Ashkenazi Jewish pastries called teiglach, which are only eaten over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, are so treasured by the Moskow family that their recipe has travelled with them from Europe to Africa to Australia.
Karyn Moskow's maternal grandparents left Lithuania for South Africa with their two children in 1930, out of concern about what might eventuate. The remaining family found refuge in Eastern Europe.
The next year, they had another child, Karyn's mum Ray. Then, Ray's younger sister was born.
Even though South Africa had become home, relatives who'd stayed behind in Europe connected Ray and her siblings to their parents' Lithuanian heritage by sending them teiglach for Rosh Hashanah.
Karyn says, "Included [in packages], were tins containing hard sweet biscuits called teiglach, which [my mum] would stand on a stool to reach and get her hand into the tin, licking the ginger flavoured syrup and enjoying their exquisite sweet crunchy taste."
When Karyn's mum Ray was only five, Ray's mother – Karyn's grandmother – passed away. So, Ray's aunt Dora brought her and her siblings up. Aunt Dora was an excellent cook and involved Ray in making traditional Jewish food for Rosh Hashanah, including teiglach, which means "little dough" in Yiddish.
Ray, now 90 years old, has since passed on the tradition of making teiglach to Karyn and her sisters. Making them is always a highly anticipated event.
"Every time the smell of ginger syrup wafted through the home, I knew it was that time of year again where me and my two sisters would help mum form the sticky dough for teiglach into small ring-shaped biscuits. And at the end, I would lick the spoon once the ginger syrup cooled down, which was absolutely delicious."
"Every time the smell of ginger syrup wafted through the home, I knew it was that time of year again where me and my two sisters would help mum form the sticky dough for teiglach."
Since the Jewish New Year falls in spring, which symbolises new beginnings, everything that's made for it takes on a round shape to indicate a fresh start. This includes the challah, which is normally plaited bread, but is baked in a circular shape with honey for Rosh Hashanah.
To make teiglach, begin by shaping the dough. Then, place each teigel (the singular of teiglach) outside to dry for about one hour or until the exterior layer cracks. This makes them hard on the outside but soft on the inside. Cook them in boiling ginger syrup for about 45 minutes. They should keep cracking so that the syrup can ooze into the dough. Once they sound hollow and the syrup shines through, they're ready to eat.
"Every year when it's time to make them, and I look up at the sky and there's no moisture, just a beautiful sun, I remember how my mum would say, 'This is perfect teigel weather'," says Karyn.
During the two-day Rosh Hashanah festival, which begins at sunset in September, teiglach are customarily put on the table after dinner on both nights. It's served among a plethora of other traditional sweets for everyone to enjoy.
"There's never a Rosh Hashanah that we haven't had teigel front and centre of our table."
Given the political unrest in South Africa, Moskow migrated to North Sydney in 1987 with her husband Mark and two daughters Robyn and Dionne, who at the time were eight and five years old, respectively.
"Before I left South Africa, 34 years ago, I had an invaluable lesson on all the intricacies of making these delicious sweets from my mum, who remained in South Africa, and I made it my mission to uphold all the childhood memories and the dishes she taught me for all the Jewish festivals, including passing them on to my two daughters," says Karyn. "Mum hand wrote the teiglach recipe with all the bits and pieces for me which is very special, and I will never part with."
The first time Karyn attempted to make them on her own in Australia, the pastries fell in on themselves. However, she phoned her mum Ray in South Africa, who suggested she throw them back into the pot and cook them for a bit longer. It worked. The pastries tasted as good as the ones she enjoyed as a child. "If you take them out of the syrup too soon, they may flop, and if you take them out too late, the syrup burns them, so there's a fine line in making them," she says.
Ray has also had the chance to visit Australia over the years, where she has made teiglach with both Karyn and her granddaughters, Robyn and Dionne. Karyn explains she likes to make a few batches of teiglach a week before Rosh Hashanah because they freeze well. "Any leftovers are a great addition to afternoon tea and even for breakfast with coffee which my husband, Mark, loves to do."
Sharing teiglach with the community
Moskow says that when she first arrived in Australia, store-bought teiglach didn't taste great, so the only option was to make them herself, which she liked to share with friends and the wider community.
"People began commenting on how delicious they were, nostalgically remembering how it took them back to their grandmothers' [kitchens] and how they hadn't had one in years," she says.
