15 July 2009
I tried to make halva once, the sesame-paste sweet that is ubiquitous across the Middle East. It was a disaster, a sticky gooey, too soft mess that stuck all over every pan and surface it touched. Sometimes it's better to leave the candy making to the professionals. I often describe halva (halvah/helwa/halaweh) as the Middle Eastern equivalent of peanut butter fudge, only made with sesame seeds and slightly more crumbly. Halvah is made by mixing sesame seed butter (tahini) with a sugar syrup and cooking it to the hard crack stage, but it is a delate operation that involves just-right temperatures and constant even mixing.
Though popular all over the Middle East, halva is often associated with Israel where it has an entire section in every grocery (and where I'm sure Israelis an Arabs argue over the origins of the food, much like the do felafel and hummus). Likewise, halva mousse is found on nearly every menu in Israel, as common as chocolate cake, they range from dense and thick to light and fluffy.
This recipe is my own spin on halvah mousse, concocted out of my kitchen and imagination. While I normally dislike gelatin in mousses, it seems fussy and funnily textured, it is necessary in this recipe. As I found out in my first attempt, simply combining halva and whipped cream does not a dessert make. The gelatin works to make it smooth, an the texture is light and fluffy with a nutty flavor. The recipe here s a basic one, and you could experiment with adding a touch of honey or cinnamon, or folding in things like chopped apricots or toasted walnuts. Just make sure to visit a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocery and leave the halva-making itself to the professionals.
8 oz halva (preferably pistachio variety, or add a 1/4 cup of pistachios)
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp plain powder gelatin
1 pint heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons powdered sugar, to taste
1. Beat the cream to stiff peaks. Add the powdered sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Place the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top and let sit 10 minutes. Heat the milk in the microwave and stir to dissolve gelatin. Combine milk with the halva in a food processor and pulse until fairly smooth.
3. Fold halva mixture into whipped cream. Divide among serving glasses, refrigerate at least an hour before serving.