Halvah is really the epitome of Jewish cuisine. Since about two mellenia ago, the Jews have been in exile, moving from one place to another, finding a new home whenever they were kicked out. While all this was happening, they incorporated the local food from the region into their diets. So, for example, traditional Ashkenazi food is very similar to Polish, Germany, Hungary, etc food (eg, kosher dill pickles). Halvah is no exception – the Jews borrowed it from their neighbors and changed it a bit.
Halvah probably originated in India. Traders from there brought this treat over the the middle east, and hence the name Havlah is derived from the Arabic word meaning sweet. In each country, this sweet dessert has a different base: semolina, beans, and pumpkin, for example. Though I am not sure, I would imagine that Jews in middle eastern countries (Mizrachim) have been munching on this sweet for centuries. But since the early 1900s, it has been a mainstream all-around Jewish treat. As a matter of fact, the first US halvah factory was established in… you guessed it… Brooklyn in 1907. Today, Jewish halvah, as opposed to others, is made from sugar/honey and tahini (sesame paste). Jewish/Israeli Halvah is fairly distinct in that it is dairy-free (pareve), as the Jews took a great treat and adapted it to fit their dietary needs.
When it comes to desserts, I am a schlemiel - I always seem to screw it up. I figured that this though, couldn’t be too hard. But…. well… Anyway, be sure to heat the sugar syrup to the corect temperature (click on the link to read more), and be sure to have ample time to allow for refrigeration.
Recipe after break…
Cook time: 45 mins
- 1 ¾ c sugar
- ½ c honey
- ½ c water
- 16 oz of tahini (usually one jar)
- Seasonings: ½ tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1 ½ tsp vanilla, or anything else (all optional)
- 1/2 c sesame seed (optional)
- 3 oz chocolate (optional)
- Prepare container for halvah (tuperware, cake pan, etc), and line with oil or parchment paper
- In small sauce pan, heat sugar, honey, water to “softball stage” (246-248 F).
- (Optional) Stir in chocolate or nuts here (pistachios are good; use about 1/2 c)
- Whisk in 16 oz of tahini (mixer recommend; hand whisk ok)
- (Optional) Add remaining seasonings and sesame seeds, as desired
- Place havlah in prepared container
- With no lid, cool in refrigerator for 36 hours