Growing up in a Slavic immigrant family in this wonderful country, my family and I weren’t used to all the traditions of the American holidays. In Belarus, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving and didn’t celebrate with a turkey and stuffing. We embraced this wonderful holiday wholeheartedly and now sit down with our families for a feast every year. There certainly is SO much to be thankful for, and I’ll use any excuse to thank God for all the blessings that we have. Our food may not be as traditional as most American families, but most of us do have turkeys on our tables.
Instead of the typical bread stuffing, we usually serve our turkey with a rice or barley stuffing, or even mashed potatoes. It’s just not something we ever ate. I’ve never tried bread stuffing before, but I was curious to find out how it tasted, since the majority of turkeys are paired with it in American homes. Last year, I decided to give it a try and created my own version of a bread stuffing. I studied many different recipes and came up with my own variation. I was skeptical, but turns out that I loved it! This year, I decided to make it again, and I was even more delighted.
First of all, I’d like to say that I’m calling this a “dressing” because it’s cooked outside the bird, not technically “stuffed” inside. I don’t believe in stuffing a turkey with anything, except some wonderful aromatics to perfume the bird from the inside. Why?
- In order for the stuffing to cook through, it will take much, MUCH longer than when the actual turkey is ready. By the time the stuffing is ready, your turkey will be as dry as sawdust. I’m not willing to sacrifice my turkey for the sake of stuffing.
- Second of all, did you ever roast a chicken, turkey or any other kind of bird and notice what pools in the carcass? Not pretty. That will all be mixed in with the stuffing. Also not my idea of delicious yumminess.
- Third, if you’re stuffing the bird with a bread stuffing, it will mostly be very mushy. Baking it separately will give it more surface area and the dressing will be perfectly golden and crisp on top and porous and moist inside.
I really like this combination of ingredients. Onions, leeks, celery and herbs create a wonderful aroma and the apples and dry cherries give a bit of sweetness. Pecans give a surprising crunch since the rest of the ingredients are pretty soft. All in all, a great dish for an awesome holiday.
Prep the dressing while your turkey is roasting. When you take out the turkey and LET IT REST, quickly place the dressing in the oven. Since it takes about an hour to bake, your turkey will still be hot by the time the dressing finishes cooking. If you’re lucky and have an extra oven, you won’t have any problem at all.
Challah is a lovely braided, egg bread. I think it’s perfect to use for the dressing, since it soaks in the liquid ingredients without falling apart and then has a great texture once it’s baked. I really like using it for French Toast too:). Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Meanwhile, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Add the onion, season with salt and cook on medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the leeks, celery and apples. Season with salt. Cook for another 7-10 minutes, covered, on medium heat, until it all softens.
You can use just about any ingredients for the dressing. Sausage, pancetta, mushrooms, peppers, cheese, raisins, dried cranberries, pears, any herbs, fennel or substitute the pecans for any other nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, etc.
Aha! Here’s my secret ingredient! Yep, turkey drippings. I know we all love the flavor that the roasting turkey gives to the stuffing. This way, you add the drippings and enjoy that flavor without having to overcook your turkey, etc. I do this when I make rice or barley stuffing too.
If you don’t want to use the turkey drippings, by all means skip it and add a bit more chicken broth to the dressing instead.
Add the eggs. Gently toss all the ingredients together. Don’t be too aggressive; you don’t want the bread to fall apart. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter. Use part of it to butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Set the rest of it aside.
Place the dressing into the baking pan.
- 1 (1 lb) loaf challah bread
- 4 Tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 leeks, sliced thin, whites only
- 2 apples, Granny Smith, peeled and chopped
- ¼-1/3 cup dry cherries, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted
- 2½ cups hot chicken broth
- ½ cup turkey drippings
- 4 eggs, beaten
- thyme, parsley, sage
- brush with melted butter on top.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes.
- Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, tossing halfway through, until the bread is lightly toasted.
- Increase the temperature to 350 degrees.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Add the onion, season with salt and cook on medium high heat for 5-7 minutes, until tender.
- Add the leeks, celery and apples. Season with salt. Cook for another 7-10 minutes, covered, on medium heat, until it all softens.
- Add it all to the toasted bread cubes. Add the minced herbs, cherries and pecans. Toss until well mixed.
- Pour in the hot chicken broth and the turkey drippings, if using.
- Add the eggs.
- Gently toss all the ingredients together.
- Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter. Use part of it to butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan and set the rest of it aside.
- Place the dressing in the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 min.
- Uncover the baking dish, brush the top of the dressing with the rest of the melted butter, increase the temperature to 400 and bake for another 25-30 minutes.