Sesame Halvah

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

Halvah or halwa means “sweet” and refers to any firm, sweet confection in the Middle East and India made with nut butter or starchlike rice flour or semolina. In America the most recognized halvah is the one made from sesame seed paste. You could always find the big chunks of halvah at Jewish delis, and a recurrent joke in the 1950s and ’60s was that bar mitzvah boys’ profiles would be carved out of halvah for their receptions!

2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup egg whites at room temperature (about 2 large egg whites)
1 pound tahini (unflavored sesame paste)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  1. Combine the sugar and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring only once or twice until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10–15 minutes or until mixture forms a firm ball when dropped into a small bowl of ice water (approximately 240°F on candy thermometer). Remove from heat when done.
  2. Meanwhile, using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites until firm but no dry peaks form. Set aside.
  3. Using the same beaters on the mixer (no need to clean first), combine the sesame paste, lemon juice, vanilla, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  4. Fold the egg whites into the sesame seed paste until thoroughly combined.
  5. Place the bowl on a damp towel. Turn the mixer to medium speed, and slowly pour some of the hot sugar syrup into the sesame mixture, rapidly combining the two. Continue to add the syrup slowly while beating until all the syrup has been used.
  6. Pour the mixture into a glass loaf pan or 8-inch square pan, and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, preferably overnight.
  7. To serve, unmold the halvah from the pan and cut into small bars or squares, or just serve with a knife and let guests cut off pieces as they wish.
Additional Notes
  • It is important that you always start with fresh, not overly roasted sesame seed paste or the finished halvah will have a burnt or rancid flavor.
  • Placing a bowl on a damp towel will prevent the bowl from spinning when using a handheld mixer or a whisk. This leaves your other hand free to add ingredients while mixing.
  • If halvah does not appear firm enough, then freeze or keep refrigerated until ready to serve. It will be easier to slice and pick up.