When I was a child, in my Ashkenazi-American corner of the world, there were plenty of honey treats that graced every New Year’s tables at homes, at school and at synagogues, and they always came from the local bakeries. As a yeshiva girl, I knew that foods made with honey were the traditional expression of the hope for a sweet year. I always prefered crunching on tart apples or squishing fresh challah insides and dousing them in honey. There was one honey bakery treat I cared about, though. When my mother brought home those tall, magical cardboard boxes tied together in thin red and white twine, I knew what was inside: taiglach, miniature bits of cooked, crisp dough piled high in a tower studded with candied fruits and nuts, redolent of the mildest of cinnamons, saturated in a dense honey syrup that pooled at the bottom of the small silver tray that it stood on. It was my favorite and my mom’s too, and she always bought an extra for the two of us to take apart, piece by piece, before the holiday.
Times have changed, and those small, homespun, family-owned Yiddish bakeries are long gone. Some have disappeared altogether, and some have become large commercial ventures. Nothing tastes like that taiglach of my childhood.
Now I know that I am remembering a taste that might not even be real. My memory is saturated in everything about that place and time, after all—the joy of days off from school, new clothes for the holidays, and relatives aplenty whom I loved and who loved me. I know that I can’t separate that from the food.
Over the years, I have made taiglach from many, many recipes. I have never been able to even come close to reproducing the texture or taste of that treat of my memory. Maybe it’s the ingredients that have changed, maybe the recipes aren’t exactly what those bakeries made, or maybe it’s just that my heart’s not in it, but I stopped trying two decades ago. I’ve tasted taighlach from many bakeries since then, as well. Nope, none are as good as the ones I remember—I know time passes, and I can’t replicate the food of the past. That is the way it is, and I am content to leave those taiglach in my memory bank, especially this year, after losing my beloved and remarkable father. The foods as they were are tucked away into happier times.
When my youngest daughter was about 5, I decided to make my own honey treats. I hunted through the Sephardic and Mizrachi traditions, making honey treats mixed with quince and pomegranate and soaking tishpishti cakes. I liked them just fine, and I still make them. But they weren’t really mine.
I wanted to make honey treats that would have the sweet innocence of taiglach, and yet reflect my fascination with and study of global foods. Every year I add a few to my repertoire. It’s a long-term quest for me, and as a result, my kids have not formed a connection to any particular dish. That double-edged sword gives me the freedom to make anything—and I will and I do. I know that they don’t have the memories of the sweet foods of Rosh Hashanah like I do, and although I suppose that realization should make the whole experience a forlorn one for me, it doesn’t really. It makes it so very complex. It’s fraught with emotions, and operates as an exercise for my intellect as much as my heart; it makes holiday baking bittersweet, and ironically, to me, altogether Jewish.
Honeyed Persian Pistachio Baklava Turnovers (I omit the lime juice for Rosh Hashanah to keep it sweet for the New Year, and use water instead.)