Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and let dry overnight. Transfer to a large bowl. Preheat oven to 375. Butter a deep casserole or baking dish. In a large fry pan over medium heat, melt 4 tablspoons of the butter. Add the onions and celery and saut, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, 19-12 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bread. Melt the remaining 4 tablspoons butter in the pan and add the apples. Sprinkle with the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender and beginning to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add 3 tablspoons of the apple juice and simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits, until the liquid is reduced to a syrup, about 4 minutes. Transfer the apples to the bowl with the bread. Pour the remaining apple juice into the pan, set over medium heat and simmer until reduced by one third. Pour the apple juice over the bread mixture. Add the pecans, thyme, sage, the 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, the 1 teaspoonspepper and 2 cups of the stock to the bowl and stir gently to mix. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the stock is absorbed, about 5 minutes. If the dressing seems dry, add more stock as needed. Adjust the seasonings with the salt and pepper. Transfer the dressing to the prepared baking dish and bake until browned and crispy, about 50 minutes. Serves 10 - 12.