|Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 56g||72%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||39%|
|Total Carbohydrate 118g||43%|
|Dietary Fiber 11g||39%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|
Although halvah is a general term used around the world for a dessert with a sesame flour or nut butter base, most of us know it as a sesame confection found throughout the Middle East, particularly Israel. It is perhaps one of the most nutritious sweets we can make—it is rich in protein, polyunsaturated fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, and plant sterols. But just as importantly, it is delicious and will satisfy any sweet tooth.
Halvah (also known as halva, halwa, halavah, and helva) can be flavored with chocolate, coffee, vanilla, rose water, or orange oil, just to name a few of the possibilities. You can add pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, or black sesame seeds to add crunch and flavor. In other words, it is a sweet that is flexible and open to interpretation. If you travel to Israel and visit the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, you will see tables piled high with several different varieties of halvah, some studded with nuts, some flavored with extracts, and some even tinged with color. But no matter what it looks like, it will always be a sweet treat.
And, lucky for us, this sweet treat is easy to make at home—no need to travel across the globe. This version is quite simple but does require some candy-making skills and a day or so to crystallize. Also, make sure to toast the nuts beforehand as this contributes to the rich taste of this treat, and use good-quality honey and tahini (sesame seed paste) as these ingredients really make the recipe.
Gather the ingredients.
Heat the honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it reaches 240 F or the soft-ball stage. (When the syrup is dropped into cold water it should form a soft, flexible ball.)
Allow the honey to cool slightly and add the vanilla and nuts.
Gently fold in the tahini and stir until the mixture is well blended.
Lightly oil a 6-cup mold, loaf, or cake pan.
Pour the mixture into the pan and cool completely.
Wrap the halvah well and refrigerate it for 24 to 36 hours so the halvah’s characteristic crystallized texture can fully develop.
Cut the halvah into slices while it’s cold but serve at room temperature. The halvah will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
- To toast the pistachios, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and put in a 350 F oven until golden brown, about 7 minutes or so. Check often to make sure the nuts don't burn.
- If you don't have any experience in candy making, then it is crucial that you use a candy thermometer to make sure you have reached (and not surpassed) the soft-ball stage.
- It can be a challenge to achieve the flaky texture found in Israeli halvah, so if your version ends up having more of a fudge- or caramel-like consistency, don't fret—it will still have that delicious, signature taste. Some cooks claim that allowing the honey to reach 270 F will achieve the signature texture.
- Once you make the halvah, you can do more than eat it simply on its own. Consider crumbling it and sprinkling it over ice cream or using it as a topping for freshly baked brownies.
Because this recipe is somewhat of a blank slate, the possibilities are nearly endless.
- Add other ingredients such as coconut or coffee for flavor.
- Include dried fruits, seeds, or a different type of nut like hazelnuts.
- You can also coat the halvah with melted dark chocolate; add colored sprinkles for a festive touch.
Halvah Around the World
The word "halvah" is derived from the Arabic word for "sweet," and although the versions differ greatly depending on which part of the world it comes from, the one constant is that it is sweet. Indian halvah, for example, is creamy and more like a pudding and often used as a topping for ice cream. The Greek rendition of halvah is made with semolina wheat, and the mixture is poured into a mold. In America, you can find a halvah like this recipe sold commercially—in 1907 the brand Joyva brought this ancient confection to the U.S. and has been producing it here ever since.