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Halvah

I have been looking for a recipe for halvah, the Middle Eastern sesame confection, for many years, although it is easy enough to buy. The excellent Joyva brand is widely available in New York City metro stores, and Middle Eastern groceries, of which there are plenty in New York, sell it by the pound, cut from huge wheels. I have always been told that it something one needs certain commercial equipment to make and that homemade halvah is not possible. On the other hand, over the years, I have found recipes for halvah that are a different candy than the one with which I am most familiar. It ends up, the word means dessert or sweets in Arabic. Witness the chapter heading for "Desserts, Pastries, and Sweetmeats" in Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food: "Halaweyat."

I do not know exactly why or how sesame halvah came to be sold in Eastern European-style Jewish dairy stores when I was young -- the stores we called "appetizing stores" that sold lox, herring, smoked fish, cheeses, and dried fruits and nuts – but it was. I recently read, in Mimi Sheraton's new book The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World, that in Bialystok, in Poland, a popular combination was to eat the bread with a slice of halvah. Now I wonder how this very Arab/Sephardic Jewish candy became popular in Poland, and then, of course, in the stores in America that were owned by and catered to immigrant Jewish Poles. And isn't it interesting: There are no non-Jewish Polish stores that sell halvah.

Anyway ... Bruce Weinstein has a recipe for halvah in his new book, The Ultimate Candy Book. I haven't tried it yet. He said on my radio program that it is somewhat grainier than the commercial variety, but since so many of you have asked me for the recipe, here it is.

Halvah

Makes about 1 1/2 pounds

1/2 cup untoasted sesame oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup tahini
3/4 cup honey


1. Warm the oil in a large heavy skilled over low heat. Add the flour and stir until the oil and flour are thoroughly combined. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to turn pale brown. Add the tahini and stir until the mixture has a uniform color and consistency. Turn off the heat.

2. In a separate small saucepan, bring the honey to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute. Immediately add the hot honey to the flour mixture. Stir until the honey is completely incorporated.

3. Spread the mixture into a small ungreased 5- by 9-inch loaf pan and pack the mixture down with the back of a spatula. Let the halvah cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours or until the pan feels cool. The halvah will shrink back slightly from the edges of the pan as it cools, and should therefore unmold easily when the pan is inverted. Wrap the halvah in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

4. To serve, cut the halvah into thin slices.


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