Welcome to spring

We made it.

The snow is still here, but the sun’s getting the best of it. I think I even saw a patch of bare ground in the yard this morning (even through a minor snow squall).

To celebrate spring, and Purim, Hyla and I made a batch of hamentaschen yeterday, using my grandmother’s (Pearl’s) recipe, and good ol’ strawberry jam:

Rolling the Dough

Just so you know, Hyla shaped all of these:

Ready to Bake

mmmmmm, don’t you wish you were here to taste one of these beauties?

Cooling

I can has Gryfe’s?

Yeah, the Gryfe’s obsession continues. The bagels, they’re unbeatable. But have I mentioned the pizzas? The little, six-inch round, plain cheese pizzas made from the very same bagel dough, a (very) little sauce, and a sprinkling of cheese? They come in bags of six, fresh from the ovens, and when you’re 10 or so and you pick up a bag at the bakery, you’re lucky to have four left by the time you make it the two blocks back to the house.

I spent a part of every summer until I was about 17 in Toronto, and most of those summer days, I ate one or two Gryfe’s pizzas for my lunch. If we were lunching in, my grandmother took a couple out of the freezer, warmed them in the toaster oven, and served them to me on rough, brown paper towels. The pizzas were so hot I could barely hold them, but I could still eat one in about three minutes flat. If we were dining out (most days, this meant lunch at the Glen Shields Country Club, where my sister and I swam all day and my grandmother and her friends sunned, talked, and played mah jong), I would eat them room temperature, right out of the bag, poolside.

My uncles derided me for my love of these so-called pizzas. I didn’t care. I knew what real pizza was (heck, I lived in Chicago in those days) and I knew these weren’t “real”, but they were beyond that for me. A perfect taste. A taste that still conjures carefree summer days.

Which brings me back to the present. While browsing the Gryfe’s web site the other month, I noticed that they were selling some of their baked goods in other stores, including a few in the States. Mostly, they were selling muffins (never tried them, maybe never will), but the web site also said they were selling FROZEN PIZZAS at, among other places, The Butcherie, in Brookline, MA.

The Butcherie is a kosher grocery store, not all that far from where my sister lives, so you can bet we made a little visit when we were last in Boston. Did they have them? Oh, you bet they did, and now, so do I.

In the box:

Gryfes frozen pizzas!

And warmed up:

Gryfes frozen pizzas - cooked

I’ll admit right away that they don’t taste exactly the same as they do right from the store, but nothing ever could. They do, however, taste much better than the ones I’ve smuggled across the border and frozen myself. In fact, these taste darn good – almost as good as having one right from my grandmother’s fridge or freezer.

Six come in a box. Amazingly, I still have four left. This is because, unlike some sisters I have, I don’t live close to The Butcherie and I have to conserve my pizzas. As if to rub salt in the wound, my sister recently reported that her local Whole Foods is now selling these pizzas: UNfrozen.

*sigh*

Well, we have a beautiful view. We can’t have everything.

Hands on

Maybe it’s because my paid work never produces anything that I can hold in my hands at the end of the week. Or maybe it’s the time of year when there’s more daylight and more energy and it seems like there’s more time to do things. Or maybe it’s something else. Whatever the reason, I’ve been busy for the past few days doing things that result in a tangible something that I can taste, smell, or feel.

For starters, on Saturday, I made some bread. Back in April, on the (very fine) recommendation of my sister, I bought myself a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

And on Saturday night I started the dough for his recipe of pain a l’ancienne, a slow, cold proofing recipe for baguettes. We shaped and baked this bread on Sunday morning, and you can see pictures of the process in this slide show.

Our first try turned out very, um, delicious. The flavor was very complex and tasty, and the crust and crumb were just about exactly what we’d hoped for. I’m going to try this bread again later this week. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that you mix the dough the night before, and then just shape and bake the next morning. The results are tremendous, but the amount of work involved is really minimal. We hardly broke a sweat except for the parts that involved quickly opening and closing the oven door to add water or spray to create the steam. I can easily imagine making fresh baguettes for a brunch or dinner party and not have the bread be the entire meal.

Buoyed by that experience, I felt ready to tackle a sewing project with Hyla. She had recently noticed the cover of the latest Craft: magazine, which showed a set of darling little felt cats:

magazine Volume 03 cover

Hyla and I decided that a couple of these would make a nice birthday gift for a friend of hers who is also obsessed with cats and kittens. Hyla made me a shopping list

Shopping List

and I bought the stuff, and then we did a trial run last night by making one kitty. She’s named it “Picel”, which is pronounced as “pickle”.

Picel - Front

Picel - Back

On Sunday, I had also made some pie dough (from my current favorite recipe, from the Baking with Julia book), so yesterday afternoon (while glue was drying on Picel’s whiskers), I made an apple pie.

