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.
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.
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.