Read Time: 6 Minutes
Not The Staff Of Life
Do you remember an era when your sandwich absolutely had to be made on Wonder Bread or one of its numerous grocery store equivalents? I recollect firmly standing my ground when it was suggested to me that whole wheat would be more nutritious – even though that beige alternative was almost as squooshy and pretty white-tasting too. And I shamefully admit trying to trade my whole wheat sandwiches at school for their pale cottony cousins, which had a “crust” that qualified in color only. It’s memories like these that gave me perspective when my daughters rejected my healthy alternative suggestions over the years. At first I thought that Wonder Bread and its many copies were a particularly American disaster. I was wrong. Chorleywood in the UK produces an almost equally aroma- and crumb-free bread. But their histories and present day circumstances differ. It could be said that both producers started out with good intentions.
The Opposite Of Hearth And Home
Wonder Bread was “invented” in 1921 by the Taggert Baking Company in Indianapolis and its packaging graphics were inspired by the Balloon Race at the city’s Speedway. After the company was sold to Continental Baking, the loaves were sold presliced in the by-then familiar balloon graphic packaging. (An interesting side note is that Wonder was unsliced during WWII due to steel shortages). Continental used a variety of intriguing marketing strategies to make it a top seller in the US. First, it was sold as a bargain 1.5lb loaf, besting the standard 1lb one. Secondly, according to author Sam Dwyer, it was to have no religious or ethnic connotations that might hinder its sales. It was to be a superior modern 20th century product in line with the “mechanized world of the future, a utopian world with factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts… and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propellers sound like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds” – a vision outlined in Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, published in 1909.
The flour was bleached and stripped of much of its nutrient value, but could be proved quickly with the aid of chemicals. It would remain soft and resisted mold… no surprise. And it could be presliced and packaged in a newfangled plastic bag. One troubling testimonial to the success of their formula: when Time-Life Books moved to Alexandria, its furniture had been in storage for months. The Chief Of Research discovered an open loaf of Wonder-ish bread in his desk drawer – soft as ever and without a speck of mold!
It was only after the US government forced bakers of this type of bread to add nutrients back into the bread that Continental touted Wonder Bread as “enriched” in “12 body-building” ways (the number of nutrients they were forced to add back into the bread). And later, it being the US, Wonder Bread introduced a low-calorie version. Continental was one of the first of several companies to discover the rewards of advertising to children in the 1950s via Howdy Doody. Wonder Bread was sold to Hostess Brands (yes, I was addicted to their Cupcakes, my husband to their Twinkies). But as sales were falling at the beginning of this century, a “whole wheat” version was introduced, made from an albino whole wheat that did not have the deeper flavor of harder wheats. Sales continued to fall, and faced with fines from a racial discrimination suit, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Currently the company that brought us TastyKake has bought the assets, and we are sure to see a new enriched SmartBread, plus an opportunity for you to share your photographs of the official piloted Wonder Balloon on Instagram.
Meanwhile In An English Village
The Chorleywood Bread Process (hereinafter the CBP) was developed as an economical and time-saving boon for local bakeries, which had been using the John Dauglish bread production methods. Dauglish’s scientific findings in 1862 had allowed British bakeries to get rid of the hand-kneading required by traditional yeast-based doughs, thus eliminating almost a day of fermentation. Dauglish’s Aerated Bread Company dominated British bread until the new process at Chorleywood emerged about a century later. Chorleywood is a village that looks as if it were the setting for Wind In The Willows , rather than the home of turbine-speed bread manufacturing equipment and the research arm for British Baking Industries Association. It was thought that by developing a production technique that utilized lower protein and (cheaper) domestic wheat, small bakeries could better compete with larger industrial ones. By combining these cheaper wheats with a beaker full of additives and high-speed mixing, any bakery can produce a loaf in under four hours. The CBP now accounts for 80% of the bread made in the UK. What you get is a soft spongy mass that can be pre-sliced and not go stale quickly. It is worth reading bread baker Andrew Whitley’s short but passionate article in The Independent about the demise of British bread because of CBP.
Current Sandwich Options
My current solution to satisfying the soft white sandwich cravings of someone else in our house is to purchase a loaf of the Icebox Bread from Best Buns. This loaf is so under-the-radar that you can’t find it on their website, and you have to call to order it ahead – and they will pre-slice it for you. It has a crust, it has taste, it makes a nice soft sandwich that should allay the anxiety of soft white bread lovers. It has the added advantage of not having a chemical shield to keep it from going stale. We have tried other local versions for our annual Turkey Sandwich Party, but this one is the clear winner.
I also make this sandwich loaf from Peter Reinhart’s wonderful book, The Baker’s Apprentice, which certainly improved my bread baking. I now do the Windowpane Test and check the temperature of a loaf with my Thermapen to know that it has been properly baked. This loaf is actually only 33% real whole wheat (not the albino variety), but it is tempered with white flour. Slicing is pretty easy, and it freezes well too. And maybe best of all, the aroma when you toast it is heavenly.
- 2 1/2 cups (319gr) unbleached white bread flour
- 1 1/2 cups (191gr) whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 tbs (21gr) granulated sugar or honey
- 1 1/2 tsp (11gr) fine sea salt
- 3 tbs (28gr) powdered milk
- 1/2tsp (5gr) instant yeast
- 2 tbs (28gr) vegetable oil or melted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (340gr) water at room temperature
- Stir togeher the flours, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk and instant yeast in a 4 qt mixing bowl or in your electric mixer bowl.
- Add the oil or butter, and honey (if using) with the water and stir with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a coarse ball.
- If you have water still in the bowl at this point, add a bit more flour - you want a soft and supple ball of dough.
- Sprinkle either some of the bread flour or the whole wheat flour on your counter and begin kneading.
- You can also knead with the dough hook on medium speed.- in either case it should be about 6 minutes of kneading.
- Check the dough using the windowpane test or with a probe thermometer — looking for about 77-81F (25-27C).
- Lightly oil a large bowl, roll the dough so that it gets slicked with the oil and cover with towel or cling wrap.
- Stretch and fold dough in thirds (like a business letter) after 30 minutes and then again after an additional 30 minutes.
- Allow the dough to rise until double in bulk (usually in 2 hours)
- Flour the counter (the book advises an oil slick on the counter, but I prefer the flour) and form a rectangle of about 6x8-10 inches. (15x25cm).
- Form the rectangle into a loaf that can fit a 8.5/4.5 inch or a 9x5 inch loaf pan (22x12cm) and place in the lightly oiled pan.
- Proof again until the dough rises just above the lip of the pan and then place the loaf on a sheetpan in a 350F (177C) preheated oven using a middle rack.
- Rotate after 30 minutes and check after 15 minutes - interior temperature should be 190F (88C)
- Cool bread completely before slicing.
- I always use a Thermapan to check the interior temperature of any baked item. It is so much more accurate than a tester or tapping the loaf.
- I use Instaferm yeast.
- My preferred loaf pan is the Bundy-Chicago Metallic aluminum one with no non-stick coating.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.