What we know as damper is different depending on who you ask. The word is said to have origins in Lancashire dialect meaning something to take the edge off an appetite.
It’s a simple soda bread that was made by stockmen in post-colonial Australia, by mixing flour and water with a leavening agent and cooking the dough in smouldering coals.
The bread reportedly rose to popularity because of William Bond who owned a bakery on Pitt Street, Sydney. According to historian James Bonwick, Bond called the bread damper due to the technique of dampening the coals on the fire before baking.
Turn back the clock even further and the technique of cooking flour and water over coals was practised by Aboriginal Australians using a variety of bush seeds, nuts and grains long before westerners arrived. Millstones for grinding seed flours are dated back some 50,000 years and while seed doughs could be eaten raw, they were often cooked among the coals for preservation, especially if the group was about to travel.
The dough was either baked into two smaller loaves, what we now call Johnny cakes, or one large one, now known as damper. The practise of picking, treating and grinding seed to make bread is laborious and the arrival of commercially milled wheat flour has mostly replaced it.
Damper is often made at home by many Australians using self-raising flour, water and salt, with some variations including oil, milk powder or flavourings. This recipe by Damien Coulthard an Adnyamathanha and Dieri man and co-founder of Warndu is flavoured with lemon myrtle and goes great with some butter, honey and a cup of coffee in the morning.
You can add ground wattleseed, strawberry gum, or any spice you like really, or just leave it plain and let the butter do the talking.
Lemon myrtle damper
Take 500 g self-raising flour and add 300 ml of water, 2 tbsp oil (I used olive but macadamia is suggested), a good pinch of salt and 2 tbsp of dried lemon myrtle, wattleseed, or other ground spice.
Mix to begin forming a dough and if it’s too dry add up to 50 ml more water.
Turn out onto a clean bench and knead together to form a smooth dough. Pat into a loaf shape and place on a tray. Bake at 220°C for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.
Let cool for 15 minutes or so then slice and enjoy warm with butter and honey or golden syrup.
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