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 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 Stuffing Ahead for Thanksgiving
One of the keys to pulling off any big 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 your bread cubes and pecans. 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 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 this blog post from Alton Brown, and “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!)
Read the USDA guidelines about Turkey Basics with Stuffing, HERE.
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 stuffing (more on that in the recipe notes).
Wishing you and yours a delicious Thanksgiving!
More Thanksgiving Recipes:
Apple Herb Turkey Brine
Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce
Delicata Squash Salad with Brown Butter Vinaigrette
Buttermilk Sweet Potato Casserole
Apple Orange Cranberry Sauce
Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Cornbread, Sausage, and Chestnut Stuffing
Our Favorite Apple Pie
Pear and Cardamom Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing
Cranberry Pecan Stuffing
- 1 pound loaf country white bread
- 1 pound loaf whole wheat bread
- 1 cup pecans (shelled halves)
- 1 cup celery , finely diced
- 2 cups onion , finely diced (1 large)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves , chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves , chopped
- 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt , plus additional to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper , plus additional to taste
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, , chopped
- 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 large eggs , lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Cut breads into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes, leaving crusts on. Spread into an even layer on two baking sheets. If there's room, divide the pecans between the two sheets (if not, place them on their own small baking sheet).
- Bake 20-25 minutes, until bread is lightly-toasted and dry throughout. Remove pecans after 5-10 minutes, when they are slightly darkened and aromatic (watch carefully so they don't burn). Rotate pans halfway through baking time. Let croutons and pecans cool completely at room temperature. Coarsely chop pecans when cool enough to handle.
- Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart gratin or baking dish.
- Melt 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, and thyme. 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. Add 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock and stir until croutons are moistened (it might take a few minutes for the croutons to soak up the liquid). Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- Add beaten eggs to the stuffing mixture and stir to combine. If the stuffing seems dry, add some of the additional stock. The broth should permeate the croutons, but the mixture should not be "mushy" or soggy.
- Transfer stuffing mixture to the prepared baking dish and cover 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.