By now, putting tahini in sweet desserts is no longer a novel idea. However, using halva, which is still not commonly eaten in the United States is. Halva is a Middle Eastern confection made of sesame flour and honey or sugar with nuts or other flavorings added at times. It is often referred to as Middle Eastern “fudge.” When I first tasted halva over 50 years ago (YIKES!) I thought that it tasted like sweetened sawdust. I have since come to love it – so much so that on my last visit to Israel a few years ago, I decided to bring back a large slice of halva from simply the best halva maker in the world – Halva King in Jerusalem. The slice was brick-shaped and fairly substantial and I had it in the bottom of my carry-on luggage. When I was going through customs, I was stopped and asked to empty out my bag after it had been through the X-ray machine. I was confused as to what could have raised concern since I knew that I didn’t have any banned materials. It turned out that the piece of halva looked just like a brick of C4 explosive! Thankfully the TSA person actually knew what halva was and we were both able to laugh about the incident.
So when I came across this Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh recipe I thought it would be fun to try. I tried it, carefully measuring and weighing everything, but the brownies just were sooooooooooooooooo gooey that you couldn’t cut a clean piece – and they never firmed up. And the walnuts were a complete waste of ingredients since the flavor couldn’t fight its way through. I then came across this version that is converted into ounces and measuring cups which came from the Ottolenghi and Goh cookbook Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi. There are some pretty significant differences between this version and the one that is on Ottolenghi’s UK website so go figure. This second version is what I have presented here and which corrected all of my problems with the first version that I tried. I finally made these brownies to my satisfaction. It won’t replace my favorite Java Brownies which are still the best brownies – ever – but my husband says that these are a pretty close contender.
Halva comes in many varieties and some are drier than others and the number of flavors is only limited by your imagination. Not being overwhelmed with options that were easily accessible, however, I went with a “plain” vanilla halva by Ziyad brand. It was moderately dry but moist enough to be able to cut into pieces without it totally crumbling. This final version, which I baked for the full 40 minutes, has a good balance of gooey goodness along with the slightly crispier edges, which I love. We always fight over the corners in my house!
Tahini and Halva Brownies by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh and ever-so-slightly tweaked by me
Yield: About 20 brownies
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes
11 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into 1½-inch pieces
5 large eggs
1¾ cups granulated sugar
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon salt
7 to 8¾ ounces halva, broken into ¾-inch pieces (I used Ziyad plain halva with vanilla)
Up to ⅓ cup tahini paste
- Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch pan and line with enough parchment to create a 3/4-inch overhang.
- You want to melt the butter with the chocolate. You can do this over a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, but I found that it was quicker and less to clean up using the microwave. I placed the chocolate and butter in a bowl and microwaved it on high for 45 seconds, I removed the bowl, gave everything a stir and returned it to the microwave for another 30 seconds. I then stirred the chocolate and melted butter until all of the chocolate was melted. I allowed the mixture to cool to just barely warm.
- Sift the flour and cocoa together and add the salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs until light in color and thickened. It should form ribbons when you lift the beaters. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture by hand. Do not over mix. Then fold in the flour and cocoa just until incorporated. Finally add the halva pieces and gently fold through. (I actually cut my halva pieces into odd-sized chunks with most being a little smaller than was recommended. I remembered from the first version that I ended up with rather obvious chunks of halva, which were okay, but gave an odd mouth-feel. These smaller pieces gave the flavor and a little texture but were not as obvious when you bit into the brownie. This is personal choice.)
- Pour the mixture into the parchment-lined pan and spread to an even layer. Using a spoon, dollop the tahini over the brownie mixture. Don’t worry overmuch about being especially neat or perfect. Using a spoon or skewer, swirl the tahini through the mixture. You don’t want to be too perfect or too even. It should be marbled.
- Place the pan in the center of your oven. You want to bake them until the top is crisp and the middle is a bit wobbly – between 36-40 minutes. Ovens do vary so you will just have to watch them. If you are not a lover of the crispy corners, then you likely will go with the shorter baking time. Either way, there will be some jiggle to the center, but once they cool they will firm up some yet retain their gooeyness. In theory, the brownies can last up to 5 days in an airtight container, but who are we kidding?! They also freeze although I have not personally tried this.