It's been years since I wrote a "Current Craving" post describing one of my food or fashion obsessions. There's a lot to catch up on. Here's the first in a series of little wonders, often featuring gluten, sugar, cashmere, cotton, and other good things.
Trader Joe's Pretzel Bagels. I hesitated for weeks before writing this because sometimes our tiny Boston store runs out of them and I get crabby and a bit panicky. But you have been putting up with a lot from me lately, so it's time to spill beans.
Photo: Trader Joe's
You can find these where they keep their boring sliced loaves, leaden muffins and scones, and other "non-artisanal" baked goods, which seldom interest me. I found them at the free-sample counter, spread with peanut butter. And that was that.
Now I must always have pretzel bagels in my freezer if not my mouth.
If only I were one-tenth as good at house-hunting as I am at discovering delicious carbohydrates. How can I make this a transferrable skill?
I didn't know what a bagel was until college. I thought they had to with fish so I wanted nothing to do with them. But my school had a team of entrepreneurs who visited every dorm pretty late on weeknights, selling bagels on every floor. We'd study in our rooms, keeping the music soft so we could listen for the guy yelling "Bagels!" They offered five or six basic flavors, filled with a slab of cream cheese, for a dollar. We were mostly nerds who wouldn't waste time foraging for snacks after the dining hall and alleged "social center" closed. Instead we flocked to the bagelman with his milk-crate full of sustenance. We paid, we ate, we studied some more. Those were the days.
The TJ's pretzel bagel is hardly a madeleine resurrecting memories of my youth, nor are they a match for a great New York bagel, but nothing in Boston is. The pretzel bagel is its own thing, a good thing.
There is a place in Cambridge, Bagelsaurus, which I hear has decent New York–style bagels. But I haven't tried them; who wants to go all the way over there when there's a pretzel bagel in the freezer?
If you slice them before you freeze them, they defrost faster.
I cannot call myself a bagel connoisseur nor even a fanatic, although there are times when nothing but a toasted sesame with a thin schmear of chive cream cheese will hit the spot. For this I go to Finagle-a-Bagel because it's close, fresh, and decent. Kupel's in Brookline is fine; Bruegger's is meh. I have only found bagel nirvana in Manhattan, and that was long ago. These days, I'm more likely to get an interesting donut from a hipster joint when I'm there and peckish.
Think of the TJ's pretzel bagel as nontraditional, a different animal, a successful hybrid. It's on the small side, which I think gives it authenticity and appeal. I can pile on the fixings and never feel stuffed afterward. It has bagel functionality with soft-pretzel flavor. It looks like both items. It has no rock salt; just a hint of saltiness.
We like the big Bavarian soft pretzels from When Pigs Fly but they are so salty I've had to get up in the night to drink more water. They're also greasy and heavy, so their general unwholesomeness and $4 price tag keep us away.
You can buy a bag of pretzel bagels for $2.49. There must be some mistake.
The TJ's pretzel bagel is similar to their pretzel roll, which they sell with their more "artisanal" breads. We ate many of them when they first appeared but then we got bored and never wanted to see another one. This is probably because we ate them on airplanes, and the discomfort of flying often colors whatever nice things I've brought to eat, making them seem unappealing by association. Plus the rolls are too big and can be a bit mushy. The bagels are denser in texture; toasted, they are the perfect vehicle for butter, nut butter, melted cheese, smoked turkey, chicken salad, and everything else I can think of.
Mostly what I think of is peanut butter with a little TJ's cocoa-almond spread. They melt together on the hot bagel and get drippy and heavenly.
I think I'll make one now. I know I'm never going to get bored with these. And if they are ever discontinued, there will be a revolution.