Chocolate-Covered Almond Halvah

August 6, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: I remember the first time I tasted halvah. I was still living in New Orleans, and it was my first time in New York. And I loved it—it tasted really good, but what struck me was the texture, all those crisp layers that break apart and melt in your mouth. While there are many candies called halvah (or some version of that spelling) from all over the world, the classic Israeli halvah is a mixture of sugar and sesame paste (tahini).

I've been taking a class called "The Science of Cooking," and it happened that last week was "candy week," so I thought, what about halvah? And there was this jar of almond butter in the pantry, calling to me.

This looks like a really simple recipe—and it is, but as they say, simple doesn't mean easy. Over-blend the almond butter and the sugar and you get a hard brick. (There is one sitting in my garbage can as we speak.) Most recipes call for cooking the sugar to the soft ball stage, which would seem to prevent that, but unfortunately, what you get is fudge—not those sweet little crunchy/soft layers that are the very definition of halvah. However, if you cook the sugar to the hard ball stage (260° F) AND blend the nut butter in gently and minimally, that's where the magic happens. And when you break into it and see those layers—so exciting.

Please note: You can make a smaller amount if you want by decreasing the sugar and almond butter but keeping the same ratio. But don't use less than 1/2 cup of water to cook the sugar syrup.

You can wrap this and keep it in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. The halvah does get softer and more fudgelike after a few days, but it is still delicious.
drbabs

Food52 Review: WHO: Drbabs is a Food52 veteran based in Austin, Texas.
WHAT: The classic Middle Eastern candy halvah trades in tahini for almond butter.
HOW: Fold almond butter into a boiling sugar syrup, pour it into a pan, and coat it with melted chocolate and slivered almonds.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Halvah maintains its buttery flakiness even when you swap almond butter for tahini; it's as crispy and crumbly as ever. (Now we're thinking about all the other nut butter halvahs we could try!) And since it's dairy-free, the vegans in your life will thank you for offering up a decadent treat they can also indulge in. (But if you're serving it to vegans, be sure you're using a vegan sugar! We like Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Sugar or Trader Joe's Organic Sugar.)
The Editors

Makes: 8 inch pan of candy

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups almond butter (should be ground almonds only; no sweeteners or stabilizers)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate; I used Ghiradelli 60% baking chips
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond slices
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Heavily butter or spray an 8-inch cake pan (or you can use an 8X8 square or a loaf pan). You can also line it with parchment or foil.
  2. Pour sugar, water, and kosher salt into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Stir gently until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and insert a candy thermometer. Let the syrup boil without touching it while you prepare the almond butter.
  3. In a small saucepan, stir the vanilla extract into the almond butter and warm to about 130° F. (Heat it until it's very warm but you can still touch it—if you don't have another thermometer.)
  4. As the sugar syrup boils, the sugar will become more and more concentrated, and the temperature will increase more rapidly. Watch it carefully and don't stir it (or you will get crystallized sugar instead of hot syrup). As soon as the temperature reaches 260° F, take it off the heat. Gently fold the almond butter into the sugar syrup until it is barely mixed together. You may see streaks of syrup in the mixture; that's okay. (It's actually what you're going for.)
  5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top and refrigerate it till it is firm to the touch. (Overnight is fine.)
  6. Melt chocolate and pour onto the halvah. Spread it evenly and sprinkle it with flaky sea salt and toasted sliced almonds. Put it back into the refrigerator to harden.
  7. To serve, slice or break it off into chunks.

More Great Recipes:
Candy|Middle Eastern|Almond|Chocolate|Make Ahead|Gluten-Free|Vegetarian|Vegan|Dessert

Reviews (31) Questions (1)

31 Reviews

Karen October 26, 2018
Can you substitute coconut sugar in place of regular sugar?
 
Author Comment
drbabs October 26, 2018
I don’t know. Have you used coconut sugar to make other candies? If so, it should be ok.
 
Karen October 26, 2018
I have not. Going to try this. You can replace coconut sugar when you bake though. Thanks. =)
 
Author Comment
drbabs October 26, 2018
I hope it works out for you.
 
macfly18 March 29, 2018
Mine is more the texture of brittle than halvah. I took the sugar off right at 260, but I'm thinking maybe my thermometer was a bit off. Do you think that's the issue?
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 29, 2018
It might be an issue of blending. You don't want the sugar and the almond butter to be too thoroughly blended-- you want to have visible layers of each so that it forms layers when the mixture hardens. (This happened to me, too, the first time I tried making it.)
 
