Making Halvah

Recently I encountered a sesame seed paste “lotus cookie” at a Chinese restaurant in Doraville, Ga that made me yearn for halvah, which I discovered is hard to find in Asheville. Luckily, it seems to be pretty quick and easy to make! And the halvah I hanker after is that crunchy, crumbly “jewish” kind that you can sometimes find on the table at seders…the kind that I first tasted in grade school when Ela Tarjan gave a presentation on Jerusalem to our class after returning from a visit there. At the age of around 10, I was hooked!

What I really wanted was chocolate halvah, but I couldn’t find a good recipe for one, so I decided to adapt one I found for using sugar and water and added the cocoa to the tahini part.

Chocolate tahini halvah (vegan)
Preparation time: 1/2 hour
Yield: 17oz/500gr (approx)

Ingredients:
1 cup tahini
250gm coconut sugar (or one cup if you find it granulated)*
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup water

*You could also use regular cane sugar here, but I like coconut sugar because of its more interesting, rich flavor, and because it is a crystallizing sugar with a low glycemic index of 35. I can normally find it in round blocks at the local asian foods store, as the variety I particularly like is very dark and comes in cylinders from Indonesia.

You will need: candy thermometer, a baking pan lined with wax paper, and two saucepans

First, prepare a loaf pan lined with wax paper, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut sugar (grated [shown here], chopped, or granulated) with the water and turn the heat to medium. Tack on the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan so that it does not touch the bottom but is still immersed enough in the liquid to get a reading. Your ultimate goal is to dissolve the sugar and get the solution up to 238 – 248F/115 – 121C, which is just a little past the soft ball stage. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to help dissolve the sugar and keep it from burning. You will need to stir slightly more at the beginning and at the end of this process, as it will get thicker around soft ball stage, and more likely to burn.

Meanwhile, in the middle, when you don’t have to stir as much (OR you can do this before doing the syrup), measure out the tahini and the cocoa powder, and put in a small saucepan near where you’re working on the syrup.

As soon as the syrup reaches 238 – 248F/115 – 121C (take it off when it starts to feel like it’s just about to burn, after it’s thickened!), move it from the heat and put the tahini/cocoa mix on the hot eye instead, transferring the candy thermometer from the syrup pot to the tahini pot, and start stirring. The temperature will quickly drop down once in the new substance, but also quickly reach your desired temperature of 120F/50C. As soon as it does, turn off the eye, and add the tahini chocolate mixture to the syrup.

This is the part that is like making fudge–you have to work quickly, because the tahini mixture will start cooling the syrup down, and you have to beat them together pretty quick. As it incorporates, the mixture will start pulling away from the sides of the pan and start forming a mass/ball in the middle, but will be really sticky.

When it gets to this point, plop/scrape it into the prepared loaf pan and pat it down with the spoon. Cover and refrigerate. Most of the recipes I read online said that it took 2 days for it to properly crystalize, but mine had the right, crunchy texture the next day (guess who couldn’t wait!). It’s best to store in the fridge, though. I like to slice off what I want as I eat it. My husband said that the taste and texture reminded him of butterfingers.

The taste was also very strongly influenced by the coconut sugar, which, besides having a glycemic index of 35, has a lovely molasses-like flavor. Reading all the recipes that used honey, though, I got the idea to do a recipe using maple syrup as the sweetener, but without chocolate this time, and so, Voila! I lucked out some years ago and found maple syrup at a Go Grocery Outlet for $1 an 8oz bottle (that works out to $16 a gallon!) and searched my basement until I found this bottle to use in this experiment:

Maple halvah (vegan)
Preparation time: 1/2 hour
Yield: 17oz/500gr

Ingredients:
1 cup tahini
1 cup cup water

You will need: candy thermometer, a baking pan lined with wax paper, and two saucepans

First, prepare a loaf pan lined with wax paper, and set aside.

Pour the syrup into a medium saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Tack on the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan so that it does not touch the bottom but is still immersed enough in the liquid to get a reading. Heat to 248F/121C, which is just a little past the soft ball stage. You will need to stir slightly more at the end of this process, as it will get thicker around soft ball stage, and more likely to burn.

Meanwhile, in the middle, when you don’t have to stir as much (OR you can do this before doing the syrup), measure out the tahini into a small saucepan near where you’re working on the syrup.

As soon as the syrup reaches 248F/121C, move it from the heat and put the tahini on the hot eye instead, transferring the candy thermometer from the syrup pot to the tahini pot, and start stirring. The temperature will quickly drop down once in the new substance, but also quickly reach your desired temperature of 120F/50C. As soon as it does, turn off the eye, and add the warmed tahini to the syrup.

This is the part that is like making fudge–you have to work quickly, because the tahini will start cooling the syrup down, and you have to beat them together pretty quick. As it incorporates, the mixture will start pulling away from the sides of the pan and start forming a mass/ball in the middle, but is fairly easy to work with, and will easily drop right into your prepared loaf pan, where you can mash it down smooth with a spoon.

Cover and refrigerate. I just did this one tonight, so will know in the next day or two how it turns out!

Update next morning:

It tastes like peanut butter candy–argh! My husband says it reminds him of Mary Janes. I was hoping for more maple flavor… The texture is quite brittle and crumbly. I think I like the chocolate halvah better–it tastes more like halvah. Though maybe it was the brand of tahini I used. The first one was made with some leftover I had in the fridge, Cedar from Israel, whereas this second was a brand new container of Joyva,which DID smell remarkably like peanut butter when I opened it.

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