"I've had the pleasure of my daughter Dionne and my granddaughters Camilla age seven and Nina 11, move in with me, which has meant they've assisted me in making teiglach."
"One year I did make about 100 kilograms of them and sold them, but my back ended up hurting so much because of the lengthy process and the heavy pot, that I used all the profit I made to pay a physiotherapist. So, I said, 'I'm not doing this anymore' and I only gift platters of teiglach biscuits to my friends for Rosh Hashanah and any other 'simchas'."
Simcha is Hebrew for a celebration like a bar mitzvah, wedding or birthday party. "They're our happy go-to food and I can't put a price on them, they're too precious."
Over the past several years, she's made several batches for her Sydney-based friends and family. However, this year, she'll only offer them to family and friends who live close by because of NSW's COVID-19 lockdown.
"The bright side of the pandemic has been that I've had the pleasure of my daughter Dionne and my granddaughters Camilla age seven and Nina eleven, move in with me, which has meant they've assisted me in making teiglach by rolling the dough exactly as I did with their mother, approximately 30 years ago," she says.
Being an Eastern European delicacy, not all Jewish people know how to make teiglach. Even those who do are less willing to make them because they're time-consuming.
Determined to get this forgotten dessert back into Jewish homes, Karyn jumped at the chance to feature her recipe in the Jewish food blog Monday Morning Cooking Club.
"I was at the launch of their book and when they mentioned they were looking for recipes for their third cookbook, I offered my family's teiglach recipe, which was published in 2017 in their cookbook called It's Always About the Food," says Karyn. "There was so much interest in making teiglach that last year I ran a few cooking classes in my home showing women how to make them."
She also made an instructional video. "It's often that I hear from people saying how they've made them at home with family members and it warms my heart," she says.
"I believe that if you love eating something so much, it's not a chore even if it takes the whole day to make it. It's worth it because homemade meals conjure up family memories and smells that are invaluable."
Use Lyle's golden syrup and always reuse the teigel syrup in other baking or desserts. If making another batch of teiglach, combine up to two tins of the used syrup with three tins of new syrup.
- 6 eggs, less 1 egg white
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp brandy
- 1 tsp caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp baking powder
- Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- 3 cups (450 g / 1 lb) plain all-purpose flour
- Line a large baking tray and sprinkle with flour.
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the eggs for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.
- Change to the beater attachment and with the motor running, add the oil, brandy, sugar, ginger, baking powder and zest.
- Add 2 cups of the flour and mix gently, slowly adding the remaining flour, a little at a time, until a sticky dough is formed that is easy to handle.
- Tip the dough onto a floured benchtop.
- Remove a walnut-sized piece of dough and with floured hands roll into a small sausage.
- Roll the sausage over so the ends are on top of each other, then roll out once again to form a sausage.
- Make one teigel by wrapping the sausage around two fingers to form a ring, then press lightly to join the ends.
- Place the teigel on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the dough has been used.
- Put the tray outside (covered with an insect net if needed) in the sun until they are hard, for at least one hour (and up to 2 hours), turning halfway through.
- 2 kg golden syrup (light treacle)
- 440 g sugar
- 500 ml water
- 2 tbsp ground ginger
- 500 ml boiling water
- To cook teiglach, place the golden syrup, sugar and water in an extra-large stockpot (preferably 20 L stainless steel) and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Tie a clean tea towel around the lid to prevent moisture from dripping into the pot while boiling.
- Once the syrup is boiling, slip in each teigel and cover with the lid.
- Give it a shake and wait to see the steam coming out of the top. Once this happens, reduce the heat to medium and boil gently for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and very gently stir to coat each teigel in syrup; do this quickly and replace the lid.
- Ensure that the syrup continues to boil steadily, not too fast.
- Lift the lid and stir every 10 minutes or so until the teigel sound hollow and hard when tapped with a wooden spoon. This will take 32-45 minutes. Watch carefully towards the end that the syrup doesn't burn; it needs to be dark, thick and frothy but not burnt.
- Add the ginger and stir again. Turn off the heat and very carefully add the boiling water.
- Stir gently and using a slotted spoon remove each teigel one by one and place on baking paper on the benchtop.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Freeze for up to 2 months.
Traditionally baked by Ashkenazi Jews for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), honey cake symbolises the hope of a ‘sweet’ and prosperous new year.