Recipes

challah stuffing

Thirty-six hours before the cooking-est day of the year in America is as good time as any to for us to talk about some hard-won cooking truths: There’s the idea of the perfect menu (all of my favorite recipe darlings in one place) and then there’s the actually perfect menu (the one you can pull off in a reasonable amount of time with as little stress as possible; darlings, murdered.) This is the kind of recipe we use when we come to our senses.


celeryleeksherbsin buttercook the leeks and celeryready to assemble

The reasoning is deliciously selfish: I’m not throwing feasts to miss them. I want to be wedged on the sofa between friends I never see enough of with a cocktail in my hand, telling terrible stories, not sweating in the kitchen because I forgot to wash the thyme leaves before stripping them and now my fingertips are worrisomely gray? (This is highly specific because it happens all the time.) Nobody I know or care to hang out with is going to care if I chuck the thyme in the trash and move on. The way I want to cook is — excuse the crushing earnestness here — the way I want to live; little extraneous noise in my recipes, lots of noise in the living room. Repeat after me: The time for the 4-process side dish is when it’s the only thing you’re making.

a stale challah

Which brings us to the stuffing I began making when I started hosting Friendsgiving dinner vs. contributing to Thanksgiving Official in another home. It began in a kind of silly way. After shooting this episode earlier one fall, we ended up with a serious surplus of challah dough. I shoved it in the freezer in a big plastic bag and then, as I was trying to figure out the best bread to use for stuffing, I took it out, braided it up, brushed it with egg and made the sloppiest challah you’ve ever seen and what turned out to be the simple, easy to scale, easy to replicate forever, stuffing of my dreams — just celery, leeks, and herbs and although you can add diced mushrooms or sausage or use onions instead. This is an extremely flexible recipe, but the simplest route is all you’ll need.

cubecubed, dried-out breadadd to bread, toss to combineadd broth, eggs if you wish

You’re about to say, “Deb, you just told us about a very simple stuffing recipe that starts with making your own challah? You’ve finally snapped!” Which means it’s time to channel my queen, Ina Garten: store-bought is fine! Barring that, and high in the category of things I probably could have mentioned last week but am not, as you probably know by now, “on top of things” or “organized” or “great at adulting despite being too old for it to be charming” is that my challah recipe makes two loaves. Two! You can have your challah (whenever you want) and save the other one for whenever. Further, my challahs clock in at 2 pounds but you truly only need 1.5 to fill a 9×13 dish as shown, meaning that you’ll have snacks or French toast or other formats of great glutenous joy with the other half. It’s the holidays, after all, and yours should be exactly this good.

challah stuffing

Previously

Six months ago: Exceptional Grilled Chicken
One year ago: Cabbage and Mushroom Lasagna
Two years ago: Endive Salad with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Walnuts
Three years ago: Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Salad
Four years ago: Pecan Pie and Roasted Leek and White Bean Galettes
Five years ago: Classic Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Praline Sauce
Six years ago: Apple-Herb Stuffing for All Seasons
Seven years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Eight years ago: Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuits
Nine years ago: Creamed Onions with Bacon and Chives and Sweet Corn Spoonbread
Ten years ago: Creamed Spinach
Eleven years ago: Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones and Winter Fruit Salad
Twelve years ago: Pumpkin Waffles and Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie
Thirteen years ago: Classic Grilled Cheese + Cream of Tomato Soup

Challah Stuffing with Leeks and Celery

  • Servings: 12
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

Five notes, at the end!

  • 1.5 pounds challah bread (storebought or 3/4 of one of these), cut into generous 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup turkey drippings or melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
  • 2 cups small-diced celery (from about 3 large ribs)
  • 2 cups small-diced leeks or yellow onions (from about 2 large leeks or 1 large onion)
  • 1 tablespoon each minced fresh rosemary, sage, thyme
  • 1/2 cup packed, chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3 cups vegetable, chicken, or turkey broth

    One day, two days, or even the night before: You can either spread your challah cubes on a large pan or even loosely pile them in the baking dish you’ll use for the final stuffing and leave them to dry anywhere you can find a surface. Oh you didn’t do this and you need to make the stuffing right now? Spread them on a baking sheet and dry them in the oven at 300&$176;F until firm but not brown.

