This Cranberry Pecan Stuffing blends whole wheat and country croutons with sweet-tart cranberries, toasted pecans, and herbs. Use vegetable stock for a vegetarian Thanksgiving side dish.
I could make an entire meal out of a bowl of good stuffing. The crispy, buttery edges; the fluffy, broth-soaked croutons; the fragrant herbs! Talk about some of the best of holiday comfort food.
Over the years, my family has enjoyed a couple of different stuffings (or “dressings”) in rotation at our Thanksgiving table, including the Cornbread, Sausage, and Chestnut recipe I shared with you previously. Another of our favorite recipes has become this Cranberry-Pecan Stuffing.
Hearty farmhouse white and whole wheat croutons are tossed with butter-sautéed vegetables, chicken or vegetable stock, and fragrant, fresh herbs. Dried cranberries contrast the savory flavors with a touch of sweetness, and toasted pecans add a satisfying crunch.
I love to drizzle this Cranberry Pecan Stuffing with turkey gravy, but it’s also delicious enjoyed on its own.
What Kind of Bread Should I Use For Cranberry Stuffing?
When I first started developing this recipe last year, I was adamant that I was going to use my favorite artisanal whole wheat and white loaves from my local bakery. If I loved these breads warmed and slathered with whipped butter, they’d make a perfect stuffing, right?
Not so much.
You see, some breads that are nirvana for eating don’t make the kind of fluffy stuffing I was going for with this recipe. Despite having fully dried and crisped the bread cubes in the oven, their starting texture just didn’t allow them to stand up to the liquids needed for a flavorful stuffing.
I had success with “batch two” using denser bakery loaves. Actually, the stuffing was delicious. But, I realized that I was going to have to be so specific about a type of artisan bread that might not be available to everyone, that it might not work for all of my readers.
So, I turned to the commercial bread aisle, and the results were fantastic. For this recipe, you want to look for white (sandwich) bread labeled “Hearty,” “Country-Style,” or “Farmhouse.” They’re richer loaves that will stand up to the stock and eggs in the recipe well.
I find that commercial whole wheat breads are generally on the denser side, so just about any brand will work here. Avoid anything with a texture that appears light and airy for this recipe. The key is to really dry out the cubes in your oven. They should feel dry and crisp and be lightly-toasted for the best stuffing.
How to Prep This Stuffing Ahead
One of the keys to pulling off any holiday dinner with ease is prepping as many recipes ahead as you can. This stuffing is great for prepping a few days in advance.
Two days before the “big day,” toast the bread cubes and pecans. Cool completely and store them at room temperature (I like to use big zip-top bags).
The day before, chop your onions and celery, and store them in the refrigerator.
Personally, I’m not a fan of fully assembling a pan of stuffing outside of the “day of,” or baking it and reheating. The texture is never quite the same, and with prepped ingredients, it doesn’t take a lot of time to assemble the stuffing on the day you’re going to serve it. Just sauté the vegetables (10-12 minutes), toss the ingredients together, and bake.
Should I Stuff the Turkey?
The question of whether to bake the “stuffing” in the cavity of the turkey or in a separate pan can be one of the most hotly debated topics of the Thanksgiving meal. (For some extra reading on the subject, check out “To Stuff or Not to Stuff” from Lauren Salkeld at Epicurious.)
Personally, I’ve done both. I absolutely love the flavor of stuffing baked in the turkey. The big concern here is bacteria. From a food safety standpoint, it’s very important to make sure the stuffing itself has reached 165 degrees F in its center before removing it from the bird.
For the best results, stuff the turkey right before you’re going to roast it, and don’t pack the stuffing into the cavity. The turkey should be loosely stuffed. Any stuffing that won’t fit into the bird should be baked in a separate pan. (Hello, crispy edges!)
Want to read more about cooking stuffing in the bird? USDA guidelines about Turkey Basics with Stuffing.
Stuffing baked entirely in its own pan (technically, “dressing”), as I’ve done for these photos, is also delicious. Without the benefit of the turkey juices, I like to add a bit more stock to the recipe for the best textured dressing.
More Thanksgiving Side Dishes:
- Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
- Buttermilk Sweet Potato Casserole
- Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
- Cornbread, Sausage, and Chestnut Stuffing
- Brown Butter Whipped Sweet Potatoes
- Haricots Verts with Lemon-Herb Brown Butter Sauce
Cranberry Pecan Stuffing
- 3/4 pound firm country white or "farmhouse" sandwich bread (I use Arnold or Pepperidge Farm)
- 3/4 pound firm whole wheat sandwich bread
- 1 cup small diced-celery (about 1/4-inch dice)
- 2 cups small diced yellow onion (about 1/4-inch dice)
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter , divided, plus additional for buttering the pan
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves , chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning (I use Bell's)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt , plus additional to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper , plus additional to taste
- 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
- 1 cup toasted, coarsely chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, , chopped
- 2-1/2 to 3 cups low sodium turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock , plus additional, as needed
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Cut breads into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes, leaving crusts on. Spread into an even layer on two baking sheets.
- Bake 50-60 minutes, until bread is lightly-toasted and dry throughout. Rotate pans halfway through baking time. Let croutons cool completely at room temperature.
- Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart gratin or shallow baking dish.
- Melt 8 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Add celery and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, sage, thyme, and poultry seasoning. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until herbs are fragrant.
- In a large bowl, mix together croutons, onion and celery mixture, dried cranberries, pecans, and parsley. Moisten with 1-3/4 cups broth or stock and let stand for a few minutes for the bread to soak up the liquid. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- In the liquid measuring cup, beat together 1/2 cup broth/stock and the eggs. Fold mixture into the stuffing mixture to combine. If the stuffing seems dry, add some of the additional liquid a little bit at a time. The broth should permeate the croutons, but the mixture should not be "mushy".**
- Transfer stuffing mixture to the prepared baking dish. Cut the remaining butter into small cubes and scatter over the top of the stuffing. Cover the pan with a piece of foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, until edges are crispy and center reads 165 degrees F.
- Let stuffing rest for 15 minutes before serving.
To Stuff a Turkey:Loosely fill the turkey cavity with freshly-prepared stuffing (do not pack). Be sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees F before removing it from the bird. Bake any stuffing that won’t fit in the turkey in a buttered baking dish, as directed above.
Baking Stuffing in a Pan:Since pan-cooked stuffing doesn’t get the benefit of the turkey juices during baking, I sometime drizzle a little extra broth over the stuffing in the pan before baking. (About 1/4 cup.) It depends on how moist my croutons have gotten during assembly. Judge it by eye.
To Toast Pecans:Spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 5-8 minutes, until fragrant.
This post was originally published on Striped Spatula on November 17, 2017. We updated it in 2020 with new photos and copy to answer reader questions.