Halawa (also known as Halvah, Helva, or Heleweh – and a variety of other pronunciations depending on your region) translates to ‘sweetness’ in Arabic and has to be my favorite hidden gem here in the Middle East. The first time I came across it was at the grocery store with my husband. At the time, I had just started my baking blog so my sugar-radar was on high alert and I constantly on the hunt for new ingredients to work into my recipes.
‘Made in Lebanon’ was printed on the label, so I asked my hubs (who’s Lebanese) ‘What is this stuff and how do you eat it?’
He shrugged, barely bothered and said, ‘I dunno, we eat it plain or smothered on toast.’
Undoubtedly not as excited as me, I had a little moment of clarity and thought to myself, this must be like the Arab/Turkish version of American peanut butter…or even Nutella to the Italians! I grabbed three flavors and tossed them into the cart – next stop, my kitchen. Before I busted out my beaters (say that five times fast) I did a quick search online to see if there were any recipes I could try out with halawa as the main ingredient. I found not a single halawa recipe. Nada. I was shocked. This stuff tastes too good, how can people have not baked it into cakes, bars, or have made Halawa fudge? Not even halawa ice cream. Only recipes on how to make the stuff; shocker!
Let me tell you, if you like to experiment, halawa is such a luxurious component to add to your desserts. Once baked, the flavor somewhat subsides, but what it does is add a creamy, tender bite to your cookies or cakes. I typically always add rose water to my recipe when using halawa as they complement each other nicely.
Halawa’s main ingredient tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, gives it a strong nutty, flavor, however most store-bought versions are pumped with sugar, butter, chopped nuts, or chocolate. Try adding halawa into some of your favorite recipes; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much it transforms the texture. Also try crumbling some over ice cream, yogurt, or even your morning cereal. Or there’s my approach… eat it straight from the tub, that’s always a winner too.
Pistachio Halawa & Rose Water Sugar Cookies
Makes about four dozen
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 ounces vegetable shortening
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 egg PLUS 1 extra yolk
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 300 grams Pistachio Halawa, crumbled*
- Sea salt
*To crumble the halawa, keep it in its original container and take the tip of a small spoon. Gently scrape at the top of the surface, keeping a bowl underneath to catch the crumbles.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 cookie sheets with baking paper and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand up mixer (or hand mixer) cream together the butter and vegetable shortening until well combined. Add the brown and granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Add the egg, egg yolk, and rose water and beat until combined.
- In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk to combine.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three additions, scraping down the sides after mixing. Do not over mix.
- Gently fold the crumbled halawa into the batter. Drop onto lined cookie tray using a cookie scoop or small spoon. Sprinkle each cookie with a little sea salt. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookie are lightly golden.
- Remove pan from oven and allow to cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and allow to cool completely.
- Store cookies in an air tight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze well.
Featured image sourced via Pinterest