The festive feast should be positively groaning with sides. Philippa Davis' brioche, fig, hazelnut and thyme stuffing is a Christmas table essential

Even if the main event is a little smaller this year due to a depleted guest list, the table should be groaning with sides, says Philippa Davis. Follow this recipe for brioche, fig, hazelnut and thyme stuffing – plus our top tips on ensuring perfection every time.

Why not try something a little different and add game to the festive spread? Our coronation pheasant with clementines and toasted almonds makes excellent use of any braces lurking in the freezer. And slow cooked roe haunch is a useful addition that can be made ahead.

BRIOCHE, FIG, HAZLENUT AND THYME STUFFING

There are two crucial elements to making the perfect stuffing. The first is drying your breadcrumbs to help stop it from becoming heavy and soggy. If possible, use bread that’s a day or two old or tear it up and dry it in a low oven. The second is using plenty of butter.

Makes 16 balls

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 outer sticks of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 50g salted butter plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100g peeled, cored and finely diced cooking apple (approx 1 medium-sized apple)
  • 100g dried soft figs, finely blitzed
  • 100g skin-on hazelnuts, lightly toasted then finely chopped
  • 80g dried brioche breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 450g pork sausage meat
  • 1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ nutmeg, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp brandy

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and lightly grease a baking sheet with butter.

On a low heat, sauté and stir the onion, celery and garlic in the butter until softened, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the apple, season well and cook for another couple of minutes – you want the apple to just start to cook. Take off the heat and cool.

In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients, season, then add the cooked apple mix.

Roll into about 16 golf-sized balls (or egg shapes) and roast on the top shelf of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until piping hot and golden.

Serve hot straight away – although, as with most stuffing, the cold leftovers are also sublime.