Damper is a traditional Australian bread which is cooked on a campfire. Created initially by Australian stockmen and swagmen who roamed remote areas for prolonged times. These stockmen survived with only basic rations of flour, sugar, tea and whatever meat they could catch.
Why is it called damper?
I was recently told that damper is called damper because it is damper than bread. However, when I googled to see if this was indeed a fact, I found two alternative theories. According to historian James Bonwick, the name derives from the way the fire is “dampened” by covering it with ashes. And the Australian Dictionary Centre claims the name is derived from a Lancashire expression meaning “something that damps the appetite.” Whatever the truth may be, damper is delicious bushtucker that is a must when camping.
A traditional damper is made with plain flour and water and typically cooked in the ashes or coals of a campfire.
Nowadays, damper is more likely cooked in a camp oven and made with all sorts of ingredients including, sugar, milk, butter and beer to name but a few. I love the yeasty taste of beer damper and often make this simple, two-ingredient, damper in our cast iron camp oven over the campfire.
Our Camp Kitchen
We cooked this yummy beer damper while camped at Mount Bundy Station near Adelaide River in the Northern Territory.
1 375ml can (or bottle) of beer
3 cups of self-raising flour (works with plain flour also)
Pinch of salt (optional)
Place flour (and salt) in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour warm beer into the centre and mix using a butter knife. Add more flour or beer if needed.
Get your hands in the bowl and make sure the flour and beer are well combined but do not knead. Damper is not kneaded, just mixed and shaped.
Once the dough is shaped, line the base of the camp oven with baking paper and spray with oil, or alternatively sprinkle flour on the bottom to stop the damper sticking.
To cook the damper with hot coals.
If you want to cook on coals from a campfire, you need to burn large pieces of wood to create hot coals. It can take an hour or so for your campfire to make enough coals to cook on. Be sure to factor the process of producing the embers into your prep and cooking time. Alternatively, if you are limited with time or good wood, use heat-beads as they heat up quickly and hold their heat well.
The easiest way to cook in a camp oven over hot coals is to lift the coals out of the fire with a long-handled shovel. Select a safe place next to the fire and put a small amount of *coals on the ground. Place the camp oven onto the coals. Get some more coals from the fire to place on top of the oven. Getting the right amount of coals is not always easy. Be aware of cooking the damper too hot and burning it. It will take some experimentation to get the temperature right. Therefore, check the damper after 10 minutes to make sure you are not cooking it too hot or not hot enough.
*you only need a small number of coals under the camp oven or none at all. Too many and you will burn the bottom of the damper.
Many factors determine the heat of the coals, such as ambient temperature and wind. If you have wind, the coals will cook hotter. Make allowances for wind by reducing the amount of coals used.
The time it takes to cook the damper is of course, directly related to how hot you cook it. It should take approximately 30-40 minutes. You can tell when the damper is cooked by tapping on the top. If it sounds hollow, it is ready. Alternatively, stick a knife in it, and if it comes out clean, it should be ready.
Serve with butter, maple syrup, jam and cream or any other topping you desire.
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