Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stuffing Bread

This is the time of year I hear very personal recipes for Thanksgiving stuffings and dressings.  Yesterday I heard parts of a secret recipe with four types of mushrooms with sage and chives from the cook’s own garden.  Dried fruits are returning to popularity in some recipes and traditional sausage recipes now include chorizo and homemade ground meat blends.  Even winter squash and Brussels sprouts are squeezing into some family recipes. 

These rightly proud and sometimes secretive cooks often make their specialty a day ahead to keep guests guessing (and coming back for more).  I love the variety and we have our favorites too, an apple-sausage-pecan-cornbread number and from my family oyster stuffing.   But I also like to serve a more plain stuffing for plainer tastes at the table.  It’s a reminder that while we are a food abundant nation, dishes like stuffings and dressings were meal extenders that allowed us to serve more people and were often comprised of inexpensive and more available ingredients—bread, onion, celery—for example. 

The bread would have been homemade, day old and perhaps a bit too hard to eat out of hand.  In a broth and butter soaked stuffing, not a crumb would have been wasted.  These are hectic days but if you own a bread maker you can make your own very plain or secret ingredient version of the traditional turkey side with some homemade bread.  It seems a shame to labor over special ingredients and then mix them with store-bought, processed bread.  This week I am making a wheat and cornmeal loaf that will absorb all the savory flavors in my recipe.  If your recipe calls for a softer, less rustic bread seek out a recipe for a simple wheat bread made with egg and some milk (to soften the crumb) or potato bread made with either mashed potatoes or (real) potato flakes.

Wheat and Cornmeal Stuffing Loaf

1 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
optional: 1/4 teaspoon each dried herbs (see bonus note below)
1 cup yellow cornmeal (I use a mixture of 2/3 cup finely ground and 1/3 cup coursely ground)
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

  1. Place the ingredients in your bread maker in the order recommended by the manufacturer.  Set the machine to the regular baking cycle (light crust is there is that option).  
  2. When loaf is ready, remove and cool completely.  Slice into cubes or tear into chunks and set on a tray to dry for several hours.  (You may speed this up by placing trays in a warm oven, below 200˚F for 30-45 minutes.)  
  3. Cool bread cubes before storing in an airtight container until ready to use.  Store dried bread at room temperature 1-2 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Bonus: If your stuffing recipe has sage, thyme or another dried herb you can add a 1/4 teaspoon of each into this bread recipe.

In our family we still call it stuffing even though we cook it outside the bird these days. While the turkey rests we bake the stuffing and other side dishes in the hot oven.  This safer method allows the un-stuffed turkey to cook more quickly and the stuffing will also be fully cooked and hot in no time as well.  If you think you will miss the moistness the bird’s juices impart to stuffing cooked inside the bird, add some extra broth to your recipe before baking it in a separate covered dish and baste halfway through with some pan drippings.  You can also reheat stuffing in the microwave and finish it off in the  oven if you like a bit of a crust.