Agree to disagree – stuffing outranks every other Thanksgiving side dish – made with heaps of bread cubes, butter, and aromatic spices. Aside from a more flavorsome and improved texture, homemade bread stuffing is healthier than the store-bought version.
The true secret behind nailing stuffing happens before the actual cooking takes place; it all boils down to choosing and preparing the bread.
Dry bread for stuffing by waiting for it to turn stale or speed the process up by cutting it up into ½ inch cubes and allowing them dry at room temperature for two to three days. Alternatively, put the chunks of bread onto a baking sheet and pop them into the oven at 250°F for 20 to 30 minutes.
“Stuff” the store-bought bread stuffing and make a delicious homemade stuffing to accompany a wholesome traditional Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll want to continue reading to master the texture and taste of your next bread stuffing, be it stale or dry bread.
How to Dry Bread for Stuffing
Throughout cooking history, bread stuffing was and still is the best way to use leftover, slightly stale bread. However, today, many families deliberately purchase freshly baked bread to create the perfect stuffing for a family get-together or Thanksgiving dinner.
Preparing bread for stuffing is relatively straightforward; your main goal is to ensure that you completely dry out the bread pieces. Properly drying the bread will extract the excess moisture through evaporation, necessary to avoid soggy stuffing.
A general process of drying out bread for stuffing looks like this:
- If you don’t have stale bread at home, purchase your loaves two to three days before you want to assemble the stuffing.
- You’ll want to slice the bread loaf (crusts included) into roughly 1/2-inch cubes using a serrated knife or create an edgy, rusty look by tearing the loaf into pieces by hand.
- Then, spread the bread blocks or chunks out on a cooling rack or baking sheet and drape with a clean kitchen towel.
- Allow the cubes to dry out at room temperature in a cool, dry place over the next two or three days.
If you’re in a rush, speed up the process by popping the bread into the oven to dry it out faster. First, evenly spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake it in a low-set oven at 250 degrees for around 30 minutes until dry.
Is Stale or Dried Bread Better for Stuffing?
Many traditional recipes recommend leaving the bread out and waiting for it to become stale naturally; however, others prefer manually or oven-drying out fresh bread. Additionally, the latter process saves time than waiting for the bread to turn stale naturally.
More so, drying bread for stuffing tends to maximize the ability to absorb juices and other ingredients better than moist and fresh or slightly stale bread.
Drying bread is simply extracting the additional moisture through evaporation. So, popping it into the oven ensures that it is purged of its water, while the crumb’s structure stays intact, stiffer, and crispier due to the moisture loss. Additionally, it improves the bread’s ability to retain every drop of the flavorsome juices added to the stuffing.
In comparison, as bread naturally becomes stale, it tends to create pockets of moisture or water as the starch molecules crystallize. The hidden moisture lying in nooks and crannies tends to limit the absorption of juicy ingredients like butter or broth. It also dilutes the succulent flavor of the juices added when cooking the stuffing.
How to Speed Up Bread Turning Stale
Now we’re well aware that you’re not reading this post for the science behind the perfect bread stuffing, but a quick insight into the process of bread turning stale may help you understand why to follow the helpful tips waiting below.
Staling bread seems like a quick cut-and-dried case to the naked eye or casual observer. However, moisture loss is only one part of the actual process when bread turns stale; there’s so much happening at a microscopic scale.
The other part of bread staling is the retrogradation and recrystallization of starch a complicated and wordy way of saying that when bread begins to cool down, a reaction occurs where starch reverts to a more crystalline structure.
Wheat flour is the primary ingredient of bread dough, packed with starch granules. Once mixed with water and baked at a high temperature, the starch molecules’ natural crystalline (highly organized) structure breaks down and arranges into an undefined form.
Then, as it cools, cooling down, the staling process immediately starts. The starch molecules in the bread organize themselves by changing its configuration into a more structured, crystalline order in the bread; thus, turning it dry and stale.
So, if you prefer the traditional stuffing method or using stale bread, there are several helpful tips to speed up the process.
Pre-Slice Bread to Make It Stale
The hard crust on a bread loaf provides a protective layer that slows down the process of bread turning stale. Once you remove the crust or cut the bread into slices, the exposed pieces will quickly soften.
So, you can pre-slice the bread into ½ inch cubes and leave them on the countertop for a few days to become stale.
Place The Bread In A Refrigerator To Stale The Bread
If may sound counter-intuitive, as refrigerators were invented to preserve foods; however, in this case, a fridge will speed up the staling process that bread naturally undergoes.
Why, you ask?
The staling or recrystallization we previously spoke about rapidly speeds up at colder temperatures above freezing (freezing slows down staling dramatically).
Purchase Day-Old Bread to Speed Up Bread Becoming Stale
Another excellent way to ensure your bread turns stale before you make your stuffing is to purchase day-old loaves at the store.
Use Bread with Less Fat or Oil for Faster Stale Bread
Bread made using less or no fat or oil is prone to becoming stale faster than other types.
So, we are looking for low moisture content, smooth texture, and fine crumbs like white bread, French loaves, and challah.
We’ll elaborate on the perfect bread for stuffing in a short while.
How to Manually Dry Bread for Stuffing
With busy schedules, it becomes pretty easy to forget the little things, like purchasing bread a couple of days before cooking stuffing. Fortunately, there are equally effective ways to ensure that the moisture in the bread is wicked away without the long waiting period.
- Preheat your oven to 250 F.
- While waiting for the oven to heat up, cut the bread into ½ inch cubes or break it into chunks no larger than 1 inch.
