Halva (Middle Eastern Confection)
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If you’re looking for a unique dessert to whip up for home or a party, impress your guests with this halva recipe! Made with just 5 ingredients, it’s easy to make and boasts a rich nutty and floral flavor.
I know I share a lot of savory recipes, but don’t be fooled — I’ve got a huge sweet tooth! And while I enjoy classics like cakes and cookies, I love to switch things up and experiment with unique dishes. Middle Eastern desserts hold an especially dear place in my heart. I’m a huge fan of maamoul, a date-filled cookie as well as this Persian candy made of pistachios. And I can’t forget about these sweet stuffed pancakes called qatayef!
Today I wanted to teach you how to make halva. It’s also sometimes called helva, halwa, or halvah, but no matter how you spell it, I can’t get enough of it. It’s quite an easy process to make (although you’ll have to let it set for at least 24 hours), but the wait is totally worth it — trust me on this!
The best part? You only need 5 ingredients! If you often cook Middle Eastern cuisine, you likely already have them in your pantry. If not, you can easily find them in a specialty supermarket or even online. This confection is rich and bursting with nutty aromas which I just adore!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Sugar – Sugar is the base of this dessert. It’s the key to the melt-in-your-mouth texture that I know you’ll love.
- Cardamom – This flavorful spice adds a warm and herbal taste to the final results.
- Tahini – You’ve probably noticed that I can’t stop describing helva as nutty. Well, in addition to the added pistachios, tahini goes a long way towards giving this dessert its signature flavor. Tahini is made from sesame seeds, so it makes sense!
- Vanilla – I like using vanilla in this recipe, but you can also use orange water instead if you’d like. Feel free to use a bit of rose water too, if you have it on hand.
- Pistachios – You’ll need to shell your pistachios before adding them to the rest of the ingredients. And, don’t forget to chop them up!
- Water – This is the final ingredient to this Middle Eastern treat. You’ll use it to dissolve the sugar and cardamom in order to create a homemade syrup.
HOW TO MAKE HALVA
- Prepare Your Pan. I suggest that you make your helva in a loaf-sized pan. You can also use a 10-inch round dish, mini muffin pan, or a tub if you want a different shape. Coat it with nonstick cooking spray, then place a piece of parchment paper inside. This will make removing it from the pan super easy.
- Make Your Simple Syrup. Place a small saucepan over low heat, then add the sugar, cardamom, and water. Allow the mixture to simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved, which will take about 5 minutes. You should stir with a wooden spoon. Increase the heat until it comes to a boil. Cook until the sugar mixture reaches 250°F. You can test the temperature with a candy thermometer.
- Mix The Other Ingredients. Remove the saucepan from heat and pour the syrup into a bowl with the tahini. Stir vigorously with your wooden spoon (or a spatula) until it is thoroughly combined. Then, add the pistachios and continue to stir. The mixture should be glossy and thick at this point.
- Pour Into The Pan. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let it set in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Slice your helva while it’s cold, but leave it out a bit before serving. It’s best enjoyed at room temperature!
Is Halva Greek Or Indian?
Contrary to popular belief, this confection is neither Greek nor Indian. It’s a Middle Eastern dessert that originated in Iran. There are 8 different variations of this dish and, as mentioned, it’s sometimes referred to as halwa or halvah.
Is It Halva Or Halwa Or Halvah?
It depends on where you live! Halva is the most common spelling. Halwa means “sweet dish” in Arabic, which is why you’ll sometimes see it spelled that way in the Middle East. Halvah is the Hebrew spelling of the dessert, so you’ll often find it written that way in Israel.
How Long Does Homemade Halva Last?
You should store your dessert in an airtight container in a cool and dark place, like your pantry or in a cupboard. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It will last for 4-6 months, but is best enjoyed when it’s fresh!
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Halva Middle Eastern Confection
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- ½ cup water
- 1 ½ cups tahini
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (See Note 1)
- ½ cup shelled raw pistachios chopped
- Coat a loaf pan with a nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper with a little overhang for easier lifting. Set aside.
- In a heat-proof bowl, combine the tahini and vanilla. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the sugar, cardamom and water to a simmer. Cook until sugar is completely dissolved, stir using wooden spoon, about 5 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 250°F on a candy thermometer.
- Remove from heat, and slowly pour syrup into the bowl of tahini, stirring vigorously with spatula or a wooden spoon to thoroughly incorporate. Add pistachios, and stir to combine. Halva will turn glossy and thick.
- Pour into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top (See Note 2). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (24 hours). Slice halva while cold, but serve at room temperature.
- I often times use orange or rose water as a substitute for the vanilla extract.
- You can use a 10-inch round dish, mini muffin pans or pour into a tub to mold the halva into desired shapes.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
I made this per the instructions but it’s a bit soft. If I keep it chilled in the refrigerator it’s fine though. Any suggestions to keep it more firm?
All I have to say yum
This halva looks amazing! I’ve never tried to make it at home and I wonder if this version will develop the flaky “threads” that make halva that comes in those big wheels in the Middle East so distinctly tasty… have you been able to see what happens to it over time? Or is it more nut-buttery in texture? Anyway, thank you for the recipe… gorgeous photos, too! 🙂
Nut buttery in texture Maysie. As for the flaky threads, I have not seen or experienced that version.