If you’ve eaten at Melbourne’s Mabu Mabu or Big Esso, you’ve most likely ordered Nornie Bero’s damper. It’s hard to resist – the trailblazing Torres Strait Islander chef serves it with an outstanding golden-syrup butter you can’t help double spreading.

Now you can make both the damper and the butter at home – and apply as much of it as you like without getting raised eyebrows from your dining buddies. You could, of course, use regular butter to spread on your damper, but making the golden-syrup one is definitely worth the effort.

“This is the numero uno sweet butter. It’s so simple, but just so delicious. Every Island person will spread a thick layer on any slice of damper or scone. Make a batch and keep it in the freezer, as you’ll keep wanting more,” says Bero. She says it’ll last seven months in the fridge, although we reckon it’ll get eaten way before then.

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These recipes come from Bero’s first cookbook, Mabu Mabu, which celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through food. It takes readers through native pantry ingredients and more than 50 recipes from her restaurants and home kitchen, and tells Bero’s life story.

A proud Komet woman born on Mer (or Murray) Island, Bero’s gone from “Island kid” to serving emu steaks at Melbourne’s Federation Square. She hopes her cookbook, and the tale of her journey there, will inspire other Island kids.

Bero says damper is a huge favourite in the Torres Strait, and making it always reminds her of her father. “This is what I call the ‘cheat damper’,” she writes in the recipe’s intro. “It sneaks in a serve of vegetables without you even realising it. I’m not a great vegetable eater, but I love root vegetables. The pumpkin here gives you a vibrant natural food colouring as well.”

To cook the damper, you wrap it in banana leaves. Bero says you can easily find them in Asian grocers (sometimes in the freezer). If you don’t have self-raising flour, “you can make your own by adding two teaspoons of baking powder to every 150 grams of plain all‑purpose flour”. And if you want it vegan, use Nuttelex in the batter.

Pumpkin Damper with golden-syrup butter
Makes 1 full-sized damper, serves 4 (“or two Island kids”, says Bero)
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 85 mins


For the dough:
500g Japanese pumpkin, peeled and cubed
40ml vegetable oil
450g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
80g plain) butter, room temperature
1 x 50cm sheet of banana leaf

Golden-syrup (or plain) butter, to serve (optional)

Golden-syrup butter:
500g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 tbsp golden syrup

For the golden-syrup butter, blend the butter and syrup in a food processor until fully whipped. You want it to have a spreadable consistency without being too soft. Wrap the butter mix in a large piece of plastic wrap. Then, holding both ends, roll the wrapped butter into a log.

Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden before using, then store in the freezer for up to 7 months.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Coat the pumpkin in oil and roast in the oven until soft, almost mushy. Keep the oven on after removing the pumpkin.

Add flour and plain butter to a bowl, and mix together by rubbing between your hands until fully combined. Add the cooled cooked pumpkin and mush together. Add 250ml water, a little at a time, and mix with your fingers until you have a nice sticky dough. Place some flour on your work surface, then knead the dough until you have a bread-dough consistency (smooth and slightly tacky to the touch). Roll into a log, then set aside.

Before using your banana leaf, you need to release the oils to make it flexible and bring out the flavours. Hold the banana leaf over an open gas flame, moving it across the flame in sections until the oils seep through the entire leaf. If you do not have a gas flame, place it in a dry non-stick frying pan for a few seconds on each side.

Place the dough in the centre of the banana leaf. Wrap it by folding the leaf over each end, and roll it up like a burrito. Then wrap in aluminium foil using the same method.

Place on the oven shelf and cook for 50–60 minutes. Serve with butter.

This edited recipe is from Mabu Mabu by Nornie Bero, published by Hardie Grant Books (hardback, $45) and available in stores now. Buy it here.

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