Nigh flavorless. Textureless. Nutritionally vapid. There's a reason white bread has become the symbol of all that is wrong with industrialized food, not to mention WASP culture. Turns out, that reason is the U.S. government.
In a mind-blowing feature in this month's Believer
, Aaron Bobrow-Strain traces the history of Wonder-style white bread
back to the early 1950s, when government scientists launched a project to study Americans' bread-eating habits and come up with a method for producing the ideal bread on an industrial scale. The test subjects for the New American Bread: the residents of Rockford, Illinois, which some had called the quintessential American city.
USDA scientists were responsible for turbo-charging yeast cultures so the bread rose in the pan in less than 15 minutes. They were also responsible for the unearthly perfection of that crumb, and its squishiness, which early 20th century customers had learned to associate with freshness. And when the bread buyers of Rockford, Illinois, complained that industrial bread was too insubstantial, the government came up with the solution of enriching it with vitamin tablets -- and then selling enriched bread to America as a highly nutritious food.
Not only does Bobrow-Strain, who's the author of a forthcoming book on white bread, learn to make the USDA's White Pan Loaf no. 1 recipe in small (dare we say "artisanal"?) batches, he reprints it in the magazine. If you want to make Wonder Bread at home, though, you're going to have to buy the Believer: the recipe's not online.