The symbolism of honey is so simple that children ingest it as swiftly as they do its ambrosial sweetness. This, perhaps, explains why it’s so central to Rosh Hashana celebrations.
My mother and I dished — about honey — over brunch this Sunday at Whim. (The popular fish restaurant on a tree-lined side street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, offers a decidedly nonkosher menu known to include matzo brei — with Vermont maple syrup, of course).
I now know the advantages of bees’ “hexagonal wax honeycomb cells” and why babies should never, ever be fed their sweet syrup. (Although retired, my mother will always be a microbiologist.) But what touched me was the story she told me about Israel Drucker, my late grandfather, a man remembered for his kindliness and devoutness.
My grandfather grew up in a small Ukrainian shtetl not far from Kiev. As a very young boy just beginning his Jewish studies at cheder, the rabbi taught him a lesson that lasted a lifetime. He was just 3 years old then, the school’s youngest-ever attendee.
The rabbi presented my grandfather with a Torah scroll. Upon its cover he had dribbled some honey. What he said next was even stranger. “Lick it off,” he instructed. My grandfather acquiesced. “Learning” the Torah, the rabbi then told the young child, “is sweet.”
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Honey is “certainly one of the oldest ingredients we know,” Mimi Sheraton, culinary expert and author of “The Bialy Eaters,” told the Forward. The following recipe for teiglach — those glorious dough balls stacked high in a pyramid, honey and nuts cascading down the sides — is hers. It appears in an impressive new cookbook for which she has written the introduction: “The New York Times Jewish Cookbook: More than 825 Traditional and Contemporary Recipes from Around the World” (St. Martin’s), compiled and edited by Linda Amster.
(For a flavorsome variation, the Forward suggests using buckwheat honey.)
Honey Balls (Teiglach)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably peanut
2-2 1/2 cups flour, as needed
1/4 tbsp. salt
1 scant tsp. baking powder
3 pounds dark honey
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. powdered ginger
2 tsp. lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 orange
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a shallow jelly-roll pan with vegetable oil.
Combine the eggs and oil. Sift together 2 cups flour with the salt and baking powder. Mix the eggs and oil and dry ingredients together, adding enough flour to give you a dough that is soft and workable but one that will not stick to your hands. Knead the dough several times on a lightly floured board until it is smooth and supple. Let rest, lightly covered, for 10 minutes.
Working with convenient amounts of dough, form long, thin rolls about 1/3 inch in diameter. Twist the rolls to form a rope effect. Cut into pieces 1/3- to 1/2-inch in length. Arrange pieces in a single layer on the oiled pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the teiglach turn a rich golden brown.
When the teiglach are brown, boil the honey with the sugar and ginger for 10 minutes, using a heavy saucepan so it does not burn. Add the baked teiglach and the lemon juice, orange rind and nuts; mix well.
Pour teiglach and honey onto a marble slab or a board that has been wet with cold water and shape into a single cake or into balls about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
Makes about 5 dozen teiglach.