples (do not use other apples, they are subpar and not tart enough) and then I add sugar and brown sugar and cinnamon to the bowl with the apples and mix. I don’t have an exact amount of each because I measure with love and years of practice – just be sure to coat the apples completely and you’re fine.
Fill your pie dish with apples, and then here’s where the second pie crust dough comes in handy. I roll mine out so it’s huge, then I use a knife to cut long strips. I then lay my strips across the pie one direction, and then the other direction alternating one under, one above all the way across.
Then, I take the left-over crust, roll it back out, and I use cookie cutters shaped like leaves and cut out little fall shapes and arrange them on top of the pie. I add a small square of butter to each little ‘hole’ on top of the pie. I cover the edges with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the edges are crispy and brown. Allow the pie to cool marginally, top with French vanilla ice cream, and serve. It really is delightful.
12. Peanut Butter Pie
Ree Drummond – the Pioneer Woman – makes the best peanut butter pie. Here’s her recipe. This is not a difficult item to bake. It takes only a few moments, and she lays everything out so well for us to follow along. Your guests will love this.
13. Apple Pie Crescent Rolls
This is so simple. Buy some Pillsbury crescent roll cans. Break them apart and lay them flat. In a bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon to taste. Using a cooking brush, add a little melted butter to each crescent roll dough, cover with cinnamon and brown sugar mixture, and add one small apple slice before rolling up each crescent roll like you would any other day. Bake according to the crescent roll instructions and serve warm.
14. Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies
Here’s our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. All you do is make the cookie dough, roll it into a ball about an inch in diameter, roll the balls in a bowl of sugar, bake, and then add an unwrapped Hershey kiss to the top of each cookie as soon as it comes out of the oven – and before you remove the cookies from the pan. Remove, let cool, and serve.
15. Carrot Cake
This is, hands down, the absolute best carrot cake recipe on the internet. The best news is that you can make this in advance, and you can serve it cold. In fact, it might be better served cold. There’s just something about a cold carrot cake paired with a warm beverage – a nice, dry red wine or a bourbon – that puts you right into the fall holiday mood.
Desserts Perfect For Thanksgiving that Aren’t Technically Baked But Everyone Likes
Here’s the thing – if you have kids, they probably want something a little more fun than pie for dessert. These are perfect because they are add-ons. They’re not your full dessert, but they’re quick, easy, and perfect for some kids who have a discerning palette.
16. Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Melt chocolate. Dip strawberries. Boom. You’re done. You’re welcome.
Oh, but do put your freshly dipped strawberries into a tray lined with parchment paper, put it in the fridge until cold, remove. Take the berries off the parchment paper, place them nicely on the tray, and serve.
17. Rice Krispy Treats
Here’s the way to do this – add a full stick of butter to a pot and let it melt, but DO NOT let it boil or sizzle. Add an entire bag of marshmallows, stirring frequently, and only stir until they are all completely melted. Now, add your cereal (remove from heat first) – but only add as much as you want. You can add more to make them less gooey, or less to make them a little gooier. Put your treats into a 9×13 baking dish that’s been sprayed with Pam. Let them cool and add some powdered sugar.
18. Oreo Balls
All you need is a mixer. Remove the cream from the Oreos and separate. Place the hard cookie into the bowl of your mixer, add the cream from inside as well as 14 oz. of softened cream cheese. Mix it all up. Now roll your cookie mix into balls, dip in melted chocolate, and put in the fridge. These are the best for kids and adults.
19. Brownie Sundaes
All you need is a package of bakery brownies, your favorite ice cream, and your favorite toppings. Warm the brownies in the microwave for approximately 15 seconds. Top with ice cream and your favorite toppings. Serve.
20. Cookie Sundaes
These are my favorite indulgence but let me be high maintenance with the fact that fresh from the oven cookies are the best for this. You can use pre-made cookies, too. No one will really judge, and they can be warmed. Top with ice cream, add toppings. Enjoy.
You can also read:
- Simple, easy, quick pre-Thanksgiving dinner recipes for busy people
- Thanksgiving activities to keep the kids busy while you prep for the big day
- All the Instant Pot recipes that’ll save you valuable time on Thanksgiving
- 20 Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas For Families Who Don’t Feel Like Cooking Elaborate Meals