I remember well the first time I went to Paris, more than 30 years ago. What impressed me most was not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. No, it was the bread. Crusty, chewy and full of flavor, there was simply nothing like it available at home at the time.
Since then, American bakers have all but caught up with their counterparts in France. Nowadays here in the United States so-called artisanal bread is everywhere, even in the supermarket. But as one who fully appreciates the virtues of artisanal bread I have to confess that there are times — say, when constructing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — when for me nothing but soft, American white bread will do. That's because I grew up eating Wonder Bread.
Lots of people did. And they're still eating it. Wonder is the best-selling brand of white bread in the country.
It all started in 1921 when the Taggart Baking Company of Indianapolis was getting ready to launch its new 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread. Elmer Cline, a vice president at the bakery, was in charge of naming the product and developing the packaging.
Inspiration hit as Cline was attending the International Balloon Race at the Indianapolis Speedway. He became mesmerized by the hundreds of colorful balloons floating across the sky. Saying the sight had filled him with wonder, he immediately decided on the name for the new bread. Next he directed the company's ad agency to design the red, yellow and blue balloon-like logo,that to this day adorns the bread's wrapper.
Marketing strategy notwithstanding, it is Otto Frederick Rohwedder who should get much of the credit for Wonder bread's success. He invented the bread slicing machine, initially used by a bakery in Chillicothe, Mo., but it was Wonder that first marketed sliced bread nationwide. That created a benchmark against which the greatness of every subsequent invention has been measured and earned Wonder Bread iconic status.
This dish, in which slices of bread are rolled so thin they can stand in for strudel dough, takes advantage of what is arguably Wonder bread's chief attribute: its squishability. (You can squeeze an entire loaf into a ball about the size of your fist!) The recipe is adapted from the Wonder Bread Cookbook.
2 cups peeled, chopped pears
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
12 slices Wonder Bread
6 tablespoons melted butter
Combine pears and brandy and allow to stand for five minutes. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and almonds. Remove crusts from bread slices. Place two slices bread side by side and roll together until thin and stuck together to form a sheet. Repeat with remaining bread to make six sheets. Place one sheet in a lightly greased 11-by-7-inch baking pan and brush generously with melted butter. Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of almond mixture. Repeat with two more sheets of bread. Top with half of pears. Cover with two more sheets of bread, spreading each with butter and sprinkling with almond mixture. Spoon remaining pears over top. Finish with remaining sheet of bread and brush with butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and pears are tender. Cool and slice, topping with whipped cream if desired.