Damper is an Australian soda bread baked among the coals of a campfire, in the ashes or in a camp oven. Since it is prepared with soda instead of yeast, it isn’t left to rise before being put on among the coals. It was a convenient way for drovers, swagmen, stockmen and explorers to make something to eat by the campfire at night.
There are many different recipes for damper, since this was a bread made from what the maker happened to have access to. The basic ingredients are wheat flour, water, baking soda and a pinch of salt. A popular addition, when available, was milk.
A very common method for making damper was to put the dough in the ashes. You start by flattening the ashes and leave the damper there for 10 minutes. Then, cover the damper with ashes and leave it for another 20-30 minutes. The damper is ready when it sounds hollow when you tap it.
Damper was traditionally eaten with whatever the stockmen happened to have around, such as dried meat or a freshly killed local animal. Golden syrup (“cocky’s joy”) was also popular.
Easy damper recipe
You need to have a fire going well in advance. Before you make the dough, dig a foot-deep hole near the fire. Once you have made the dough, put 2 shovels of hot coals and ash into the hole. This will be your “bread oven”.
This easy recipe uses self-raising flour, so you don’t have to bring both flour and baking soda with you into the bush.
- 1 large cup of self-raising flour
- 1 pinch of salt (or to taste)
- ¼ cup of water
- Mix salt and self-raising flour together.
- Add the water and make a dough.
- You don”t need to knead this dough a lot like you would a dough with yeast; just make the dough and then shape it into a round loaf.
- Put the round loaf on the ashes. Leave it there fore 10 minutes. Then, put a shovel of ashes on top of the round loaf and leave it for another 20-30 minutes.
- It usually takes several tries before you become an expert at telling when a damper is ready. Give it too little time in the ashes, and it will be rubbery. Leave it in for too long, and it will be super hard and dry. A damper that sounds hollow when you tap it should not be left in the ashes any longer, it’s ready to be eaten. If the damper is burned on the outside, discard the burnt parts and eat the interior.
When times were good, a fortunate stockman would be able to make a fancy damper with more ingredients than just flour, water and salt.
This is one ingredients list for such a damper:
- 1 cup of self-raising flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup milk
Prepare it just like an ordinary damper. You don’t need to melt the butter, just work it into the dough. Cooking time is the same as for ordinary damper.
Serve with golden syrup, jam, marmalade or butter.