Eating Jewish: Teiglach (Ashkenazic Honey Dough Balls)
Honey is an integral element on the Rosh Hashanah table and in thinking about what to write about for my posts about foods to serve during the upcoming New Year celebrations, I knew I had to include a dish in which the main ingredient consisted of this golden sweetener.
Although honey cake is a classic Ashkenazic dessert that has become synonymous with this holiday for Jews who are part of this community, I wanted to try my hand at something I hadn’t made before. So I turned to the numerous cookbooks that line my bookshelves and found this recipe for teiglach. The recipe jumped off the page at me as soon as I saw it, because in my books anything that is fried or baked and subsequently covered in honey sounds delicious.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t made these before, they are traditional Rosh Hashanah fare in the Ashkenazi community with origins that date back to the times of the Romans who, according to Gil Marks, made strips of fried dough in honey called vermiculos. Italian Jews adopted the custom of making vermiculos but this dish disappeared from their repertoire in the middle ages. It was in the twelfth century that Franco-German Rabbis mentioned eating a dish of fried or baked strips of dough covered in honey called vermesel or verimlish, at the beginning of the Sabbath meal. Despite the fact that its name went through changes, being called gremsel and then chremsel in Eastern Europe, it is to this dish of vermesel that teiglach owes its beginnings. Although most popular on Rosh Hashanah when it is served in order to help usher in a sweet new year, teiglach is also eaten on joyous occasions such as weddings and Brit Milahs.
This is a dish that does require some time to make but don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe because the steps are easy enough. It simply requires making the dough, which simply consists of a few ingredients, shaping it into balls and baking them until they are lightly browned. While they are cooling, the mixture of honey, sugar and ginger is cooked on the stovetop. Once this is done, the balls of dough are dropped into the honey mixture and cooked until they have absorbed and been coated in the mixture. The resulting dessert is one of small honey soaked balls that are just the right amount of sweet with a hint of spicy ginger that look irresistible when piled high on a plate.
This traditional dessert, whose beautiful appearance is matched by its equally mouthwatering taste, will look elegant and modern at the center of any Rosh Hashanah table.
Teiglach (Ashkenazic Honey Dough Balls)
From Gil Marks’ The World of Jewish Cooking
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
About 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup honey
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, blanched almonds, or hazelnuts (optional)
1/3 to ½ cup minced candied fruit (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet or two small ones. Oil a large plate or second baking sheet.
To make the dough: Combine the eggs, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a soft, workable dough. Place on a lightly floured surface and, using floured hands, knead until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.
Cut the dough into 1/3-inch thick strips and roll into ropes. Cut into 1/3-inch pieces and roll each piece into a ball. (The dough will still be a little sticky at this point but simply roll the dough in a little bit of flour. It is okay that the dough pieces are not smooth, as this will allow the honey to seep inside.)
Arrange the dough pieces in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet. Bake, until very lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
To make the syrup: Stir the honey, sugar, and ginger in a large saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the dough pieces and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes. Add the nuts and fruit if desired, and cook until the syrup is a deep brown and the dough pieces sound hollow when tapped, about 10 additional minutes.
Pour the teiglach along with the syrup onto the oiled plate or baking sheet and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Using wet hands, shape into 2 to 3 inch mounds or shape into 1 large mound. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.