There are some schools of thought that say you shouldn’t use the same kind of cornbread that you like to eat plain when you are making a cornbread stuffing. They suggest using denser or sturdier cornbread that won’t break or crumble when mixed in, but will hold its shape just like bread cubes do. My feeling is that if your cornbread is good when eaten on its own, it will make great stuffing even if the cornbread cubes crumble a bit when you go to mix them up with the rest of the stuffing ingredients. With this in mind, I used part of a batch of Maple Cornbread to make some sweet and savory stuffing.
This stuffing is the type that is baked alongside a turkey, rather than being stuffed inside of one. It has a soft and most interior and a lovely crispy crust on top. The flavor of the stuffing is a little unusual for a couple of reasons. The fact that cornbread is used gives it a lot of flavor and texture, but putting that aside, the most interesting elements here are the fresh cranberries. Cooked slightly before being mixed in, the berries are juicy and tart – not common flavorings in stuffing. The mixture also has red pepper flakes for heat, cumin for some smokiness, maple syrup, and a mixture of celery and onions.
Sausage is an optional element here. You can add in some sausage (I recommend something slightly spicy) when you are sauteing the celery and onions, but you can also easily omit it to make the stuffing completely vegetarian. With the sausage, the stuffing is really a meal on its own, so it might be best to keep it veg if you’re planning on using it as a side dish during an already big holiday meal.
My final note on this stuffing is that it can be prepared a day in advance and baked just before serving. Once the ingredients are mixed and placed in your baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before baking. The stuffing can also be reheated in a 375 oven – covered if you like yours soft and open if you like yours crunchy – for about 20 minutes.
Maple Cornbread Stuffing
3/4 pan Maple Cornbread (6-7 cups)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion (1 med.)
1/2 pound slightly spicy sausage (optional)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup vegetable/chicken stock
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut cornbread into 1/2 or 3/4 inch cubes. Place in a very large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine cranberries and water. Bring to a boil and cook until cranberries start to pop. Mix in maple syrup.
In a saute pan, cook celery and onions with a small amount of butter or oil until tender. If using sausage, roughly chop it up and add it to the pan at this point to cook alongside the onions and celery. Onions will be translucent after about 5-10 minutes. Stir in red pepper flakes, parsley, cumin and add salt and pepper, to taste. Add mixture to cornbread cubes. Pour cranberry mixture and vegetable/chicken stock over the top of the cornbread. Stir to combine, making sure mixture is evenly moistened.
Transfer to a 10 or 12-cup casserole dish and let cool before baking.
Bake for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil, then remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until top of stuffing is golden and crispy.