As I have stated in the past I have issues with the Thanksgiving menu. One of my biggest nemesis have been stuffings. Stale mushy bread has never sounded amazing to me. Add to that stuffing it into the bird is problematic and if you choose to do that it often is even wetter.
Over the years I have tried various stuffings. None of them even registered as something to take note of. A few years ago I made a mushroom, artichoke heart stuffing but it seemed to get lost in the roulade. Then last year one of my favorite new cook books, Dandelion & Quince, had a recipe for Celeriac, Chestnut, and Sourdough Stuffing. This sounded right up my ally. So when I got it pulled together with two types of homemade bread (instead of the called for sourdough) I was greatly disappointed to discover it was a soggy gross mess. I baked it for much longer than it called for and it just stayed a wet mess. When I did finally manage to get it “cooked” many of the chestnuts (that my husband and I painstakingly roasted and peeled) were as hard as rocks. Not pleasant.
It just so happened that a little over a month ago I got a copy of Zingerman’s Bakehouse cookbook and in it they teach you how to make sourdough at home, which I started promptly. This sourdough is truly amazing, so much so, that I make it every single week when I feed my levain. Let me just tell you now… I am convinced that the secret to this stuffing is and was using sourdough, no substituting.
With constantly having this delicious homemade sourdough I knew I had to give the recipe another go. I had a note to cut the amount of liquid in half but I wasn’t sure if that was just me being frustrated with how it turned out last year but I kept the liquid reduced.
I let my bread slices sufficiently stale and worked my way through the recipe. I could tell right from the beginning something was different. I don’t know if it was because I was doing it ahead of time and focusing solely on it, or what, but the smells were heavenly. As each ingredient went in it just got better. I still only used half the amount of liquid originally called for in the recipe, covered the bowl it was all mixed in, and let it sit over night. The next day as I looked at it I was thinking that this seemed like way more in volume than it did last year. I went ahead and prepared two pans and filled them up with the mixture. It looked and smelt amazing.
What stood out was that it looked too dry for the bake time and temperature. It was meant to bake in a 350º f oven for 45 minutes. Not sure what to do I took a risk. I measured out the liquid I originally omitted from the recipe and divided it in half. I then drizzled it over the stuffing in the pans. I put the pans in to bake and kept an eye on it. About half way through the bake I could tell is was going much better at the top was beginning to brown quite nicely. Once the initial bake time was up I pulled one out to take a look and I could see it was still bubbling quite a bit, but it both looked and smelt amazing, so I put it back in and baked it for another 10 minutes. When I pulled it out I could still see some little bubbles but decided it was time to call it. I pulled both out and let them cool.
I began working on other recipes but the smell of the stuffing was calling to me. This was weird. I am NOT a stuffing person as I have stated. I gave in, grabbed a spoon, and gave it a taste. I wish you could have seen my face. It was sone of those moments when you have a food revelation. The flavors all played off each other so well and the chucks of sourdough made for a nice textural contrast not to mention just tasted sublime!
So here are my thoughts. First off, not all bread is created equally. One and a half pounds of sourdough may create more volume than say white bread or a ol’ country loaf like I tried last year. Secondly, sourdough has an amazing structure to where it can absorb a ton of liquid and yet still hold its shape and not get soggy (as I have found out many times using it to mop up soups and stews lately). This was the real game changer. Also, letting the mixer sit over night and really absorb and marry allowed the first portion of stock to really work in with everything. Finally pouring the remaining stock over it meant that I had some nice liquid at the bottom of the pan to keep it from drying out and almost steaming it as it baked but on the top is was dryer so I ended up with a nice dark and crunchy top. Oh, and letting it sit before digging in meant any remaining liquid in the pan had a chance to get absorb back in as it settled. All of this meant I had a stuffing that was moist, with a great chew, crunchy in all the right places, and not soggy.
The other part of this recipe to take note of was the flavors. If you haven’t had celeriac this is a great recipe to try. What is it, you might ask… It’s celery root. What I love about this weird looking spherical root is that it imparts all the wonderful brightness of celery without adding any of the water from the stalks or having to deal with the stringiness that can be a problem with celery. Being that it’s a root vegetable it means you just rim off the outer layer and dice it up.
Next were the chestnuts. Last year I started on a quest to figure out how to use chestnuts. I mean what is this time of year with out them? But who eats them anymore? Roasting and peeling chestnuts is highly problematic. After trying many batches here is my foolproof advice. Buy them pre-peeled and roasted. These will chop and cook way better than trying to do all that work yourself. Often when you roast and peel them yourself they can get hard before you even use them and this avoids all of that.
Each of these foods, the celeriac, the chestnut, and the sourdough, all have strong and distinct flavors on their own and some might even say a little off putting. However when you bring them all together like this some how a wonderful harmony is found.
Ultimately I am thankful for not only discovering all the joys of stuffing but one that features my pride and joy which is my homemade sourdough and the truly seasonal flavors of celeriac and chestnuts. This dish has now found a germinate home on my thanksgiving table.