Of course, somewhere along the way, we have either lost or broken all of our pie dishes. I don’t know how it happened. I remember making an apple pie for Thanksgiving. Where did that pan go? Not to be found in our kitchen, that’s for sure. I had the dough all ready, and the apples cut and stewing in their sugar and spice. Hmmmm. How about a square baking pan?

And thus, the birth of the square pie, or, as we like to call it, squie:

Applie Squie

It tasted great, and the corners are excellent – a little extra flaky crust and all that gooey apple-ness.

What’s next? I’m not sure, but I’m thinking it will involve a bed or couch, a stack of books, and very little movement.

Attempting Gryfe’s

Bagel heaven is located on Bathurst Street, about two blocks away from my grandparents’ house in Toronto.

New York bagel purists may disagree, but Gryfe’s bagels are the best, and there’s no convincing me (or my sister) otherwise. They look like “regular” bagels, but they’re lighter and fluffier and have this crispy crust and a slightly salty poppy-seed topping that’s irresistible. These bagels are so delicious and so (relatively) light, that you can eat two and maybe three fresh ones in no time flat. I’ve often done just that.

When we were kids, we’d walk over to Gryfe’s with my grandmother at least a couple times a week to stock up on bagels (well, she called them “bagel”, as in, “I need to pick up some bagel”) and (my lunch staple) mini cheese pizzas made from the same bagel dough. If we were lucky enough to get a batch just out of the oven, we’d scorch our fingers because we couldn’t wait; we’d start at the “weak point” of the bagel (the slightly less done oval on the side of the bagel where it rested against its partner) and dig out the inside of the bagel dough until all we had left was the crispy, salty shell.

Baked-good nirvana.

Over the years, Gryfe’s has garnered quite a following. The small bakery near my grandparents’ house is still there, and, most mornings, there’s a line down the block for people waiting to get in. But they now have other locations, a fancy(ish) web site, and are even selling their bagels throughout Canada (and even frozen pizzas in select US locations!).

The staff at the Bathurst Street location has changed from little-old Jewish women to little Asian women, but the bagels and the pizzas remained the same (did I mention the apple turnovers? yum). They offer a few more flavors of bagels these days (I actually don’t remember their offering anything besides poppyseed when I was a kid), but otherwise, they haven’t changed much at all — thank goodness.

So, whenever we go to Toronto, we stock up on bagels and pizzas. We fill our stomachs and our cheek pouches with as much as we can stand during our visit, and then we store the rest in luggage and bring it back home to freeze and enjoy for the next few months. But it’s been too long since we were in Toronto and we are out of Gryfe’s. Completely out.

They won’t deliver to Thetford or Medford (hey! this is the first time I’ve noticed that my sister I and I both live in “ford”s!). What can we do? The only possible choice (aside from a weekend road trip to Toronto) is to try to make them ourselves.

We’re not the first to attempt this. Gryfe’s has other loyal fans and at least one of them did his darned best to infiltrate Gryfe’s and get the actual recipe. Although you can no longer read Hillel Cooperman’s account and recipe online, I can offer you a PDF of that recipe, with a few of my own tiny changes and notes.

Anyway, this past weekend, Laurel and I both attempted to recreate the Gryfe’s bagel in our home kitchens.

I followed Hillel’s recipe pretty closely for my first attempt. My only change was to use 2.5 tablespoons of sugar instead of the 3 called for in the recipe because the ingredient list only specified 2 tablespoons, but the instructions used a total of 3. I also followed Hillel’s shaping preference, by shaping the dough into a “pipe” and then forming the pipe into a circle.

Here they are, shaped and waiting to be poached:

Bagels Shaped

The main problem with this shaping method quickly became apparent during the poaching step, when most of my bagels uncurled themselves into crescents. Here are the last two in the poaching water (still in circles because I pinched their joints extra hard after I saw what happened to the earlier ones):

Bagels_Poaching

After I gave the poached bagels (and crescents) an egg wash, I sprinkled half with poppy seeds and left half for plain (for the sake of Hyla, who doesn’t “do” seeds):

Bagels Ready To Bake

And then baked them as described by the recipe.

Bagels_Baked

The results? Close, but no bagel.

The smell was right, and the taste was close (a bit too sweet), but the texture wasn’t right. The inside was too doughy and the crust didn’t have the right crispness. Oh, we managed to eat them all, though. Don’t you worry. The next day, I tried batch #2 with even less sugar (and less honey in the poaching water). I used the other method for shaping (much better!) and I baked them at a higher temperature for a little less time. I also included a little salt with the poppy seeds. Closer… still not the right crust, but better. These bagels actually looked gorgeous, but I didn’t think to take a picture.

After I told Laurel about my attempts, she tweaked the recipe further to eliminate the egg (probably not in the true Gryfe’s recipe), let them rise longer before poaching, and bake them on a stone. Still even closer.

It’s not quite Gryfe’s yet, but it will do for now.