Australia has a traditional bread called damper, also known as bush bread, a delicious unleavened bread baked on hot coals or in the oven and that can be ready in no time.
The composition of damper
The damper is a bread that is prepared with baking powder. It is a sweet and fragrant bread very suitable for all those who do not have much time, but really love hot homemade bread.
Baking powder is 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 origin of damper?
The history of Australia and that of all the peoples who emigrated there have given birth to a nation which has one of the most successful examples of multiculturalism: Italians, Greeks, Germans, Chinese, Indians have brought their culinary traditions to it. The streets of Australian cities smell food from around the world.
Finding typical Australian recipes isn’t easy. There aren’t many, but the damper is definitely one of them.
Damper was first mentioned in a book of memoirs edited by Barron Field, a judge at the Supreme Court of New South Wales from 1817 to 1824. According to the Australian Dictionary Center, the name is derived from a Lancashire expression meaning “something that suppresses appetite”.
Damper is one of the most emblematic symbols of bushfood, also known as bush tucker. It has been recognized as a staple food of the bush for decades.
It was made famous by Australian cowboys who cooked this bush bread in the hot coals of their campfire.
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.
There are other baking methods. For example, the dough can be wrapped around a stick hanging over the fire.
A more careful method, and one that is commonly used today, is to bake the damper in a campfire by placing the dough in a cast iron pot to avoid having to brush the ashes before eating it.
What is bush tucker?
Considered a base of all Australian backpackers, bush tucker is above all linked to a culture, that of a people who have occupied these lands for millennia: the Aborigines.
The term bush tucker is typically Australian and means “food from nature”. It designates all of the animal and plant species living on this continent and allowing humans to eat in the bush (the Australian outback).
Before the arrival of Europeans in Sydney in 1788, the aborigines survived by feeding on the particular flora and fauna of this Australian bush living from hunting and picking: kangaroo, wallaby, crocodile, and emu were their favorite meats.
They ate a lot of fish like barramundi and Tasmanian trout. Insects such as moths, white worms, lizards and snakes were also eaten.
Berries and wild fruits such as quandong, lilly pilly and the famous macadamia nuts were harvested.
Even today, certain indigenous culinary traditions are widespread. Kangaroo and emu meats are sold at the supermarket and are said to be delicious.
According to Australian tradition, the swagmen were seasonal workers who moved through the bush from one farm to another, with only their sleeping bag (matilda) and their can (a metal box for boiling water or to prepare the stew).
This nomadic lifestyle has given birth to a very particular culinary tradition of dishes cooked over embers and on high heat. The most famous preparation is the damper.
What is the difference between baking powder and baker’s yeast?
Among the different types of yeast used in the baking world, baking powder and baker’s yeast occupy a prominent place.
Here are the differences between baking powder and yeast:
- Baker’s yeast or fresh yeast is necessary to prepare, for example, pastries, breads, brioches and pizza doughs. It consists of living cells of saccharomyces cerevisiae.
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 this delicious flavor.
- 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.
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.
Although it has a slightly different consistency than leavened bread with yeast, I highly recommend trying the damper.
The result is very good, a fragrant and soft bread that will disappear at the speed of light.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup lukewarm water or milk (or more, at 95 F)
- Add the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
- Start mixing with a spoon and slowly add in the water (or milk).
- Add the salt and mix with the hands until all the flour is well moistened and it begins to form a ball. If necessary, add water (or milk) or flour to adjust the texture.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface, fold it, turn it over and knead it briefly until it is smooth. However, do not knead the dough too much as this will make the damper heavy.
- Preheat the oven to 410 F.
- Heat a cast iron pot or Dutch oven in the oven for 5 minutes. Dust the pot with flour and add the dough in it. Flatten the ball of dough to the edges.
- Bake the damper for about 45 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
- The bread will swell during baking.
- Shake the pot from time to time during baking to ensure even browning.
- The bread is baked when a knife inserted in the center of it comes out clean. The bread should offer a hollow sound when tapped in the center.
- Let the damper sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.