Cleveland Jewish Jews, Seattle JT News
Childhood holiday foods often hold the keys to our hearts. So it was for my elderly father. With a gleam in his eye, he suddenly recalled the candy-like Rosh Hashanah treat of his Lower East Side youth, teiglach.
Back then, he allowed, grandmothers used to whip up traditional honey cakes to welcome the New Year, just as they do today. But many also painstakingly rolled, then boiled marble-sized bits of dough in tubs of honey, creating the sweetest sweet of all, teiglach.
Teiglach, in Yiddish, “bits of dough,” hail from Eastern Europe. These sticky, honey-smothered balls can be coaxed into crowns, served in golden slabs, or piled into pyramids. But whichever their shape, teiglach make the perfect fress. Slicing them is a crusher. So aficionados pick this confection apart bit by bit, ushering each luscious morsel individually from hand to mouth. Soon everyone is licking their fingers and asking for more. “Sweet and crispy,” recalls my father, who has not lost his taste for tradition.
Judy, teiglach maven of Manhattan’s Wm. Greenberg Jr. Dessert Company, agrees. “Teiglachs should be sweet and crispy, not sweet and soggy. That’s why we’re relieved when Rosh Hashanah comes “late,” as it does this year. Making teiglach in early September, when the weather may still be hot, is a recipe for culinary disaster.” Just before Rosh Hashanah, Greenberg Jr., which maintains an Internet site, ships hundreds of festively wrapped teiglachs across the country. So does Unger’s Kosher Bakery in Cleveland. That’s probably because today’s cooks hesitate to tackle teiglach’s bubbling honey pots at home.
Sara Weiss-Slep recalls that, before the Holocaust, this gooey goody was a favorite treat in Dusiat, Lithuania. Her family recipe follows.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
½ cup honey
1 whole egg, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons oil
A bit of fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons cognac
½ teaspoon baking powder
Enough sifted flour so the dough is malleable but soft
¼ cup sugar
A bit of powdered ginger
Raisins dipped in rum, optional
Toasted nuts, optional
Maraschino cherries, optional
Mix the dough. On a floured surface, roll it out to a finger’s thickness, then form into small balls. Optional: fill each teigel with 1-2 raisins, pushing them it with finger.
For the syrup, place water, sugar, and honey in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil.
When the sugar has dissolved, reduce to a simmer. Drop in each teigel, but never more than 12 at a time. Cover tightly, simmering until the teiglach are golden. Carefully remove from the pot and strain. Roll the teiglach in a mixture of sugar and powdered ginger, then form into desired shape. Optional: decorate with nuts and cherries.
Weiss-Slep also adds a bit of orange or lemon peel to the honey pot, to temper the teiglach’s excessive sweetness. She occasionally checks if the syrup has become too thick, adding more water if needed. But when re-covering the pot, she warns, the inside of its cover must be completely dry.
In the end, everything boils down to taste—and memory. Weiss-Slep tried time and again to reproduce the teiglach of her youth, golden, glistening with honey, redolent with ginger and orange. But each time, her Dusiat teiglach maven pronounced them failures. Only when she accidently burned a batch did he rejoice, “That’s it! Now your teiglach taste exactly like my mother’s!”