Israeli Halva (Halwa)

Ssh don’t tell anyone but Halva is my guilty treat. It’s sickly sweet and can only be consumed in small amounts, but it is seriously delicious. My father lived for most of his teenage years in Israel and discovered halva or halwa. It’s a simple recipe of tahini sesame paste and honey (though most manufacturers today use refined sugar). It has the consistency of flaky crystallised sugar. Nuts including pistachios and peanuts can also be added, as well as cocoa and vanilla. If you’ve never tasted halva before, but love tahini or sesame seeds, you have to try it.

My father shared his love of this sweet with me and I have fond memories of Dad buying small square slabs vacuum packed in plastic from continental delicatessens. Unfortunately I can’t always find halva to feed my addiction, but considering how sweet it is, that’s probably a good thing!

I’ve never contemplated trying to make it myself until I stumbled upon a recipe by accident. I’ve never made candy before. The idea of boiling sugar or honey gives me chills thinking of all the terrible burns I could inflict upon myself – I’m a bit clumsy. But the lure of halva is too great to resist.

In the last couple of weeks I have tried with little success to make halva. Instead of wonderfully flaky halva, I seemed to make squiggy fudge caramels instead. It tasted nice but the texture was all wrong. After further internet searching, I found an amazing YouTube clip how to guide which told me that most of the recipes online are incorrect.

Success!!! And as the amazing people from the Kitchen Store New York want me to share this far and wide; here is the successful recipe and how to guide…you should also check out their YouTube clip.

Ingredients for halva
Ingredients for halva

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups tahini paste
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 80g pistachios or peanuts (optional)

Method

In a saucepan add the sugar and water and gradually heat up the sugar until hard ball stage is reached (260F or 128C). You’ll need a cooking thermometer to measure how hot the sugar gets.  Most online sources say soft ball instead…how wrong they are. Bubble bubble, toil and trouble!

Bubbling sugar
Bubbling sugar

In another saucepan add the tahini paste and vanilla extract. Once the sugar is bubbling, gently heat through the tahini. You definitely need to keep this on a very low heat. You could also stir through your nuts at this stage too. I was going to add pistachios, but decided to hold back, as I didn’t want to waste my precious pistachios on another failed halva experiment.

Once the sugar has reached hard ball stage, remove from the heat and slowly pour in the warmed tahini. Gently stir through until combined but do not over stir, beat or whisk the mixture. Pour in to a parchment lined loaf tin.

Gently stir tahini and sugar
Gently stir tahini and sugar

The mixture should start to crystallise straight away. Pop it in the fridge for 24 hours.

Pour in to a lined loaf tin and refrigerate
Pour in to a lined loaf tin and refrigerate

This halva does taste very similar to the manufactured variety and is flaky and crumbles well. The recipe makes a lot of halva, but it does store well in the pantry and can be used crushed and sprinkled on top of your favourite desserts (ice cream would be lovely, fresh fruit or a rich chocolate mousse also). Next time I’ll experiment with honey and I’ll definitely add my pistachios. Enjoy!

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