Flour Helva (Turkey)

Sesame halva is well known throughout the world, and can be purchased at most Middle Eastern stores or Jewish delis. I don’t care for it though, so I’m trying out a different version: one based on flour rather than sesame.

 

It's smooth, sweet - but not too sweet, with a nuttiness that comes from toasting the flour after blending it with butter.  I omitted the almonds because my kids are allergic, but they would probably give an amazing added crunch.

Involved? Yes. But worth it.  Really worth it.  Here's a couple of tips:

  • Use a bigger pan for the roux than you think you need.  You add the milk mixture to the roux, so you'll be thankful for the extra space.

  • When the recipe says, add the flour a little at a time, DO THAT.  I had to throw out my first batch because the flour/butter roux was way too clumpy.  The first 1/2 cup blends beautifully into the butter, it's the second half that will get you, and get you quick. 

  • I added a little vanilla extract to the milk mixture when hot.  I'm told that's a legit choice, as is rosewater.  I don't have rosewater, but vanilla was an excellent choice.

  • I ended up getting impatient.  After 45 minutes on very low, and no noticeable browning, I turned the stove to medium-low, with regular stirring (every couple of minutes).  That did the trick!  You definitely want brown, the browner the better.

  • As you add the milk, whisk like you've never whisked before, because helva comes at you fast.  It takes less than a minute for the final product to come together, and if you don't whisk hard in that time, you can end up with floury lumps instead of smooth, sugary sweetness.  It's only 45 seconds; you can do it.

 

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup/113 grams unsalted butter

  • 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup/200 grams sugar

  • 1 ½ cups/350 milliliters whole milk

  • Pinch of salt (optional)

  • 2 cups whole blanched almonds (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

 

STEPS

1. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, a little at a time to prevent clumping; reduce heat to very low and cook, stirring often with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the flour is deep golden brown and butter separates and floats to the top, about 1 to 2 hours. The higher the flame, the quicker it will cook, but the more you will have to stir it.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, combine sugar, 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters water, and milk; bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat, cover to keep warm, and reserve.

3. When flour mixture is toasted and browned but not burned, slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture and a pinch of salt if you like. (It's O.K. if the milk has cooled to room temperature; it should not be cold.) Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture comes together in a paste-like texture and no longer sticks to sides of the pot. (Make sure to stir in the corners and bottom of pot.) Whisk the mixture occasionally, if necessary, to create a smoother texture and get rid of any lumps. Cover pot with a cloth and a lid, then let cool.

4. In a medium skillet, toast the almonds in the dry pan over medium heat. Sprinkle almonds and cinnamon over cooled helva. Spoon onto plates or into small bowls to serve.

Recipe adapted from the New York Times:  https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017926-turkish-flour-helva

Photo by Drew Vahrenkamp

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