    The day of, at any point, or an hour before you want to serve the stuffing: Heat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. I always forget to do this. Don’t forget. It will absolutely stick if you don’t. Add challah cubes to the dish.

    In a large frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add celery, leeks, half the salt and pepper, and cook, stirring here at there, until the celery is mostly tender and onions are translucent and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add sage, rosemary, and thyme and cook for one minute more. Sprinkle over challah cubes along with parsley. Use your hands — it’s so much easier this way — to gently disperse the vegetables through the challah, being careful not to let all the vegetables fall through to the bottom.

    Add remaining salt and pepper to broth (although if your broth is very salty, maybe you will want less) and pour it over the challah. Challah is very tender, even when stale, so it doesn’t need soaking time.

    Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then increase the oven heat to 425°F. Remove the foil and drizzle challah with remaining 6 tablespoons of melted butter, you don’t want to skimp on this. Return the pan to the oven and bake the stuffing for another 15 minutes, until the top edges are crisped and it’s nicely browned on top.

    Serve right away or reheat when needed at 350°F (foil-on because it’s already well-browned.

    Other ways to make this ahead: You can just bake it for the foil-on portion the day before and blast it at the higher heat before you serve it, although if it’s coming from the cold fridge, it may need 20 minutes, not 15.

    Tools: This is my forever easy favorite baking dish, although I’m down to 2 of them after dish-cident this weekend, woe.

    Notes:

  1. Should you wish to add [insert whatever stuffing ingredient you wish was here, like sausage or mushrooms], you absolutely can. I’d normally add about 2 cups diced mushroom, sauteed with the other vegetables. You can also brown up 1/2 pound of sausage you like and add it with the vegetables.
  2. I like some stuffings torn and others cubed; this is cubed. Challah is already on the tender size and they don’t need any help crashing into each other. Cubes provide better overall texture.
  3. If the photos look generous, it’s because I’m making a double batch because I do think you should have two pans for more than 16 people. Nobody will want to go easy on this.
  4. Finally, and this is the biggest piece, I don’t add eggs by default. Egg bind stuffing together so but I like it kind of loose. (Although “bound” stuffing is better for next-day stuffing waffles, just saying.) However, I know everyone is like me and should you wish to add eggs, add two large and whisk them into 1/2 cup less broth than written below, then continue as written, however you might find you need up to 10 extra minutes (on top of the 20) foil-on for the eggs to set. That’s it!
  5. Finally, thanks to Cathy Barrow for loosely inspiring this one five years ago, although I’ve, like a good little bird, flown off on my own.

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38 comments on challah stuffing

  1. Tracy

    So I have sone leftover no knead brioche dough from making cinnamon rolls this week. Would that be an ok swap for the challah or too sweet?

    1. Kathryn

      Local bakeries only make challah onFridays, but recommended brioche as a substitute. According to the baker, “It will bring your guests to their knees.” We shall see, and I’m game to try!

  2. Oh goodness, I just spent time trying to casually coax a fellow friendsgiving-er to use your hollowed-out-onion stuffing recipe, and now I want this simple one instead!! Fortunately, as long as there is stuffing, I will be happy – and there WILL be stuffing.

    1. bonnywagner1449

      Yup. Perfect. I added chopped apples with the celery etc. and because there is a vegetarian in the mix, I used mushroom broth.
      Please advise about freezing challah dough. I’m excited. It’s time for holiday baking and challah is one of my favorite gifts.
      Oh and by the way challah makes the absolute best bread pudding.

  3. Awads

    I really appreciate your comment about adding eggs (or not). I’m making a cornbread dressing, but was stumped about whether or not to add eggs and now I’m definitely going to go ahead and add eggs. (I’m trying to re-create a recipe i lost in a breakup many, many years ago!)

    Cheers!

      1. MR in NJ

        The warning is against stuffing a raw turkey the night before, to save time. Even if it’s refrigerated, bacteria from the raw turkey can enter the stuffing. You can still make the stuffing in advance as long as you pop the bird in the oven shortly after stuffing it. (If you type the word “stuffing” enough times, it starts to look funny.)

