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Open Sesame - Brown Butter Halva Brownies

One of my favourite food memories goes way, way back to eating halva for the first time. As a farm kid in Saskatchewan in the late 1970s, this may seem like an oddity, but my mom always had some on hand for the holidays. She says that local grocery stores would order in tins of halva just in time for Christmas, and she too remembers eating this Middle Eastern candy at her grandmother’s house. I would always get excited when mom brought out the tin of halva, then proceeded to cut it into thick slices, which I would then slide into my mouth and savour every last morsel of sesame seed goodness.  


If you’ve never tried halva, you’re in for a treat. Halva (also spelled halawa and halvah) is a Middle Eastern candy that is made by mixing sesame seed paste with a hot sugar syrup. It has a somewhat nutty taste, with a texture that is both creamy and crumbly. When you eat it, pieces tend to come off in shards. Supple and smooth, halva slowly dissolves on the tongue, and when it’s gone, you reach for another slice, and then another. Halva’s flavour can change dramatically from regional variations and culinary additions. Coffee, dark chocolate, sea salt, pistachio are all popular, but plain vanilla is also delicious as the sesame flavour really shines through.  


Now that I’ve got you interested, you’re probably wondering where to find halva, and the good news is that most large grocery stores will carry it, often in the International Foods aisle. Good delicatessens and cheese shops also have it in stock, and then of course it can always be ordered online.  


Once you have halva in your hot little hands, you can eat it as is, or you can bake with it, like I do. Its nutty, creamy nature is a natural fit for gooey chocolate brownies. It’s a match made in heaven, really. Firstly, I make my favourite brownie recipe, with browned butter and plenty of rich chocolate. Then I melt down some halva with a touch of water, until it’s smooth and creamy. This mixture is swirled into the brownie batter and baked until gooey perfection. The halva adds another layer of flavour to the browned butter and chocolate, and all in all, this is one heck of a brownie. The hard part is waiting for the pan to cool down before you cut off a piece, but the wait is always worth it.  


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