Note: Loaves made from white flour, like baguettes, can be left slightly larger, but you will need to break dense loaves up into smaller pieces.
- Next, evenly spread out the chunks of bread in a single layer on a baking pan. Finally, you can drizzle the bread cubes in a thin layer of olive oil and seasoning to enhance the crunchiness and taste.
- Pop the bread cubes into the oven and bake them for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pieces are crunchy dry and start to turn golden. Ensure that you toss the cubes several times to ensure they dry evenly.
- Then, remove the baking sheet from your oven and cool the bread for several minutes.
The Best Type of Bread for Stuffing
Bread is the essential ingredient for the perfect stuffing as it directly affects the function of the stuffing and contributes to the most significant portion of the dish.
Although any bread will generally “work” for stuffing, there are better and worse options. So, here are the vital factors to consider before using any bread for your showstopper stuffing:
- Texture: the texture of the bread needs to be smooth, low in moisture, and finely crumbed.
- Density: choose a dense type of bread or has a tight crumb (small-sized holes) to allow the bread to absorb as much sauce and flavor from the other ingredients. A bread with open crumbs is sourdough and ciabatta; you’ll want to avoid this bread.
- Hydration: you’ll want to avoid bread with high moisture content like sourdough. Choosing bread with high hydration prevents the bread from soaking up all the yummy goodness as it’s already full, resulting in a soggy stuffing.
- Flavor: you’ll want to choose a bread type that enhances the taste of the stuffing without overpowering the other ingredients. So, avoid strongly spiced bread and dessert bread.
Why Choosing the Right Bread for Stuffing Is Important
Now that we know all bread isn’t equally great for stuffing let’s look at the benefits of choosing the right kind of bread.
- It will improve the texture of your stuffing
- If you stuff a cut of meat with stuffing, it will improve the moistness of the roast.
- Choosing plain bread for stuffing will balance out the flavor without overpowering the taste.
- The proper bread will help develop extra flavor by trapping the juices of the other ingredients in your stuffing.
List of the Best Bread for Stuffing
Using the best bread variety will up your Thanksgiving stuffing to a new level! Here is a shortlist of the best bread to consider for your next holiday treat:
White Bread Is the Best Bread for Stuffing
The very best variety of bread is your every day, simplistic white bread. Nothing can beat this easy-to-find, cost-effective option!
Plain white bread provides the perfect neutral flavor – it isn’t too sweet or salty – making it superb for stuffing. More so, white bread has low hydration levels ideal for absorbing meat juices and the flavor of the other stuffing ingredients, and it’s naturally soft and fluffy with a tight crumb.
Challah Works Well for Stuffing
Challah is a braided, traditional Jewish bread that resembles the characteristics and texture of white bread. However, it contains additional eggs that make the bread soft and airy with extra tight crumbs.
Additionally, the main difference between challah and white bread is the flavor. Due to the additional eggs, challah tastes richer, although it still has a pretty neutral flavor.
Like white bread, challah will dry out easily and absorb plenty of liquid during the cooking process.
Brioche Is Excellent for Stuffing
Also similar to white bread, brioche has a tight crumb texture and isn’t well hydrated, making it perfect for stuffing.
More so, brioche is enriched with eggs, providing a rich consistency to stuffing without overpowering the other flavors.
How to Test if the Bread Is Dry Enough for Stuffing
A straightforward to determine if the bread is dry enough is to feel its texture. The bread should not give way when pressed, nor should it be rock hard.
How to Use Stuffing
The various ways to use stuffing are genuinely endless! We’ve provided our top 5 favorite ways to pair stuffing; we hope this light up the creative box in mind, getting you excited for next year’s Thanksgiving.
Back to Basics
Think traditional – a classic homemade stuffing is a winner in every home. However, sometimes, it’s best to stick to the simple ingredients that provide stellar results year in and year out.
Try traditional stuffing using bread (of course), butter, broth, eggs, broth, celery, onions, and fresh herbs.
Bacon-Wrapped Stuffing Roll-Ups
A fun and unique way to use stuffing is to pair it with another favorite ingredient – yup, you guessed it – bacon!
This yummy recipe can be served as an appetizer or side dish. It is as simple as laying out two slices of bacon and rolling the stuffing into the bacon. Then, pop those yummy fellas into the oven until the bacon is nice and crispy!
Nana’s Thanksgiving Turkey
This recipe is as easy as can get; you stuff the stuffing inside the turkey and for an additional flavor, add the stuffing to the side to make a delicious dressing.
Be sure to stuff the turkey loosely to prevent accidents from occurring.
Give your traditional stuffing an exotic, Middle Eastern twist by stuffing a succulent lamb shoulder with cinnamon spice, parsley, white wine, and dates.
The More the Merrier
Add a creative tweak by using several different types of bread in your stuffing. Your tasty choices include white bread, challah, bagels, cornbread, and brioche.
Add cooked pancetta for a salty depth and dried fruit for a sweet element that catches you by surprise with every bite.
When making the perfect stuffing, we look for dry bread that readily absorbs the maximum amount of juice and flavors. The best bread varieties include white bread, challah, and brioche. They naturally have tight crumbs, dry out quickly, and have neutral flavors that do not overpower other ingredients in the stuffing.
Traditionally, using stale bread was the recommendation, but the good news is that drying bread is a lot faster and straightforward than waiting for the bread to become stale. So, skip the lengthy, time-consuming staling demands for this upcoming Thanksgiving, and pop open the oven instead.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.