I've always considered myself a brownie purist. A good brownie is rich and chocolatey, gooey and cakey at the same time — like some sort of magic. Why ruin that beautiful balance by tossing in a handful of random mix-ins? But famed London chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi convinced me to add halva chips and tahini to brownies, and the result is divine.
As much as I've defended the plain, unadorned chocolate brownie for years, logically brownies really should be a ripe playground for culinary experimentation. Because, as Ottolenghi points out, chocolate pairs well with almost anything.
"You could go through the entire alphabet and back again without running out of complementary ingredients," Ottolenghi wrote of chocolate's infinite ability to pair well with different foods. And Ottolenghi is a genius at creating complementary flavor combinations. If he told me to dip a sardine in Marshmallow Fluff, I would do it because he's never led me astray when it comes to combining flavors to create something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Ottolenghi even managed to add to the one food I would have said was already perfect the way it is: brownies.
I still love a plain, fudgy, classic brownie, but Sweet, Ottolenghi's dessert cookbook, includes a recipe for tahini and halva brownies that should be framed and hung on the wall of the Smithsonian. They're rich and gooey, but still cakey. The tahini gives them a savory depth. And adding small chips of halva to the batter is an act of brilliance.
The sweet, set sesame paste of the halva melts slightly into the brownie batter and gives it a nutty, super-sweet flavor, with sugary shards that are crispy between your teeth but melt on the tongue. Halva is a bit like the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar, but it might be more poetic to describe it as little threads of vanilla and sesame-flavored sugar throughout the brownie tray.
This makes me want to add halva to everything from ice cream to muffins. I bet it would be good in pancakes, too.
How do you like to eat halva?