Traditions are by nature unchanging, every family has its tradition and the holiday season provides us with such abundance. Food has a central stage during this special time, as most of us try to improve recipes and “wow” everyone around the dinner table.
Thanksgiving stuffing is a key element in the holiday dinner menu and using the right kind of bread (among other ingredients of course) can be tricky and make or break your holiday stuffing experience.
The best bread to use for stuffing is the kind that has neutral flavor, tight crumb, with a slight tendency to be on the sweet side. Good choices will be white bread, challah or brioche to name a few.
Why these particulars bread and not others? Let’s dive into this burning question more deeply:
The Best Bread For Stuffing
The base of the stuffing is the bread. All flavors, be it butter, onion, celery and, broth (if you go with a classic stuffing) or more elaborate and dominant flavors such as sausages and spices. At the end of the day, all the flavors are absorbed into the texture or crumb of the bread.
Therefore, the bread should be like smooth, neutral-flavored Canvas that will not clash with the strong flavors that go into the stuffing.
If you go with this logic you need to stay away from sourdough bread, German rye, or an open crumb bread (bread with big holes) like ciabatta bread, french bread, etc.
Tight Crumb/ Small Holes Are What You Want In Your Stuffing
The crumb is what soaks up all the juices and the flavor you put in the stuffing. Big open holes will not hold the liquids very well ( or at least will not hold as much liquid ) that go into the stuffing and that’s why you want bread with a tight crumb (small holes) or should I say denser crumb or texture if I may.
Highly Hydrated Bread Is Not Good For Stuffing
Breads that have a high hydration level or in other terms have a high percentage of water in the dough are also not as good for stuffing.
The reason being is that they are made up of mostly water ( usually about 55% and up). It is, therefore, difficult for these bread to soak up liquids as they are fully hydrated already.
You do dry out the bread before you use if for stuffing. When you dry out bread with high hydration they crumble more easily and is another reason that they are not good for stuffing.
Dense bread with high hydration levels that you should stay away from are, for example, Pumpernickle, German Rye or some 100% Whole Grain / Wheat bread.
These types of bread are simply not good sponges for the flavors in your stuffing.
Best Bread To Use
The best choice by far is white bread. With a tight crumb (small holes) a natural fluffiness and slight sweetness the Whitebread does an excellent job of absorbing all the flavors you integrate into the stuffing. The butter is perfectly absorbed in it, as is the broth.
No matter what ingredients you decide to include in your stuffing, the choice of white bread will make them the star of the dish and really help them “come out”.
It just makes for a great sponge, period.
The similarity between challah and white bread makes Chella an excellent candidate to use for stuffing. The added eggs in the dough give it a tight stringy crumb and built-in airiness, however, the egginess adds to the final texture gives is a more pudding-like feeling.
The flavor makes the stuffing feels richer, so you should take that into consideration but overall its a great choice for stuffing, one that gives room for the rest of the ingredients to shine.
Brioche, like the Chella, benefits from the added eggs in the dough. It’s pretty much the same, but Brioche has butter in it (as appose to oil in Chella) and therefore has an even richer flavor than the Chella. Both are great absorbers of the stuffing liquids.
How Do You Dry Bread For Stuffing?
Now that you know which bread is good for your stuffing its time to focus on its preparation.
A key point is that the bread must be fully dry in order for it to absorb the liquid in the best possible way. As I said at the beginning of the article “bread is the star of the stuffing ” everything moves around it so it is important to treat it properly.
Beginners Mistake: Using Moist Bread/ Don’t Let The Bread Fully Dry
This is a shame really, it happens more often that one thinks and causes quite a bit of disappointment and frustration. People skip this stage or go about it not fully realizing how important it really is.
They simply don’t let the bread dry out completely. It must be almost fully dehydrated.
The result of using a bread that is not fully dehydrated: a soggy soaked bread that is reminiscent of some kind of bread soup. Not something you would want to eat, certainly not in Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday.
Remember: the bread must dry all the way through!
This leaves you with two options on how to go about it.
Using Stale Bread
Assuming you know in advance that you are in charge of the stuffing at dinner and want to make it on your own pace, you can take your chosen bread, cut it into cubes and leave it on the countertop for a few days until you get the desired result: dry stale bread.
It is a good option but requires timing and planning ahead.
Dry your bread in the oven
The other option ( and the most likely that you will use ) is to cut the bread into cubes, place it on a baking sheet and dry in the oven.
60 – 90 minutes in the heat of 195 Fahrenheit or 90 Celsius will do the job just fine.
Tip: You don’t want to toast the bread, just dry it. If you bread catches color quickly remove it from the oven, reduce the heat and mix the cubes every 15 minutes.
Make sure that you let your dehydrated cubs fully cool down before use as they are still releasing moisture when they cool down. You want your bread cubs totally cooled down to room temperature.
How To Cut Bread For Stuffing
It all depends on how you like your stuffing.
Tare your loaf by hand
For a more rustic feel, you should simply tare the bread with your hands into small pieces, (not too small, you don’t want the bread to crumble). Make sure to leave the crust on. This method gives the stuffing a slightly different texture, more rustic and interesting in your mouth.
The best tip I can give you here is using unsliced bread to start.
To speed up the process of cutting the bread into cubes use a long bread knife and slice the bread into slices lengthwise. Then stack these slices up on top of each other and then cut them into cubes.
This method will save you a few minutes (compared to the method of slicing each slice separately into cubes, which sometimes feels like an eternity).
I hope this sheds some light and will help you choose the right bread for your stuffing. Make sure to leave some for me 😉