Homemade Halva

published Oct 25, 2022
Halva Recipe

How to make the classic Middle Eastern sesame-based confection.

Makes25 squares

Prep5 minutes

Cook12 minutes to 16 minutes

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Overhead photo of squares of homemade halva on white parchment, one broken to show texture
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Rebecca Jurkevich; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

Thick and fudgy tahini halva is a simple recipe with two main ingredients: tahini and sugar. It has a particularly luscious way of melting in your mouth and is the perfect midday pick-me-up with a cup of coffee or hot tea. Plus, a batch stays fresh at room temperature for weeks.

Because there are so few ingredients, it’s important to pick the best-quality tahini you can find. (I like using Soom or Seed & Mill tahini.) But this subtly flavored dessert can be as versatile as it is easy to prepare, acting as a blank canvas for other flavors and textures.

One of my favorite combinations is bittersweet chocolate and pistachios. After the tahini is poured into the pan, I top it with chocolate chips and pistachios and swirl them lightly on top. Craving spice? Use Mighty Sesame Co’s Harissa Tahini to make a version that packs a punch.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Rebecca Jurkevich; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

What Is Halva?

Halva, which goes by at least a half-dozen names — including halvah, halava, and halwa — is a dense, fudge-like confection of Persian origin combining nut butter and some kind of sweetener (usually honey or sugar). It’s popular in the Middle East, India, North Africa, and the Balkans. 

But the word halva can also refer to a broad category of sweets that also includes a grain-based variety made from flours like semolina and cornstarch. And the term “halwa” can refer to an entirely different dessert, like this creamy, pudding-esque mixture of raw sugar, ghee, and flour, popular in South Asian cuisine. Bottom line: There are many, many wonderful and delicious variations.

How to Enjoy Halva

To serve tahini halva, cut it in slices or bite-sized pieces and serve with coffee or tea. Halva makes a great midday snack or dessert. The supple, velvety texture of halva also works well in recipes like brownies, smoothies and cookies.

Halva Recipe

How to make the classic Middle Eastern sesame-based confection.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 12 minutes to 16 minutes

Makes 25 squares

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups

    room temperature tahini

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 1 teaspoon

    black sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line an 8x8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that it hangs at least 1 inch over two opposite sides.

  2. Place 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil without stirring until 250°F, 6 to 10 minutes more. If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, brush them down with a damp pastry brush.

  3. Meanwhile, place 1 1/2 cups room temperature tahini, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth and combined, about 1 minute. Turn off the mixer until the sugar syrup is ready.

  4. With the mixer on the lowest speed, carefully pour the syrup into the tahini mixture and beat just until it comes together into a smooth and shiny paste, 30 seconds to 1 minute from when the syrup first goes in. Err on the side of under mixing rather than over mixing, which will result in an overly dry, crumbly texture. Take the bowl off the mixer and give the mixture one or two quick folds with a flexible spatula to make sure everything is well combined if needed.

  5. Working quickly, transfer the halva mixture to the baking pan, push it to the edges of the pan, and smooth the top with the spatula. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds if using. Let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

  6. When ready to serve, grasp the excess parchment and lift the halva slab onto a cutting board. Cut into 25 squares or desired shapes. Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 months. Do not freeze.

Recipe Notes

Making halva by hand: To make halva without a mixer, mix the tahini, salt, and vanilla together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add the hot syrup and continue mixing with a wooden spoon until the mixture just begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.