Beat the Wheat: Gluten-Free Stuffing for Thanksgiving
Six years ago I was diagnosed with celiac disease just days before Thanksgiving — the most glorious, gluten-filled holiday on the calendar. While I was relived to know what had been making me so sick for so long, the timing couldn't have been worse. In my family, Thanksgiving has always been all about the stuffing. Sure, we love turkey, mashed potatoes and the other obligatory vegetables, but stuffing is the centerpiece of our meal. It isn’t anything fancy or special, just simple Pennsylvania Dutch-style bread cubes, onions, celery, stock and herbs. Crisp on top, a little mushy inside. People like to offer advice on what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers, but that was one item on our dinner table that was never left over. We’d devour it and fight over the last bits of the crunchy edges.
That first gluten-free Thanksgiving was tough. I was so new to the disease, I didn't know what I could eat. My mom was equally adrift. So she just made me some steamed vegetables and a box of gluten-free mac and cheese. It was the best we could do at that time. I drove home, crying all the way. Thanksgiving has always been special in our family — it's the anniversary of the day my parents adopted me. It holds a very special place in all our hearts, and what had always been my favorite holiday was now the most-depressing day of the year.
For the Thanksgivings after I had to give up gluten, I tried making all kinds of different stuffings to help ease the pain of missing my traditional Thanksgiving bready delight. I made cornbread stuffing with sausage. Mushroom and wild rice stuffing. Oyster stuffing with gluten-free breadcrumbs. All of them disappointing because I just missed my mommy's stuffing.
This year I resolved to make a gluten-free stuffing just like the kind I'd grown up with. I tried it with different kinds of store-bought bread and, after much disappointment, decided to make my own bread that makes great cubes and holds broth, vegetables and seasoning well. When it was baking, the smell reminded me of my parents' kitchen. After that first bite? It was just like I was back home, kicking my little brother under the dinner table, sneaking turkey to the dog and racing to finish my stuffing so I could have more.
If you're really pressed for time, you can sub in store-bought bread in this recipe, but I hope you'll make your own. The bread recipe is based loosely on a brioche — rich and eggy, yet dense enough to hold together when cubed for stuffing. Feel free to bake the bread a day or two in advance and let it sit out at room temperature uncovered. Stuffing is best when it's made with slightly stale bread. You're welcome to adjust the herbs and seasonings to your liking as well, however, if you grew up with regular ole stuffing with the basics, this is the recipe for you — no tinkering or adjusting necessary.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Stir for 10 seconds, and let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together potato starch, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, white rice flour, tapioca starch, salt and xanthan gum.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, milk, honey and eggs. Add in the yeast mixture and whisk for 10 seconds.
Using a wooden spoon to mix constantly, slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir quickly for 3 minutes. You may also use an electric mixer for these steps. The dough will be shiny and silky-smooth.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm area for 45 to 60 minutes for the dough to rise by about a third.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Unwrap the bowl, press down on the dough, then fold it over onto itself.
Place dough in a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan coated in cooking spray. Let rest near the preheating oven, or other warm spot, for 30 minutes.
Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time.
Cool in pan on cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let rest on cooling rack for 2 hours (or up to 48 hours), without covering.
1 loaf gluten-free bread (see above), cut into 1-inch cubes (8 to 10 cups)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread bread cubes on two baking sheets, so they're in a single layer and there's not a lot of overlap. Toast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes (30 minutes if your bread is fresh) until golden brown and dry. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature.
Place cooled bread cubes in a large mixing bowl or large roasting pan, so you have room for mixing and stirring without too much spillover onto your work surface.
In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat until melted. Stir in celery, onion, carrots, salt and pepper, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until just softened. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic, oregano, coriander, sage and thyme, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Pour vegetable mixture over bread cubes and stir well to fully incorporate. Pour 2 cups of stock over the mixture and stir gently for 2 minutes to allow bread to absorb the liquid.
Whisk the eggs into the remaining 2 cups of stock, and pour that mixture over the bread cubes. Stir gently to fully incorporate.
Transfer bread mixture to a 13-by-9-inch greased baking pan and cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.