  4. Mimi

    I’m so pleased to see that your stuffing is basically what I’ve been making since forever. Now I’m sure there isn’t a better way! Two things I figured out over the years: 1. I bake challah once a year, for Rosh Hashanah. The second one always gets well wrapped and saved for my Thanksgiving stuffing. 2. As simple as this stuffing is, I sometimes make my life even easier by throwing it together a week or two in advance and freezing it in a big Ziplock bag. I am in the “with eggs” camp, so Thanksgiving morning I defrost, add the eggs beaten with a little broth, put it in a buttered dish and bake it off.
    Thanks for another winner recipe, and a very happy Thanksgiving to you and your people.

  5. Colleen

    For those who hate stripping leaves off of thyme, strip off most of the branches and then insert each stem through an opening in a small strainer and slowly pull the stem through the bottom of the strainer. The leaves will end up in the strainer, and if the tender portions at the tops of the stem come off as a whole, they are tender enough to go into the cooking with the leaves.

  6. Lynn

    This reminds me of my Mom’s delicious stuffing but being from the south she added cornbread to the bread mix and chopped hard boiled eggs.

  7. alison Garfinkel

    Deb, this is without question, the BEST stuffing I have ever made! New tradition, 100%. Used homemade turkey stock… added eggs and mushrooms…forgot the parsley, but WOW!!

  8. Fredda Ferris

    Made this exactly as written and it was perfect. Baked it yesterday through the “foil-on” part as Deb directed and then drizzled the butter on today and baked it after the turkey came out. Worked perfectly and we are all so glad we went with the last minute change to our menu!

  9. Claire

    Thanks for explaining the term “bound” stuffing — I never used eggs until this year so it’s nice to know the right name for what I made today. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  10. Rachel

    Loved it. Best stuffing I’ve ever had. Funny thing is that I already had my challah made and was using Barrow’s recipe then saw yours and decided to use yours. Thanks so much!

  11. Liz

    I made this for TG dinner. It was a huge hit. I doubled the recipe, except for the butter drizzled on top. Twelve people ate the entire double recipe (which was a little unfortunate in the sense I was hoping for leftovers). Next year I will add the mushrooms.

  12. Madison

    Classic stuffing, just like my mom & grandma used to make, and just like I make every year. I made essentially this, but with just a few changes. First, I always do onions (no leeks). I’m with you on the looser stuffing, too–no eggs. Second, no challah (although I will definitely try that sometime!) My mom and I have always just used plain white bread, but this year, I did 1/2 dried-out french bread and 1/2 rosemary bread from Trader Joe’s. It was fantastic! Also, that little drizzle of butter at the end is mandatory and life-changing. Thank you!

  13. Allie

    This is pretty much how my Mom has always made stuffing, and it’s always been the best stuffing I’ve ever had. Although we use white bread, onions and no herbs (and sometimes water instead of broth if we don’t have any…. It’s still amazing!). Our most important rule that should never be broken is “always use too much celery!”.

  14. Jessie

    I’ve made sausage, leek, and challah stuffing for ages. My go to move for even more hands off thanksgiving is to do the stuffing in the crockpot. I just throw it in in low when I start the turkey- and then I have no issues with timing, or jostling for room in the oven.

  15. If you are a stuffing purist, read no further! Last year I had grown tired of my Jane Brody-inspired dried fruit and bread stuffing, and I decided to test drive something new. I thought through the steps of making stuffing: starting with flour or corn meal, adding liquid, baking (drying it out), cubing and “staling” (more drying out), adding liquid, and then baking for another drying out. Feeling that all this back and forth between wet and dry is somewhat ridiculous, I merged Peter Reinhart’s whole wheat challah, Deb’s fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah, and my usual stuffing ingredients into what I call “stuffing bread”. It’s a braided challah with a paste of apple, leeks, celery, nuts, dried cherries, dates, garlic, and spices. It feels more sane and my family says they love it, but maybe they are humoring me!

  16. Cee

    I have been making a variation of this recipe for years. I thoroughly moisten 8 to 10 cups of challah cubes in broth in a large mixing bowl.
    When I add the sauteed celery, onion, herbs and mushrooms, I also add the broiled and finely diced turkey liver and a generous addition of poultry seasoning with ginger. Then I mix it all with 2 large beaten eggs and bake it in an oiled baking dish at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes until browned. My family says it isn’t Thanksgiving without it! Sometimes I still place scoop or two in the turkey. It’s even better that way.