feast magazine article

feast magazine, july 2015: halva-buttermilk cake with honey-chocolate ganache.

halva-buttermilk cake with honey-chocolate ganache.

I just want to kick this off by saying that when I wrote my Feast article this month, I included a pretty amazing pun. It fit perfectly into the article, made for a snappy intro, and was an accurate depiction of how I feel about the ingredient at hand. I never thought it would make it in.

I was wrong! my beloved editors kept it, and not only that, they managed to throw it on the picture description as well, which means it’s in there twice. They get me: they really get me. So I’d encourage you to click over and read it because it’s not to be missed.

Also, clearly I just enjoy taking photographs of round foods jauntily positioned to the right – all the time. This whole gallery thing I have going on at the top of the site now is a real eye-opener to my habits.

Onward to the specs:

This Month’s Mystery Ingredient: Halva

Also Goes By: Helva, halwa, halawa, helava, chalva, you get the drift.

Hails from: All over Asia (except really in the East) Central and Eastern Europe, The Balkans, the Middle East…it’s kind of a big deal all over.

Recipe: Halva-Buttermilk Cake with Honey-Chocolate Ganache (yeessssss)

Find it: So many places, really, because it’s so popular throughout the world. Considered a confection of sorts, you can find it in larger groceries like Whole Foods and sometimes Trader Joe’s, but always at international markets or places specializing in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean goods. When you find it, make sure you get what you came for: halva comes in brick form often run thorough with a dizzying amount of almonds, pistachios, honey, vanilla, or chocolate); a spreadable version with an almost hummus-like texture, and floss, which is basically civilization’s first cotton candy.

Uses: Depends on the texture you chose, but start by just eating it because it’s delicious. This also depends on the ingredients which went into making your halva: the majority of what I see here is made from ground sesame seeds (which is what I used in this recipe) but can also be made from semolina or other nuts and/or seeds. Once you’ve reveled in it’s amazing flavor solo, baked goods seem an appropriate thing to head for: I use the sesame brick kind like a more solid nut butter, and adjust ingredients around with a nod to its dry, sweet nature. I believe there’s this ice cream recipe which people routinely fawn over (and which i plan to try very soon), and tarts, cookies, and bars seen a natural fit. Just start pairing it with stuff and see what happens: I mentioned it comes in flavors, so build on that (or the plain variety) by test-driving it with cardamom, pumpkin-spice spices, dark chocolate, or fruits like cranberry, raspberry, and so on. I could spend all day on this but it’s really up to what you feel like throwing in there. All of those combos are pretty amazing over vanilla or sweet cream ice cream, too.

halva-buttermilk cake with honey-chocolate ganache.

I adore this cake. More than I should, maybe, but it’s a sultry little cake for this time of year. Because I associate halva (and sesame in general) with hotter, more arid climates, the flavor of this seems to slide right in perfectly with the midsummer heat. It’s not a heavy cake: in fact, I find that buttermilk in cakes make them less hefty and let the other flavors do the work a little  better. Halva isn’t overpowering on it’s own, but when you bake it into something it really becomes the star of the show. That infusion of sesame gives the cake a warmth which snuggles in perfectly under that honey-chocolate ganache I threw over top: honestly, no one wants to deal with buttercream in the summer, on the making or the eating end. Maybe some people do, but I just can’t so much with the heavy right now. And don’t skip those toasted sesame seeds I finish the cake with, if you make this: they complete the circle of sesame going on here, and add so much more thank your average sprinkle does to the finished product.

halva-buttermilk cake with honey-chocolate ganache.

I’ll note that the ganache wouldn’t actually dribble all over your slices of cake: it’s a little dance I do at home with recipe development where I obsessively need to taste each component to make sure they work just as well separately as they do together. What you’re seeing in the photo above is me testing plain slices of cake amongst a small “focus group” (aka my family) and then tossing the ganache over, testing viscosity and what I like to call “stickitude” – how well the ganache stays put on the top, plus how well it clings to the sides). If all of this works, I slice and try the finished product: I was in a hurry and just happened to snap photos in-between all of this. If you let your ganache set properly, it won’t move.

I encourage you to read the online issue if you’re not local, because there’s some beyond-regional things going on this month. First, very important: make these Vietnamese coffee popsicles to cool off with while you read. Make my cake while those set up in the freezer. Grab an ice pop and settle in to read about Cat Neville’s two-week culinary tour through Vietnam, a place of astounding beauty which seems filled with incredible food. It’s a place i’ve always wanted to go.

