Halva is probably the quintessential favorite candy dessert in the Middle East. But the actual recipe can vary greatly from region to region and country to country. It's a dense, sweet confection and the two most common variations are flour based halva and nut and seed based halva. Flour based halva is often more gelatinous while the nut and seed butter halva tends to be drier and more crumbly.
The most typical nut and seed base is sesame seed paste or tahini. I grew up eating this version which is basically the tahini combined with sugar or honey and heavy cream and either flavored with vanilla or bits of chocolate to create a marbled effect and often includes bits of pistachios. In the US it's often sold pre-packaged in specialty stores or fresh in gourmet and ethnic food stores. In the Middle East the candy is more likely to be homemade.
The flour based recipe, commonly found in Iran, Greece, Turkey, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, tends to use semolina, butter and sugar and can be flavored with spices like saffron and also aromatics like rosewater. Cornstarch is sometimes used in the Greek version.
Nut based halva is common in countries like Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria but they're almost always made with sesame seeds. Sunflower seed versions, however, are popular in eastern European countries.
I've used the sesame version of the candy as a base for brownies and the tahini as an ingredient in chocolate chip cookies and in ice cream. Both produced the flavor of halva as well as a lovely texture.
This recipe is for the flour based version. It's rich, sweet and aromatic from the rosewater and saffron. And it's best enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea after a meal.
- 1 Cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 Cup water
- 1/4 Cup rosewater
- 4-6 Saffron threads or 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron
- 2 Sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 Cup all purpose flour
In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the saffron and rosewater. You will have a syrup like texture. Remove from heat.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the flour slowly and mix with the butter to make a paste. Slowly add the sugar syrup and blend together. Remove from the heat.
Immediately pour the mixture into individual ramekins or onto a serving plate. Allow to cool and either remove the halva from the ramekins or cut into small serving pieces.
Serve with coffee or tea.