Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Damper: traditional Australian campfire bread

When we were young, my mum would mix flour and water and places it in the coals of the fire in the BBQ at a bush picnic area.  We ate it with slabs of butte from the local dairy and (for my parents) billy tea.  I have such fond memories of it that I am very picky about damper recipes.  They have to be very plain and have a thick crust.

I read somewhere that damper is Australia's version of soda bread.  Though I used self raising flour in my damper, it is different from using bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk together in soda bread.  I love the simplicity of damper.  If you have flour and baking powder you can make it.  Which I guess is why it was part of the swagman's diet in colonial Australia. 

Of course in the days when the swagmen wandered the bush they could stop a will to light campfires on which to bake damper and boil the billy.  Nowadays we are more aware of bushfires and must be more careful about lighting fires.  This summer is not a great one for cooking damper on an open fire.  The hot dry weather has resulted in many days of total fire ban. 

When we were young a bbq was a grill above a fire.  These days bbqs often involve gas and coals both at home and in picnic spots.  So I guess there are generally less people lighting campfires.  However you can baked damper in your oven.  It wont have that charred taste of the fire but it can have a thick crust and be fluffy inside.

We really loved this damper.  It had that robust yet fluffy crumb with a thick crust.  More like beer bread than soda bread.  I tried to bake it in a casserole dish to imitate a camp oven but it cooked too slowly so then I baked it on a baking stone until it was golden brown.

We tore chunks of damper to eat with a bottom-of-the-fridge-clearing stew.  Then we had some with jam for afters.  Well E and I did.  Sylvia had been on a sleepover the previous evening and had fallen asleep at 5pm.  I tried to wake her for dinner but she slept through til the next morning.  A shame.  I think she would have enjoyed the plain damper.  Seems I need to make it again.  And it would be perfect on Australia Day next week.

I am sending this to Kimmy for Healthy Vegan Fridays, Solange and Margot for Inheritance Recipes, and Helen and Camilla Credit Crunch Munch.

More savoury Australian baking:
Buttermilk and lemon myrtle damper
Party pies (v)
Pumpkin damper (v)
Pumpkin scones 
Sausage rolls
Zucchini slice

From Kidspot

2 cups self raising flour
generous pinch of salt
1 cup water

Mix salt into flour and then gradually mix in water to make a soft sticky dough.  You can use your hand to knead in the last few bits of flour and give it a couple of kneads on a floured surface to make a smooth(ish) dough.  However it should be treated gently as too much handling will make it tough.  Bake on a floured baking stone or baking tray in a hot oven until golden brown.  Mine took about 40-50 minutes at 220 C but my oven is quite slow.  Best on day of baking but will be ok the next day.

On the Stereo:
Ruby: Killjoys


  1. I've had a Damper recipe bookmarked in one of my cookbooks for a long long while mostly for its simplicity and name. I have never got round to making it. You have kicked my backside into gear and I will give it a go in the next few weeks. I

    1. Thanks Shaheen - hope you give it a go

  2. Really fun to read this bit of history and personal memories! Thanks for the nice post.

    best... mae at

  3. I have eaten damper only once, and I have such good memories, I'm not sure I can ever bring myself to eat it again in case it wasn't so good. Maybe I'll steel myself for when there's next bbq weather over here!

    1. Thanks Joey - I think damper is a lot about the situation and the memories as it is so plain that there is not lots else to recommend it - I just like to keep the damper memories alive

  4. I think I made damper once as a child, but that is a fairly poor effort really. It always conjures up images of eating around a campfire and yours looks like it would be up for the authentic task of matching even the best fire!

    1. Thanks Kari - sounds like you need more damper in your life :-)

  5. we had damper on school camps, though we wound the dough around sticks. We have a fire pit (that is still in the box)... might give it a go with the kids weather permitting!

    1. Thanks Faye - never have had damper on sticks but it looks like fun - actually I don't think we had damper on school camps - just marshmallows on sticks

  6. Oh I can only imagine how utterly delicious campfire bread would be! I bet baking it in a wood fired oven would give it a similar experience with the campfire. This sounds so good. I bet the jam would be especially good on this bread.

    1. Thanks Kimmy - my mum has a wood fired oven but doesn't light it often - maybe we should try damper next time it is on


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