While piles of crisp, eddying golden leaves and a nip in the morning air are sure signs that autumn is in full swing, I tend to feel the seasons more through their food. Nothing for me is more autumnal than the sight of pumpkins, in all shapes, sizes and colours, lined up at the farmers market, or russet apples piled in abundance in the grocery stores. At this time of year, my appetite shifts towards hearty, bolstering foods in varying shades of gold, green and red; porridge becomes a staple breakfast and my love of baking shifts up a gear or two. Here in Denmark, we are blessed with fabulous bakeries on every corner, and one thing I particularly love about this little Scandinavian corner of Europe is the dark, flavoursome nature of the breads on offer, which are often punctuated by crunchy seeds and dense with nutty wholegrain flours.
Madbrød literally translates as ‘food bread’, and could be loosely described as a Danish version of a pizza, although I think the comparison doesn’t quite do justice to the nature of this excellent dish. They are quite different beasts: while a pizza should be served piping hot from a roaring oven, madbrød is more versatile: it can be eaten on the go as a snack, served as part of a mezze dinner spread, or offered as a substantial meal with a simple side salad. Its closest cousin is perhaps the focaccia; the two breads have a similarly inviting, tearable moreishness to them. Madbrød strews its hearty dough with colourful toppings, from meat and cheese to roasted vegetables and greens. It is a nutritious way to enjoy the filling virtues of bread, while adding interest in the form of myriad toppings. The bread dough is key here: it should be slightly chewy, nutty, substantial, and meld deliciously with the topping in question: tomatoes that soften juicily into the crumb, cheese that melts over the dough, and vegetables that caramelise in the heat of the oven.
One of the first madbrød I ever tried featured a resplendent topping of vibrant purple beetroot with feta and herbs. This, my autumnal version, takes that idea to the next level. A nutty wholemeal dough, peppered with seeds, is strewn with thin slivers of pumpkin, crumbled goat’s cheese, aromatic sage leaves, a whisper of freshly grated nutmeg and a smattering of scarlet paprika before being drizzled with rapeseed oil and baked until golden. The pumpkin softens deliciously in the heat of the oven, becoming silky soft, while the cheese melts into the dough and the sage leaves crisp up beautifully. All this golden richness demands a little lift, so I scatter the breads with a quick gremolata – an Italian mixture of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest, used to brighten up rich dishes such as osso bucco. My version omits the garlic but involves generous amounts of lemon zest, rosemary and toasted walnuts. This fragrant, slightly autumnal combination cuts through the depth of the pumpkin and cheese perfectly, and adds a pop of colour to the finished dish.
The dough for these breads is simple to make, and showcases the qualities of good wholemeal flour. There is a misconception that wholegrains can be dense, stodgy and unpalatable, but the wholemeal flour adds a delicious nuttiness to the bread, and the dough benefits from being made with wholemeal flour, which lends a robust flavour that can stand up to the sweet pumpkin and tangy goat’s cheese. I add rye flour too, for authentic Scandi texture and flavour, which gives even more depth to the bread, as does the addition of nourishing, crunchy seeds for texture and flavour. It also gives the bread a deliciously chewy texture, and makes for a satisfying dough. You could also use spelt flour, for a similarly complex flavour. Serve these breads with a crisp salad, and you have an easy and hearty autumnal meal, in beautiful shades of gold and green.
Other inspirational wholegrain ideas:
If you enjoy the combination of nutty, wholegrain bread dough and savoury roast vegetables, try mixing wholemeal flour into a basic scone dough, cutting out circles and using them to top a vegetable or meat stew, baking for half an hour or so until the scones are cooked and the stew bubbling deliciously underneath. For extra flavour, add fresh herbs – rosemary and thyme work well – and/or a strong cheese to the scone dough. This works particularly well with a beef stew, or a mixture of cherry tomatoes and roasted peppers under the scone mixture.
