This is a guest post by Christopher Robbins.
Growing up in the Australian bush meant cooking and boiling a billy over an open fire was what we did. Meat was plentiful but fresh bread wasn’t so making and barbequing damper went with the obligatory fire lighting skills.
Damper could be a loaf baked in a portable bush-oven for a gang of drovers or a snake of simple dough coiled around a convenient stick and cooked over the glowing coals. There was no time for yeast leavening so either baking powder or often a little wood ash was used. Damper had a similar chewiness and crisp crust to today’s best sourdoughs and a unique taste of the smoke from eucalyptus or ironbark wood. Any left over would be stuffed in pockets for the next day’s travelling and would remain soft and chewy. It is the best bread for a modern ‘barbie’. The tastiest damper is cooked over a wood-fire ‘barbie’, ideally apple wood, with sprigs of green rosemary or sage dropped onto the coals occasionally. Please don’t use firelighters and charcoal.
Have handy 60cms long freshly cut hazel (or similar) sticks about 1.5 cms in diameter. Dowling rod or beading can be used. Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add almost all the water, reserving 50 mls or so to allow adjustment of the dough. Mix with a wooden spoon to produce a stiff but soft dough. Add more water if needed. Knead 4-5 minutes to complete the mixing and develop some elasticity.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a sausage in your hands then roll it carefully between your palms to lengthen it to a 25-30 cms length and leave to rest a few minutes. Repeat for the other 3 pieces. Coil a length around each damper stick starting about 10cms from one end by firmly pressing the end of the dough roll onto the stick. Gently wind the coil around the stick by rolling the stick in your hands while guiding the coil of dough, leaving 2-3 cms stick showing between the coils of dough as it twists around and along the stick. DO NOT press the coil to the stick while turning but press the end of the dough to the stick when it arrives as you did the at the start. Suspend you damper over the coals as you would your food. Turn regularly until it has a golden crust or about 7 minutes. Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes, then hold the damper gently in an oven cloth and slide gently from its stick in one movement, giving a coil of delicious damper. Add the next pair of damper coils and repeat. Allow to cool slightly before biting in.