Wonder Bread = Normal
I wanted, desperately, to be normal in a normal household.
I wanted a mother who stayed home like all the other mothers. My mom, ahead of her time, had a Ph.D. and ran the scientific review committee for NIMH, deciding who merited receiving grant funding for research projects. She was not home providing after-school snacks like the other moms.
I wanted a sibling. My best friend in 2nd grade was one of seven kids. I was so jealous of her tiny cabinet of a bedroom custom built under the staircase, like Harry Potter’s. My household was quiet, calm, and very orderly. There were no siblings to fight with.
I wanted to bring my lunch to school instead of buying my lunch every day. I wanted tunafish (from a can with lots of mayonnaise) on Wonder Bread. A completely exotic concept in my household. We had Pepperidge Farm whole wheat bread for toast in the morning and lunch was whatever concoction was on the menu at the school cafeteria.
I do remember that I finally convinced my mother to let me bring my lunch and I was very excited to get a Partridge Family lunch box with a thermos. I also finally convinced her to buy me Wonder Bread. I loved Wonder Bread! I would smear it with butter and eat it simply with just the butter. Another favorite Wonder Bread snack was to take a slice and smoosh it into a ball. I am not sure what was appealing about this variation, but it amazed me how Wonder Break was so malleable. I loved the plasticity.
As part of my foray into lunch-making and filling up that beloved lunchbox with treats, I sampled all the Hostess products at the time. I did not like the chocolate Hostess cupcakes or any of their other chocolate productions. I still don’t like bland chocolate items. But I did and do love vanilla. Twinkies were my favorite and were pretty much my daily dessert. Spongey, creamy, gooey, sticky sweet. I would eat one end and then the other end, saving the middle where the majority of the cream was for last. Of course, now, I would not be caught dead with a Twinkie.
When I heard that Hostess was having trouble in January, I surreptitiously bought a box of Twinkies and brought them home. Imagine my family’s surprise! We looked at them skeptically. We each cautiously took one and unwrapped it. The stickiness was still there, as my fingers immediately had twinkie cake stuck to each pad. We each took a bite. My husband and son took another bite, ultimately finishing theirs. My daughter rolled her eyes and refused to deign to eat another bite. I understood why I loved them at the age of 7, 8, 9, but I could not bring myself to finish it. It was not worth the calories or the guilt associated with indulgence. The box went to the back of the snack shelf – where I finally threw it out just recently. (I am pretty sure my husband had several more between January and August. After all, they are not preservative-free.)
My last memory of being completely attached to a Hostess product is of eating Hostess Apple Pies for lunch in 10th grade. Indeed, that is all I ate for lunch in 10th grade. One Hostess apple pie. Every day. That was the year I went from growing into a curvy young woman to disciplining myself into a rail thin ballerina. I craved the syrupy sweetness and didn’t want to forego dessert by wasting calories on nutrition.
When the news hit last week that Hostess may not continue, I joined the outpouring of nostalgia for the snack food of “normal” 1970’s suburban childhood. Of course, now, I am proud of my mother’s achievements; cognizant of how my not-so-normal childhood has shaped who I am today; and fully aware that no family is “normal.” My mother was wise to let me experiment with food as she patiently waited for me to outgrow my love of Hostess as I matured.
I spent the weekend wondering about an adult version of a Twinkie. If you got rid of the too-sweetness and the spongey airiness, could it be pleasing? I am not a patient baker any more; could it be easy to make? I turned to the bible, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and read, re-read, and re-read the recipe for her Butter Spongecake (p 669). No way was I going to follow all those directions! Then I got out my Joy of Cooking encyclopedia and reviewed their sponge cake instructions (p 670). Definitely simpler. I tackled it, with some Julia Child nuances (butter!), but made a key mistake. I substituted regular flour for cake flour. The batter was dense and the cake was heavy. Then I wondered about what to fill the cake with. Vanilla Buttercream? Vanilla Custard? I settled on Vanilla Whipped Cream. The outcome was a pleasant cake with delicious vanilla-ness, reminiscent of Twinkie, but not as gooey and not as sweet. Time to grow up.
Twinkie Cake for Grown-Ups
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder (Julia does not approve)
- 4 egg whites
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Beat egg yolks for about 7 minutes, using an electric mixer, until they are light yellow and creamy in texture.
- Beat in the sugar, butter, and vanilla.
- Gradually, beat in the flour and baking powder.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
- Fold the eggs whites into the cake batter until gently mixed.
- Spread the batter into a 9” cake pan (lightly greased and floured).
- Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cake is done when it is lightly golden and begins pulling away from the pan. Cool.
Vanilla Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Chill pan, beater, and whipping cream for 1-2 hours prior to preparing.
- Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla together until thick.
- Slice cake in half horizontally. Spread the whipped cream over the bottom layer. I used about 2/3. Place the top layer over it. Dust with powdered sugar. Offer any remaining whipped cream as an extra dollop on top.
- 8-10 normal servings
- 12-16 sliver servings for those of us with fear-of-indulgence issues