No trip to Australia is complete without damper. And as tonight is my last night on holiday in the land of Oz – alas, alack – it seemed like the perfect opportunity to embark upon this delightful culinary experience.
Damper is an Australian bread, traditionally made – and eaten – by the campsite. It is ‘bush tucker’. In other words the kind of food intended for when you’re sleeping under the stars, with one eye half open to watch out for any errant crocodiles who might be after your toes. It is hardy food for hardy people. And this is very much reflected in its rough and ready method of preparation. You combine the ingredients together – ideally in a tin or enamel bowl, for the full campsite experience; briefly knead the dough, by holding it in your hands and massaging it between your palms – there are no floured surfaces on a campsite; then you roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in tin foil, and put it to cook in the hot embers of your campfire. It is delicious.
Sadly, we were unable to fully recreate the cultural experience of making damper in the great Australian outback. The heat of the summer here is so overpowering that it dries out vast tracts of the countryside, rendering it tragically prone to wildfire. As a direct result, very strict fire regulations are enforced: during the summer months, no open flames are allowed. Anywhere. Not even in your back garden. Sadly campfires are very much out of the question.
We were however, able to fully recreate the delectable flavour of hot, freshly baked damper, by cooking it in the kitchen and in a traditional oven. Not quite as fun, granted – but still very much worthwhile. And the upside of this recipe’s campsite genesis, is that it is incredibly simple to make. Particularly so, when you are working with the addition of modern kitchen appliances and a clean – as in not covered in sand, dust or dirt – worktop. There has to be some considerable value in that.
This loaf is delicious: not utterly different from soda bread in texture and consistency, but ever so slightly sweeter in flavour. This is not the kind of bread that you make delicate finger sandwiches from, rather it’s a rustic loaf. Best served piping hot and whole, so that you can tear off generous chunks with your hands. And then dunk into pools of olive oil – not technically, a traditional way of eating this bread, but so utterly, utterly delicious that you absolutely must anyway. It’s a tear and share kind of a bread – that is if you can in fact bare to share it. By the next day, it will be slightly stale – it really is a one night only kind of loaf - so indulge with impunity. Although, when chunkily sliced and toasted for breakfast with a dash of butter the next morning, it is still fairly magical…
To make damper…
This makes a generous loaf – enough for 8-10 people if served with a main meal. Eat hot, dunked in olive oil. Or with a bowl of soup. Mouthwatering.
- 450g self-raising flour
- 2 tsps salt
- 30g butter
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 350ml water
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Combine the flour and salt into a mixing bowl – sifted if you like, though it doesn’t seem to affect the bread greatly if you don’t bother – and rub in the butter. Once you have obtained a mixture with a crumb like consistency, add the sugar and create a well in the centre of the bowl. Pour the water in and, using your hands – this is the fun bit – mix to a soft dough. Knead in your hands until smooth(ish). Loosely line a round oven-proof dish with greaseproof paper, and place the dough in it, rounded side up. Trace a cross on the top with a sharp knife, and brush lightly with the egg (lightly beaten) and milk to glaze. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake in the oven for roughly 45 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the tin foil and replace the loaf back in the oven, so that the top becomes golden and crusty. Rest for a few minutes before turning out of its serving dish, then cut into generous chunks.