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"This looks complicated, but it's not," says "Chopped" judge and chef Chris Santos. It's a dried cherry and candied pecan cornbread stuffing, and according to Chris, you can—and should!—make some of the components in advance, including the caramelized onion mixture and candied pecans. He also gives you permission to use boxed cornbread mix instead of his homemade recipe. "It's totally fine because this dish is about all the yummy stuff that we're putting into the cornbread!" The stuffing is buttery, has great texture and flavor and just feels special.
Pro Tip from Chris: Prepare the cornbread the night before and underbake it slightly. If you like, garnish the cooked stuffing with extra chopped candied pecans and sage.
For more stuffing options, check out Rach's Stuffing 4 Ways.
For the cornbread, preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with butter.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly combine the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk well. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30 minutes. Doneness can be determined by placing a toothpick in the middle of the cornbread. If it is dry, it is done. A little undercooked is fine here. Allow to cool before using.
For the pecans, preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, toss the nuts with oil just to coat, then toss in the sugar, cayenne and salt. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
For the stuffing, preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with butter.
Gently crumble the cornbread in a large bowl. Add the caramelized onion, shallot and garlic mixture, brown sugar, candied pecans, rehydrated cherries, eggs, chicken stock, vanilla extract, vanilla paste, cinnamon, nutmeg and sage. Season well with salt and pepper, then gently mix all the ingredients.
Transfer the cornbread mixture to the prepared pan. Cross-hatch the top with a knife, drizzle with the melted butter and bake until dry and the top begins to brown.