Damper is one of the most emblematic symbols of bushfood, also known as bush tucker; recognised as a staple food of the bush for decades.
Damper was originally developed by breeders, who needed a way to transport food to remote areas. They were sometimes absent for long weeks, with little or no access to purchases of food and supplies, so they were unable to transport spoiled food. It was therefore their daily bread which was also baked very quickly and very easily.
By simply transporting flour and salt and having access to water, shepherds could bake their own bread, using these three ingredients.
Traditionally, the dough was baked directly in the ashes of the campfire but over the years it has become common to bake it in the oven, although baking in the ashes is still a very common method in Australia today.
The composition of Damper
The damper is a bread that is prepared with baking powder, a chemical leavening agent which releases gases which allow the dough to rise during the baking stage. It is therefore a kind of leaven which takes place directly in the oven without prior resting time. The damper is made from flour, water, and salt.
The recipes have evolved to include the addition of milk, butter and many other ingredients.
What is the difference between baking powder and yeast?
Among the different types of yeast used in the baking world, baking powder and baker’s yeast occupy a prominent place.
Here are a few differences between baking powder and yeast:
- Baker’s yeast or fresh yeast is necessary to prepare, for example, pastries, breads, brioches and pizza doughs. In addition to its function of raising dough, this substance composed of single-celled microorganisms, also makes it possible to give preparations this light and airy texture, as well as a delicious flavour.
- Fresh yeast reacts naturally. Living cells convert the sugars in flour into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. This is the process of alcoholic fermentation. The CO2 will in turn cause the dough to rise. This swelling of the dough occurs largely before baking, unlike with baking powder
- Baking powder is recommended for making sponge cake and pastries such as cakes or cookies. It contains an acid agent (sodium pyrophosphate and tartaric acid), a basic agent (sodium bicarbonate) and a stabilizing agent (starch) intended to keep the yeast longer.
- Unlike fresh yeast, it is not “alive”. Baking powder only emits an acid-base reaction in dough. Under the effect of humidity and heat, the combination of flour with sodium bicarbonate and sodium pyrophosphate can cause the emission of CO2 necessary for leavening the dough during baking. This type of leavening agent therefore requires contact with water and heat to react.
Here a is a basic recipe you may like to try and once mastered, add herbs, spices, cheese or fruits to make a delicious variation. Enjoy!
What you'll need
- Self-Raising Flour – This is the best choice for making quick and easy damper. Sub with all-purpose flour / plain flour and 2 tsp of baking powder if you need.
- Cold Butter& Salt – We use salted cooking butter, but you can use unsalted if you prefer, or add extra salt to tweak it just how you like it. Make sure to use it straight out the fridge when it’s nice and cold – this is not only essential for that crumbly damper texture but will stop it melting while you make the dough.
- Milk & Water– We usually use full cream dairy milk, sub with skim or low-fat milk if you need. It helps keep the quick bread moist and gives you that deliciously golden-brown colour. If you don’t have any milk on hand, you can use all water instead.
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 20 g butter cold, chopped into small cubes
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease an oven tray.
- In a large bowl, sift flour, salt and sugar; rub in butter. Stir in milk and enough water to mix to a sticky dough.
- On a floured surface, knead dough until just smooth. Place dough on oven tray; press into a 16cm round.
- Cut a cross into top of dough, about 1cm (½-inch) deep. Brush dough with a little extra milk; sprinkle with a little extra flour. Bake about 45 minutes. Turn damper, top side up, onto wire rack to cool.
Sweet Damper ideas
- Golden Syrup – Damper is commonly eaten with golden syrup, poured all over it. Yum!
- Sugar – Swap the salt for sugar for a sweet damper that can then have any sweet toppings added.
- Butter and Jam – Treat it like a scone and eat it for breakfast with your favourite jam. Add cream to make it even more decadent.
- Raisins and Chocolate – Add 1/4 cup raisins and chocolate chips, swapping out the salt for sugar as well, for an almost tea cake style damper.
- Hollow Base – If you knock on the base and it sounds hollow, this is the best way to know your bread is ready.
- Mini Dampers – We think the mini portions make for the perfect size to serve up alongside a big pot of camp stew, a hearty winter soup, or beside a saucy pasta.
- Use Beer – Swap the water and milk for 1 cup / 250 ml of beer for an extra tasty damper.
Savoury Damper ideas
- Rosemary – Add 2 tsp fresh rosemary in the mix as well as garnished over the top before baking for extra herby flavour.
- Cheese & Chives – Mix 1 cup of cheese and 1 tbsp of chives into the mix for extra cheesy goodness. You can also top with grated cheese and bake until melted and golden.
- Garlic, Parmesan and Mixed Herbs – Similar to above, add 1-2 tsp of chopped garlic, 1/2 cup of parmesan and 1-2 tsp of mixed herbs for a nice tasty dinner roll for stew or even pasta sauce.
- Olives and Sun-dried Tomatoes – Add a 1/4 cup of chopped olives and sundried tomatoes for a Mediterranean take on damper.
- Butter and Vegemite – Cook the damper bread as normal, then cut into slices and slather with butter and vegemite for the ultimate Aussie meal.