One of my favorite things to do when I am in Jerusalem is to go to the shuk and check out the halvah. I love the bustle and energy of shopping there. The fresh produce, the spice shops, the fresh baked pita, all the stalls draw me in inviting me to purchase just a bit of this and a bit of that. But no display grabs me quite like the halvah stand. Huge slabs of halvah in every imaginable flavor, with the shopkeeper handing out samples so good you just can’t help but buy some. I always end up buying way too much, but no one seems to complain when I bring it home.
Since I don’t live in Jerusalem and don’t have the good fortune of regularly shopping at the shuk I wanted to try to recreate some of that amazing halvah in my own kitchen. It turns out that the flaky yet creamy texture that makes halvah so alluring it somewhat dependent on making industrial sized batches, which makes it a bit tricky to translate to the home kitchen. That being said, I have come up with a method that yields delicious halvah that is so much fresher and more delicious than any packaged halvah available for purchase. It is slightly less flaky than the halvah I remember from the shuk but it comes very close in texture and matches it in flavor.
The key to this halvah is cooking the sugar to the right temperature and not overbeating it. It sounds difficult but really it isn’t hard. Half an hour and some cooling time are all that stands between you and delicious homemade halvah. The beauty of making homemade halvah is that you can adapt the flavor in all kinds of creative ways. The standard vanilla and marble are always popular, but I have to say one of my surprise favorites is coffee halvah. It sounds like a strange combination, I know, but the subtle coffee undertones and the crunch of the coffee beans are perfect with the sweet sesame flavor. These recipes are just jumping off points. Take the marble halvah recipe and swap out the chocolate for a couple of handfuls of pistachios, some chopped dried fruit, or some minced crystallized ginger. The sky is the limit when it comes to flavors, which really is the most fun part of making something at home.
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