I obviously could not stop there as the world of halva is very broad. From Central Asia through the Middle East to India, halva is undoubtedly one of the most popular and widespread confectionery.
The word halva is derived from the Arabic word حلوى that includes the notion of sweetness, which expresses everything that can be sweet. Halva is also called helva, halvah, halava, halawa, alva, xalwo, haleweh, ħelwa, hulwa, halvah, helava, halwa, halua, aluva, chalva, chałwa, Халва, हलवा, حلوى, חלבה depending on the country.
Today, we’ll call it halwa !
Among a multitude of recipes, I wanted to feature one whose mix of tastes, colors and textures is very different from the others, a version that reflects both Eastern and Western influences, the halwa from the Kingdom of Bahrain.
This halwa recipe was not invented in Bahrain, as its name suggests, but rather on the island of Zanzibar, located in Tanzania. Omanis, who have always maintained close commercial ties with the island, were the first to introduce this delicious Middle Eastern sweet in the Gulf countries. Neighboring Emirates have subsequently adopted it. In Bahrain, it probably became popular 150 years ago.
Most halwa stores in Bahrain bear the name of the Showaiter family, a dynasty that has been synonymous with halwa in Bahrain for over a century. Bahraini even came to call their national treasure “halwat Showaiter”. The name Showaiter has become synonymous with the delicacy in Bahrain.
It was this family who changed the halwa recipe by introducing corn starch and rapeseed oil, and then they continued to establish a dynasty of halwa which earned them a great recognition beyond the Gulf. More than 25 cousins of the Showaiter family established chain stores in Bahrain. Some have developed their creations in neighboring countries while others have established a web presence to serve international clients. The sweet family company, specializing in halwa as well as sweets, also saw a huge success in every Arab Emirate where they opened factories and shops.
Halwa is an integral part of the local hospitality and is served with coffee. It is also a key element of the dessert in Bahrain. Sales of halwa peak during the three days of Eid after the month of Ramadan.
So what was my verdict on halwa Bahraini? Let’s face it, if you suffer from diabetes, stay away from it! For the others, let’s just say our diet will start tomorrow… after we indulge in this delicious recipe from Bahrain.
Its gel texture is similar to soft nougat, obviously much less brittle than Israeli halva whose taste is totally different. Beside the crunchy nuts which are very pleasing to the palate, the halwa Bahraini is subtly raised by the three warm spices : cardamom, saffron and nutmeg.
I probably won’t stop there with halwas… the list is long and the tastes certainly different depending on the country of origin. My curiosity is sharpened and maybe yours is too? If you have delicious ideas, please share them with me.
- 4 cups sugar
- 5 cups water
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons ground cardamom + ½ teaspoon (for the butter)
- 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg + ½ teaspoon (for the butter)
- 10 threads saffron
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup water (for the corn starch mixture)
- 1 teaspoon red food coloring
- 1½ cup rapeseed oil
- 2 tablespoons rose water
- 2 cups nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts, toasted)
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Infuse the saffron in 1 to 2 tablespoons of boiling water for at least 1 hour.
Put the butter in a hot skillet over medium heat. Brown for 3 minutes.
Remove butter from heat. Strain.
Stir in cardamom and nutmeg. Infuse.
Combine cornstarch, rose water, food coloring and 1 cup of water. Beat vigorously to remove any lumps.
In a very large pot, pour sugar, water, infused saffron and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium to high heat.
Stir the cornstarch mixture while stirring.
At this point, the total cooking time is 45 minutes.
Cover to prevent splattering and cook for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, add the rapeseed oil gradually and mix well. Cover and cook 5 more minutes. Then uncover and stir every 5 minutes.
30 minutes after adding the cornstarch mixture, add the cardamom and nutmeg. Mix well.
Stir in circular motion continuously for remaining 15 minutes. Large bubbles will form.
Remove excess oil with a ladle and add the brown butter. The butter must be added during the last 5 minutes.
Stir in nuts and mix well. Remove from heat.
Sprinkle with white sesame seeds and dried fruits.
The total cooking time is 45 minutes or when the temperature of the halwa reaches 230 F.
The end result should not be sticky. Its consistency should be soft and a little chewy.