This month’s issue is very Asia-centric, so wander through, take your time! There’s tons of things to look at. I would go into more detail, but i’m getting ready for Pool Floating, Round Two for today. With any luck, Mr. Table will grab me a July issue since i’m not home to steal one (or several) myself.


–> this way to the Halva-Buttermilk Cake with the Honey Chocolate Ganache! Have I ever steered you wrong, especially with cake? No.

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  • Reply mellissa @ ibreatheimhungry July 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Hilarious opening to the Feast article – I’m not at all surprised they left it in, that’s gold baby! Haha! Also this cake looks UH-MAZING. That chocolate honey ganache will haunt my dreams I’m pretty sure. Good to know I’m not the only one who composes bites of things for recipes to make sure everything tastes right! Sometimes LOTS of bites are required – you know, for science and stuff. 😉

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Just shows the staff have a great sense of humor (and a willingness to show it off from time to time). Thank you! That chocolate ganache is basically my life partner now: we make it for EVERYTHING, and it’s irresistible.
      i’m happy to know i’m not alone in the bite-composition struggle either! And totally…for science.

  • Reply John@Kitchen Riffs July 3, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Already read this for a change! And noticed the pun first thing. But I can never resist a pun, good or otherwise (and that was a good one).

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      A first, John! 😉 i’m happy you noticed my pun, also.

  • Reply Deb|EastofEdenCooking July 4, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Such a delectable article! A scrumptious cake with a sparkling story, great stuff Shannon!

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      Thank you much, Deb!

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats July 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    This cake looks BEYOND amazing – I LOVE THAT FEAST LEFT YOUR PUN IN!!! How glorious is that?
    Also, I love every piece of this cake (hehe, get it?) but also I love that every cake looks like pacman once it has been cut into. And this is a drizzly chocolatey pacman and I love him and I want to eat him more than those mean little ghosts want to eat the real pacman.
    Also, can we start using “stickitude” in every day conversation going forward? I feel like that is very necessary. Just sayin.

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      I love them for that, definitely. That leveled-up our relationship, just saying.

      lol GOT IT! and it totally looks like a pac-man, which is how cakes look at this house pretty rapidly *ahem taste-testing ahem* 🙂

      we can totally use stickitude in our convos! Considering our daily convos, i can think of so many places it could fit in lol.

  • Reply Amrita July 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    I read that pun and it immediately made me smile! Haha, it’s funny because Indians eat “gajar ka halwa” which is this shredded carrot dessert that seems to be completely different from this. I’m totally intrigued.
    I also loved the whole issue–my fiance and I did a 2 week trip to Vietnam and went to pretty much every single place listed so it was wonderfully nostalgic to see her excursion there 🙂

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I’m equally intrigued by a shredded carrot dessert, so i guess we’re even, Amrita. 🙂
      How much fun for you two! I bet that article was awesome for you guys especially, having been there. I’d love to go someday, but Mr. Table isn’t much interested in Vietnam, so i’ll have to wait until the Wee One gets older and she can be my travel buddy. I imagine it’s just gorgeous there.

  • Reply Abbe @ This is How I Cook July 15, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Love this cake, Shannon and I love halva! In Israel there were shops with so many varieties of halva, I hoped I would be locked in overnight! Frankly though, I like your photos, better than the article’s!

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thanks, Abbe! So nice to hear from all the halva lovers out there…i had no idea so many people were so fond of it, which is great!

  • Reply Ashley July 15, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve seen this honey chocolate ganache before, perhaps on some chocolate chip cupcakes? So good, definitely deserves to multi task 🙂 And I fervently wish to be caught in a circle of sesame….or chocolate…or halva…. I tried halva for the first time a few months ago and lost my mind with how good yet weird it was. Savory-ish sesame taste + ability to dissolve like cotton candy + somehow still a wee bit chewy + CANDY = the halva almost didn’t make it away from me. I want this cake, so so so much right now.

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Oui! that’s my go-to ganache/hot fudge sauce/chocolate everything, and i make it to use everywhere because it’s my favorite and of course, a Momofuku-foundation item. I’d love to be trapped in a circle of sesame with you, Ashley. Let’s do it!

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats July 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Halva is one of my most favorite things. I can eat more than I’d care to admit in one sitting. Hehe, love your halva joke 🙂 Also, I didn’t know you could do something with it besides baking it plain. Good to know! (if I ever have any left after eating it)

    • Reply shannon July 28, 2015 at 11:44 am

      oh me too: i keep a container of halva in the fridge for sneaking…er, i mean snacking. sneak-snacking. 🙂

      when i took it on as an ingredient, i didn’t know you could mess with it that much either, but it truly does work very similar to a sweeter peanut butter or almond butter, which is nice…less intimidating, for sure.

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