Sara Finkel, author of Classic Kosher Cooking: Simply Delicious, calls this recipe one of her personal favorites. (If you have a copy of the book, you'll find the recipe listed under Halvah Cake, though with its shortbread-like crust, smooth cocoa-halvah filling, and sticky sweet coconut-meringue topping, it's more reminiscent of a decadent dessert bar.)
Halvah, which lends flavor to the filling, is a sesame-based confection popular throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, and parts of the Mediterranean. Made from tahini (ground sesame seeds butter and sweeteners such as sugar, honey, or glucose, halvah has a distinctive crumbly texture. Cocoa, chocolate, vanilla, and various nuts, including pistachios and walnuts, are often used to enhance halvah. You can find it in kosher or Middle Eastern markets, and some specialty stores.
Miri's Recipe Testing Notes and Tips
Egg whites are easier to whip when they're at room temperature, so separate the eggs and set aside the whites before you begin preparing the bars. By the time you're ready to make the topping, the whites should be easy to whip.
Finkel doesn't specify which flavor of halvah to use in this recipe, but any smooth variety should work. Try vanilla or marble halvah (the latter contains cocoa-flavored swirls).
If your margarine contains salt, you may want to skip the pinch of salt in the pastry base.
I tested this recipe with Earth Balance Olive Oil Buttery Spread. A non-hydrogenated margarine alternative, the olive oil variety is a little lower in sodium and more neutrally flavored than some of the other Earth Balance spreads, so I found it better suited to baking sweets.
- For the Pastry Base:
- 1 cup margarine, scant, preferably non-hydrogenated
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- generous pinch of salt (optional)
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- For the Cocoa Halvah Filling:
- 7 ounces halvah, chopped
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup margarine
- 3 tablespoons cognac
- For the Coconut Meringue Topping:
- 4 egg whites
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 1/2 ounces shredded coconut
- Gather the ingredients.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Line a 9- x 13- x 2-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
- Make the Pastry Base: In a large bowl using electric beaters, cream together the margarine and sugar. Add the egg yolks and salt (if using) and beat until well-mixed and lemon colored. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. The mixture will be crumbly. Transfer to the prepared baking pan, and spread evenly to cover the bottom of the pan, pressing down gently with a spatula or your hands to create an even base. Set aside. Clean and dry the beaters and bowl well if you'll be using the same ones to whip the egg whites.
- Make the Cocoa-Halvah Filling: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the halvah, sugar, cocoa, and water. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and the halvah is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the margarine and cognac, until the margarine melts and is fully incorporated, and the mixture is a uniform glossy brown. Pour over the pastry base, spreading evenly to the edges with a spatula. Set aside.
- Make the Coconut Meringue Topping: In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with electric beaters or a whisk until frothy. Gradually add sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating after each addition until mixture holds stiff peaks. Gently fold in the coconut. Spoon the topping on top of the cocoa-halvah filling, and gently spread evenly to the edges of the pan, so the filling is completely covered.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. When cool, cut into squares with a sharp, warm knife.