Patricia A. February 5, 2016
To recipe author, this looks great! I want to try it soon. To Food 52 -- it would be great if you added a "notes" area for those of us who save recipes on your site. Note to self, you can try substituting 2 cups of honey for the sugar and water in this recipe.
 
Author Comment
drbabs February 5, 2016
Patricia, thanks. I hope you like it. As for your "try substituting" note, I'll tell you that I did use honey in one of my several attempts to make this work. You will not get the same crunchy layered texture; in fact my halvah made with honey was hard as a brick and good only for the garbage can. Candy making is science; please follow the directions as written.
 
Patricia A. February 6, 2016
Thank you for your response about trying honey. I appreciate the feedback and will keep that in mind. Wouldn't want to have to throw out good honey ; ).<br /><br />
 
Amanda October 8, 2015
drbabs - can you replace the almond butter with other nut butters or even tahini using the same quantity of 1 1/2 cups?
 
Author Comment
drbabs October 9, 2015
I haven't tried other nut butters, but I think it will be fine as long as it's nuts or seeds only with no stabilizers or added sugars. The ratio should be the same. Have fun!
 
AnnaChris September 4, 2015
I don't usually have a lot of success with candy making, but I was really pleased by how this recipe turned out. I had never tasted halvah, but I absolutely love the texture - reminiscent of a Butterfinger candy, as drbabs commented - and the nutty, chocolately, caramel-sugary flavor is delightful. I was surprised by just how much candy this recipe made once I started chopping away at the 8x8 block. I will definitely try halving it next time - this stuff is dangerous to have around in large quantities.
 
Author Comment
drbabs September 4, 2015
AnnaChris, you totally made my day. Yes, after throwing away a couple of 8X8 blocks (Don't be tempted to use honey in place of some of the sugar! Cook the sugar to hard ball stage! Leave streaks of sugar in the almond butter!), I started making it in smaller quantities, which led me to write the disclaimer about not changing the amount of water (You don't want the sugar to burn before it thoroughly melts.) if you change the proportions of almond butter and sugar. That said, you're right that it's dangerous. The good thing is that it keeps in the refrigerator for a long time.
 
Bevi August 28, 2015
Congrats drbabs! I ate lots of halvah during my days in Israel. You could find a version of it on every corner in Tel Aviv and in all the markets. Food chemistry magic!
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 28, 2015
Thanks, Bevi! It really was fun to make …eventually.
 
boulangere August 27, 2015
I remember when I could actually eat this. If I could hold the chocolate, hold the almonds, and hold more almonds, I'd be there. Warm congratulations on being a finalist, dr. B
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 27, 2015
Thanks, Cynthia!
 
Ali S. August 27, 2015
This is SO good (dare I say better than regular halvah).
 
Sarah J. August 27, 2015
This is the best candy I've eaten in a while. Want more!
 
Leslie S. August 27, 2015
Hoarding halvah in my snack drawer (but I'll share!)
 
Caroline L. August 27, 2015
(ate all mine already!)
 
Alex W. August 27, 2015
Samantha definitely didn't bring any home and I absolutely didn't eat it all without her.
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 27, 2015
Y'all! That's so great! We've been hoarding it, too. When friends come over we give them pieces to taste.
 
EmilyC August 27, 2015
This looks and sounds fantastic! Congrats drbabs!
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 27, 2015
Thanks, Emily!
 
QueenSashy August 27, 2015
I love, love, love halvah, but it never occurred to me to try making it at home. But you got me with this recipe. So happy it is the finalist, congrats!!!
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 27, 2015
Thanks, it's really fun to make.
 
ChefJune August 7, 2015
Oh, this sounds really good. And I don't like traditional halvah at all - feels like sand in my mouth. But I'll bet this version with almond butter doesn't have that problem. And just in time for New Years!
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 7, 2015
Thanks, June! Yes, this has more of the texture of a Butterfinger candy. I hope you like it!
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 27, 2015
Not a fan of traditional either but this looks very good. Is it really hard to bite and chew?<br />
 
Author Comment
drbabs August 30, 2015
Oh, I just saw this; sorry. No, it's not hard to bite and chew. It's snappy to break apart, and more crunchy than soft. And it does soften a little over time.