Mom’s Classic Make-Ahead Bread Stuffing

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I have a lot of my mom’s old recipes, but this one is special. I grew up on this very traditional version of bread stuffing, and every time I make it, I feel her presence. There is something about this specific recipe that does it — maybe because out of all of her recipes, I’ve really nailed this one. You know how you try to make a recipe that has been handed down in your family but it’s just never quite as good as you remember? Well, this one is exactly as good as I remember. It’s spot-on, perfect. So, who knows, maybe she is in my kitchen with me, helping me along.

When a recipe is a family tradition, it becomes more than just a recipe — it becomes a legacy of the person who made it. This is one of those legacy recipes, and I’m so happy to be be able to share it with you.

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I stopped stuffing the turkey eons ago when it was recommended that we cook it separately for safety reasons. Some of these recommendations have eased in recent years, but I’ve never gone back. I’ve found I have more control over both the bird and the stuffing when they are cooked separately. It’s just a better method, period. You can still achieve the consistency you’re after and you don’t have to cook the heck out of the bird to make sure the center of the stuffing has reached the USDA recommended temperature.

The next sensitive issue involves the ingredients. What type of bread — French, sandwich bread, cornbread? Meat or no meat? There are a multitude of other add-ins that some might find delightful — dried cranberries, raisins, nuts — while others would be completely turned off by these items. It’s for these reasons that I believe you can’t go wrong with a classic, traditional recipe like this. It’s a true crowd pleaser. So, if you’ve got a crowd to feed at Thanksgiving, I highly recommend you give it a try.

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When it comes to the bread, I opt for a combination of good old sliced buttermilk sandwich bread and a loaf of sweet French bread that I get from my local grocery store’s bakery section.

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Slice the loaf of French bread.

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Using your hands, tear those slices of French bread into pieces and place them on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Tear up the sliced sandwich bread and place it on a second baking sheet. I prefer the result when the bread is torn by hand instead of using a knife and ending up with neatly cut cubes of bread. Pop the baking sheets into a 275-degree-Fahrenheit oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until bread is lightly toasted.

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While the bread is toasting, let’s get to work on the veggies. Dice up 2 yellow onions, an entire bunch of celery and a peeled carrot. The carrot helps to perk up the stuffing with some color contrast.

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Time to have some fun! Melt 1 cup of butter — yes, two whole sticks of butter — in a large saute pan. It may seem like a lot of butter but we’re making a lot of stuffing here. Trust me on this — you can’t skimp on the butter.

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Once the butter has melted, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the diced veggies. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the veggies have softened. Make sure those little pieces of carrot are fork-tender.

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Time to add a good amount of minced garlic and some chopped, fresh parsley.

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I also add some chopped cremini mushrooms. Now, if mushrooms are one of those controversial ingredients in your house, leave them out. They are completely optional, but I think they are a great addition to this stuffing.

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Time to add the all-important seasonings: poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, marjoram, salt and fresh ground pepper.  This is where the flavor comes in and this particular mixture of seasonings is incredible. With the exception of the fresh parsley I added above, I use all dry seasonings, eliminating the need to purchase lots of expensive fresh herbs. Dry herbs are potent and incredibly flavorful, and work wonderfully in stuffing recipes. Get ready for your house to smell amazing as soon as they hit the pan. Stir the mixture to combine it well and then remove the pan from the heat.

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Transfer your toasted bread to a pan or bowl large enough to allow you to toss it together with the cooked veggies. Since I’ve always got my turkey roasting pan out anyway, I always use it for this purpose. It’s the perfect size. Pour the cooked veggies over the toasted bread and toss it with a big spoon until the veggies are distributed throughout.

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Add two lightly beaten eggs and 1-1/2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth. These liquids should be just enough to add a good amount of moisture to the toasted bread, but it shouldn’t be overly soggy.

Transfer the stuffing to a large baking dish that you’ve coated with nonstick cooking spray. You’ll need a deep dish that is at least 13-by-9 inches or a bit larger to hold this much stuffing, or feel free to split it between to baking dishes. If you are making this dish the day before the holiday, you would stop here, cover the dish with foil, and refrigerate it overnight. See the recipe below for complete make-ahead instructions. When it’s time to bake the stuffing, drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth over the top, cover the dish with foil, and bake at 350 F for 40 to 50 minutes, or until completely cooked through. Allow extra baking time for stuffing that has been refrigerated.

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A couple of tips on the consistency and texture: If you prefer a very moist stuffing, you can add additional chicken broth to achieve the consistency you’re going for. I’d go with the recipe as written and check it halfway through the baking time. If it is not as moist as you’d like, stir in a little additional chicken broth at that point and continue cooking as directed. Don’t be tempted to add a lot more broth than called for or you could end up with a gummy, soggy result. If you’d like a crispy crust, remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of baking time. If it doesn’t crisp to your liking, pop it under the broiler for a couple of minutes before serving.

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A simple, beautiful, delicious stuffing for your Thanksgiving feast.

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If you’re lacking oven space on the big day, this recipe works perfectly in the slow cooker. Click HERE for my step-by-step post including slow cooker instructions.

Classic Bread Stuffing

Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16-ounce) loaf sweet french bread
  • 1 (24-ounce) loaf sliced buttermilk or potato sandwich bread
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 3 cups diced onion (about 2 onions)
  • 3 cups diced celery (1 bunch)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • 4 or 5 cremini mushrooms, diced (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or more, as desired), divided

Directions:

  1. Coat a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice the loaf of French bread and then tear the slices of both the French and the sandwich bread into bite-size pieces. Discard the end pieces or save for another use. You should have about 20 cups, give or take, of torn bread. Spread the pieces of bread between two rimmed baking sheets and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until lightly toasted.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 7 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. Add garlic, parsley and mushrooms (if using) and cook and stir for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sage, poultry seasoning, thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Remove from heat.
  4. When the bread is nicely toasted, transfer to a large roasting pan or very large mixing bowl. Spoon the cooked vegetables over the bread and mix well. Add the beaten eggs and stir to combine. Add 1-1/2 cups chicken broth and stir well. Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. Cover and refrigerate the remaining chicken broth for later.
  5. When you are ready to bake the stuffing, remove the dish from refrigerator and allow it to sit out for about 30 minutes to take the chill off. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the foil and drizzle the stuffing with the remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth, or more, as desired. Replace the foil and bake the stuffing, covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until warmed through. For a crispy topping, remove the foil during last 15 minutes of baking time, or place under the broiler for a couple of minutes before serving.

Photo Credits: Valerie Brunmeier

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking to create your own family stuffing recipe, eHow’s got some great tips for a base recipe you can customize. 

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