Sometimes memories stick in your mind &mdash and on your fingers

Childhood holiday foods often hold the keys to our hearts. So it was for my elderly father. With a gleam in his eye, he recalled the candylike Rosh Hashanah treat of his Lower East Side youth, teiglach.

Back then, he said, 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-size 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 fresser. 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 Adler, the teiglach maven at Manhattan’s William Greenberg Jr. Dessert Company, agrees.

“[They] 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,” Adler said. “Making teiglach in early September, when the weather may still be hot, is a recipe for culinary disaster.”

The company, which maintains an Internet site, ships hundreds of festively wrapped teiglach across the country just before Rosh Hashanah.

Author Sara Weiss-Slep recalls that, before the Holocaust, this gooey goody was a favorite treat in Dusetos, Lithuania. Her family recipe, featured in “There Was a Shtetl in Lithuania,” follows.

Melody Amsel-Arieli is a freelance writer who lives in Ma’aleh Adumim, Israel.

Dusetos Teiglach

Serves about 30

Syrup:

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

1⁄2 cup honey

Dough:

1 whole egg, beaten

3 egg yolks, beaten

2 Tbs. oil

A bit of fresh grated ginger

2 Tbs. cognac

1⁄2 tsp. baking powder

enough sifted flour so the dough is malleable but soft

1⁄4 cup sugar

A bit of powdered ginger

Raisins dipped in rum (optional)

Optinal garnish:

Toasted nuts

Maraschino cherries

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 in 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: garnish 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 a Dusetos teiglach maven whom she knows pronounced them failures. Only when she accidentally burned a batch did he rejoice, “That’s it! Now your teiglach taste exactly like my mother’s!”