A friend used to say making Halva requires a special skillfulness that you either have it or not. And for the longest time, I was intimidated to make this sweet aromatic concoction. Growing up, I used to help out making the syrup while watching my mother make Halva for various occasions and for Iftar spread in Ramadan in particular. She would make a huge batch and I am not kidding when I say huge to serve almost half the neighborhood – literally. I think that simply explains why I was intimidated to make it because in my mind it could not be made in a small portion.In recent years, the saffron brownie has found its place in the glassy shelves of many bakeries and pastry shops in my hometown of Tehran displaying astonishing designs and decorations. It has even branched out to include more ingredients offering unique exotic flavors. However, none is comparable to the one made at home, saturating the air with its sweet rose water aroma.
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 30 mins.
Ready in: 45 minutes
Saffron Brownie (Halva)
2 cups sugar
4 cups water
1/8 cup rose water
½ teaspoon grounded saffron
1 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
¾ cup Canola oil
Grounded Pistachio, Slivered Almonds, Sesame seeds, other favored nuts
1. Mix sugar and water in a pot. Then bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Let it simmer over lowered heat until it reduces to 3-2 ½ cups. Then add the brewed saffron and rose water to complete the syrup. Set aside.
Note: There are two techniques for brewing saffron: the first technique is called cold brew where you add about 3 tablespoons of crushed ice to the ground saffron in a glass cup and let it sit on the counter until ice is completely melted. This will yield deep crimson red brewed saffron.
The second technique, hot brew, is for when you are crunched for time. By adding boiling water, the saffron is instantly ready to use. However, it is best to let it sit for at least 5 minutes before adding it to any other mixture so as to get more color and aroma out of the saffron.
The best quality saffron comes in long threads. It is best to use a stone spice grinder to break the threads and get the most out of it. I usually add a few large sugar granules when grinding it; the granules cause more friction, hence, more powdered saffron.
2. While the syrup is in the making, place the sifted flour in a pot over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it no longer smells like raw flour. Then lower the heat and stir for 5-7 minutes or until you notice the color is changing to a darker shade. The flour tends to burn quickly therefore it should not be left unattended and the heat must be adjusted so it will not turn dark quickly.
3. Add the oil gradually until you have reached a paste that is neither too runny nor too firm. You may not even use the whole amount of suggested oil. It vastly depends on the whole wheat flour and the amount of bran in it. After adding the oil, if the paste doesn’t still stick together and breaks into crumbles, 1 tablespoon of butter can be added. The problem with a runny paste is that it will take over the taste and won’t leave a good aftertaste in the mouth. Continue stirring the paste for 10 minutes over lower medium heat. Avoid breaking the paste unless small flour beads are noticed. Gather the mixture in one spot and smooth out the paste.
4. Caution: this step involves adding water-based syrup to oil-based mixture which instantly bubbles up and creates hot steam. Hence, it is best to remove the pot from heat, possibly place it on the floor. Keep face away from the pot when adding the syrup and protect hands with oven gloves to avoid burning.
Add the saffron rose water syrup gradually to the paste. Stir the mixture with wooden spoon until well incorporated. Be generous with the syrup; adding less than suggested amount will make the Halva crack when later spread out in a plate. If the mixture looks too runny, dont be concerned. The excess syrup water will evaporate through constant stirring.
5. At this point, the Halva must look like a fairly greased paste. It is now ready to be transferred to a plate for decoration.
The Halva can be kept covered at room temperature with little risk of spoilage. However, during hot summer months, it is better kept refrigerated, as it can turn dry after several days.
With its dough like texture, you can surely unleash that creative self; make small balls and roll them into sesame seeds, ground pistachio or coconut flakes to turn them into Halva truffles; place between two wafer sheets and cut them into 4×4 squares for no-mess on-the-go snacks; or simply spread out in a plate for elegant presentation.