Friday, 15 April 2016

Greek Halva, or Semolina Cake, or χαλβάς σιμιγδαλένιος

I will preface this by saying that this is quite possibly my favourite Greek dessert, and one that I make on a regular basis.

In Greece, there are a few Halva products/cakes and they are all quite different. I have made the semolina based Halva, Χαλβάς σιμιγδαλένιος, but there is also the Sesame/Tahini Halva, Χαλβάς με ταχίνι (if you live in Greece or have access to a Greek market, this is mostly sold during periods of fasting i.e. before Easter), and a flour based Halva, Χαλβάς κουταλιού

When my sister and I were children and would visit my grandmother’s sister in Lefkada, she would always offer us this dessert; in fact, because it uses simple ingredients (oil, flour, sugar and water) it is one of the most common desserts found in traditional homes.

these are not my own pics-they are taken from Google images
To the dismay of my mom and everyone else I know who always use the traditional 1:2:3:4 method, this recipe does not follow that AT ALL. If you aren’t familiar with the traditional method, or you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, I’ll summarise: traditionally, semolina halva is made with 1 part oil, 2 parts semolina, 3 parts sugar, and 4 parts water.

As you will see, the recipe (which was given to me by my Aunt) varies: it uses milk instead of water, because it gives the cake more taste and it makes it αφράτο, and the measurements do not follow the simple ratio. Nevertheless, I think this version of halva is tastier, and I’ve never had anyone say otherwise.  

By the way, if you are fasting from dairy, just substitute the milk for water. And if you prefer butter to vegetable oil, use that instead. 

Greek Halva, or Semolina Cake, or χαλβάς σιμιγδαλένιος

1 cup coarse Semolina
½ cup Vegetable Oil or Unsalted Butter
1 cup Sugar
2 ½ cups Water or Whole Milk
1 tsp Vanilla

1. In a saucepan, add the milk and sugar. Heat up on low/medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the milk is simmering. Turn off the heat, add the vanilla and stir. [But make sure the milk remains warm]
2. In a large pan (I used a frying pan), heat the oil on med/high heat. Then add the semolina—at first it will bubble, but it should soak up all the oil fairly quickly. Stir the semolina constantly so it doesn’t burn. The objective is to toast/stir until golden. Make sure you don’t burn it! There is a fine line between golden semolina and burnt, and you definitely do not want a burnt, bitter semolina for this cake.
3. Once the semolina is golden, turn down the heat to low. Now you will slowly add the milk mixture. Many recipes tell you to add it all at once; DO NOT DO THAT. You should be adding your milk spoonful, by spoonful. The reasons are twofold: you avoid setting off the smoke alarm (adding liquid to a hot frying pan=instant heat/smoke), and it gives the semolina a chance to soak up all the milk and cook.
4. Once you have used up all your milk, and the semolina is a thick mixture, remove from the heat and pour into a mould. I used a cake mould, but I have also used individual pudding bowls/ramekins before. It really is up to you.
5. At this point you can either wait until it has cooled, which I never do, or eat as is. The finishing touch is to turn over your mould onto a cake platter, garnish with cinnamon and toasted almonds (if you have them), and eat. 
Don't worry about the cracks- It gives the cake character

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