Savory Pear, Cranberry, & Caramelized Onion “Stuffing”

And now, the stuffing!

A few years ago, I decided to change up the turkey stuffing. Some would call this a “dressing” because we cook this in a casserole and no longer stuff this bread concoction in the bird for a number of reasons: it is much too easy for the stuffing to be bacteria ridden if not cooked to a high enough temperature, and that temperature means the bird is probably overcooked. Those who don’t eat meat can enjoy this. Also, we all love the crispy top when cooked outside the bird.

Regardless of where it is cooked, we still call it stuffing. Although I added different ingredients over the years, I basically made the same recipe as my mother: dried bread cubes with celery, carrot, onions, eggs, stock, lots of Thanksgiving savory spices, and, of course, the ever-present Bell’s Seasoning in the little cardboard box.

I created a savory brunch bread pudding for my guests at the B&B that was a huge hit and my starting point for the Thanksgiving stuffing makeover. I used local apples and soy sausage in a traditional bread pudding, and people absolutely loved it.

Time saver: The best thing about this recipe is that I assembled it the night before, and all I had to do in the morning was pop it in the oven to bake. For a holiday dish that takes a lot of preparation, this is a gift of time and reduced stress in the kitchen!

For my holiday version, I found a large challah bread, half price because it was two days old, perfect for this application; bread puddings and stuffing are best made with stale bread so it will absorb the liquid, if not, you will have to dry it out in the oven first. You can use any hearty, rich bread in this recipe, but it has to be stale or dried out in an oven, 250 degrees, for a half hour or so.

My mother used a little milk in her stuffing, but I used light cream instead, and lots of it. I really wanted this to be more custard like. You can also use a plant based milk. I also doubled the amount of eggs to give it a little extra puffing and dramatic interest.

To add other dimensions, I used sweet pears, some tart Vermont cranberries, and heavenly caramelized onions. Spicy sausage from the local farm stand added the savory element, heat, and texture.

The family and friends loved the redux. It was most definitely a hit, and we’ll make it again this year. I may add a different fruit, or maybe some nuts, just to keep it interesting.

            For the vegans: My loaf of bread was large, so I had enough to make a small meat- and dairy-free version as well, using soymilk, veggie stock, veggie sausage, and topped with nutritional yeast. It was as delicious as the original!

Redux bread pudding 

Savory Pear, Cranberry, & Caramelized Onion “Stuffing”

1 large loaf day-old challah bread, cut into cubes

4 tbsp. butter, divided

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 lb. spicy sausage, or soy alternative

2 ribs celery small dice

1 small onion, small dice

1 cup fresh Vermont cranberries

2 pears, cored and diced

2 tbsp. fresh sage, minced

1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

1 tbsp. Bell’s Seasoning

3 or 4 large, sweet onions, sliced, about 4 cups

2 tbsp. maple syrup

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

3 cups light cream

3 cups stock, chicken or vegetable, homemade if available

6 large organic eggs

Grated Cheddar cheese to top (optional)

If your bread is not stale, cut it up and place it on a cookie sheet in a low oven (250 degrees) for a half hour or so to dry it out. Butter a 10” X 13” casserole or baking pan.

In a large skillet, over medium high, melt one tablespoon of the butter with one tablespoon of the olive oil and add the sausage, removed from casing and broken up. Season with salt and pepper. When about half cooked, add the celery and carrots and sauté a few more minutes. Add the cranberries, pears, sage, rosemary, and Bell’s. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from pan to a bowl. Check seasoning, and let cool while onions are cooking.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon each of butter and oil, half the onions, and salt and pepper to taste. The onions will reduce in volume. Cook for a couple of minutes, and add the rest of the slices. Cook for another half hour or so, stirring now and then, reducing the heat if they seem to be browning too quickly while not cooking through.

As they brown, add the maple syrup and cider vinegar, and stir to deglaze the pan. If you need a little more moisture, add a bit of water. If you need more time, take it.

In a really large bowl, beat the cream, stock, and eggs, reserving a little of the stock. You will probably need it, but it will depend on the size of the baking pan you use, and how big and dry your loaf of bread was. This is not an exact science.

Add the bread to the custard, stir, add the sausage mixture, a little more salt and pepper, and combine all.

Place half the bread mixture in your prepared casserole, spread the onions evenly over this, and top with the rest of the bread. Press down. There should be some liquid still visible, if not, add the rest of the stock and perhaps a little more.

Cover tightly with foil and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour, but overnight is best.

To bake, preheat oven to 350 and position casserole, still covered, on the middle rack. Cook for 50 minutes; remove foil and dot with remaining butter. Sprinkle with the cheese of choice, then return to the oven. Increase the heat to 375, and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes to half hour, or until the top is puffed and nicely browned.

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