Swap your basic crumble topping for a wholegrain version by using a mixture of jumbo oats, sweet spices, rapeseed oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract, stirring it together until just combined. Use to top your choice of fruit and bake for a warming autumnal dessert. This has the added benefit of being vegan, and gluten-free if you use gluten-free oats.
Try making your favourite risotto recipe using whole barley grains or whole spelt grains instead of white rice. It will take longer to cook, and you will need a little more stock, but the end result will be toothsome, flavoursome and satisfying. I particularly like this type of risotto with cubes of roasted pumpkin, cooked chestnuts, crispy bacon and rosemary or thyme.
Pumpkin, goat’s cheese and sage madbrød with rosemary walnut gremolata
Prep time: 25 minutes, plus 2+ hours proving time
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Cost per serving: £2-£2.50
Servings: makes 2 large breads, enough for 4-6 people
For the dough:
- 400g wholemeal bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 100g whole rye flour
- 2 tbsp linseeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, or a mix
- 10g salt
- 7g sachet instant yeast, or 20g fresh yeast
- 300ml tepid water
- 4 tbsp fine cornmeal/polenta, for dusting
For the topping:
- Rapeseed oil, for drizzling
- 200g pumpkin, deseeded and cut into 4mm slices
- 150g soft goat’s cheese
- 8 fresh sage leaves
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 15g walnuts
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary needles, finely chopped
Put the flours and seeds in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, if you have one, or a large bowl if you don't. Put the salt on one side of the flour and the yeast on the other (crumble it into pieces if using fresh yeast). Add the water and bring together to form a dough. Knead well on a floured work surface for 5-10 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic (add a little more water if necessary). Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size (around 1-2 hours, depending on room temperature).
When the dough has risen, knock the air out of it by kneading briefly, then leave it to rise until doubled in size again (around 1-2 hours).
When the dough has doubled, gently tip it out onto a work surface dusted with flour and half the cornmeal, then divide it into 2 pieces. Roll each out into a rectangle around 1.5cm thick.
Pre-heat the oven to 210oC. Dust a large baking sheet with flour and the remaining cornmeal. Place the pieces of dough on top, a little apart. Drizzle the dough lightly with rapeseed oil and rub it over the surface. Arrange the sliced pumpkin over the top of the dough, leaving a few gaps. Crumble over the goat’s cheese, filling some of the gaps between the pumpkin pieces, and dot with the sage leaves. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika, a few gratings of nutmeg and some black pepper. Drizzle with a little more rapeseed oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the breads are firm and golden and the pumpkin is tender.
Once the bread is out of the oven, toast the walnuts in the hot oven for 5 minutes, until golden – watch them carefully, as they can burn quickly. Leave them to cool, then chop them finely and mix them with the rosemary and lemon zest. Scatter over the breads and serve warm.
- These are best warm from the oven, and are particularly good with an autumnal salad of watercress leaves, sliced apple, thinly sliced fennel and a lemon juice and rapeseed oil dressing.
- Fresh yeast is worth using if you can find it – I find it makes for a more lively, flavoursome dough. Try asking at your local supermarket bakery – they often have it behind the counter.
- You can buy special seed mixtures designed for bread making, which are inexpensive and great for livening up all sorts of bread, cake and breakfast recipes – try sprinkling them over porridge.
- You could use any pumpkin variety for this, or butternut squash. Most pumpkin skins soften into tenderness in the oven, so I usually don’t bother peeling them.
- Feta cheese would work well here instead of goat’s cheese, or even cubes of halloumi.
- Once you have the basic recipe sorted, try experimenting with the dough and toppings. You could fold some walnuts or pecan nuts into the dough. Sliced tomatoes and feta cheese or mozzarella are excellent pressed into the dough, topped with fresh basil just before serving, or you could try chunks of roasted aubergine and red onion drizzled with pomegranate molasses and scattered with za’atar for an eastern twist.
This post was written in partnership with WholeGrain Goodness. For more recipes using deliciously satisfying whole grains, go to WholeGrainGoodness.com.