Halwa was an experiment as I was making spiced buns and the spread mentioned was this.  There was one SMALL problem though.  There was no readily available translated recipe.  The recipes I do have listed are period but more like…the pirate guidelines rather then hard set-in stone rules.  So a bit of trial and error was needed.  This is the sweet lick your fingers clean result!


(Sweet Paste)


#1)  Pick over the rice, wash it, crush it in a mortar, then cook it in water with the rind of a bitter orange.  When the rice is almost cooked, add some milk and cook it over a gentle fire, taking care to stir it.  When the rice has absorbed the milk remove the orange rind and add some sugar.  Remove the rice from the fire and spread it on a dish.  Sprinkle it with ground cinnamon and add almonds and hazelnuts toasted and ground.

#2)  …a tea-cup of sugar, two tea-cups of samn (melted butter, sesame oil or fat), three tea-cups of flour.  The sugar is boiled in half a cup of water.  The flour is toasted in the hot samn until it turns russet brown.  Then the boiled sugar is added.  The mixture is poured into a receptacle and subsequently cut up as desired.

Rodinson, pp. 194-195


1/3 cup water               2/3 cup sugar                2/3 cup melted butter

1 cup flour                    ½ cup milk

*spices: date syrup, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, rose-water


The translations aren’t given as recipes more like a map; to quote “Here is a recipe for muhallabiyya from the Jewish quarter of Tunis…”  The recipes are then compared to the a dish called helva or helfa in Arabic.  There is discussion that helfa is actually a Turkish pronunciation of the Arabic halwa.   So as you can see this is more like negotiating on a committee to get exactly the right type of sweet…you end up with a camel.

I took both recipes and looked for similarities, which are sugar, flour (wheat or rice) and fat.  Spicing seems to be optional and up to the cook’s discretion.

halwa spices

Now some of this is white on white (unfortunately…I did try to mitigate that but not as well as I had thought!).

First thing I did was add 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar to boil.  Notice the 1/3 cup not 2/3.  The other 1/3 will be used a little later.

First the butter was added to a pot then the flour until a nice dark brown.   I made a roux from the butter and flour.

halwa light

Now this is what the mixture looks like after a couple of minutes cooking with stirring.  The white of the butter/flour is browning slowly into a sweet roux.

halwa cooking russet

This is about the darkest you want the roux to get.   The difference time wise in cooking is only 3-4 minutes, so attention has got to be paid while stirring!  Other wise…things just get messy and not in a covered in honey and lick it off good way.

The dark russet coloring in the roux took about 10 minutes with constant attention paid to the stirring and boiling of the butter/flour mixture.  Once the roux was established at a good coloring, I added in the sugar water to the flour/butter mixture.  There was  extreme boiling and steaming when the two mixtures met, so watch the hand placement as an FYI.  Once the sugar water and the roux had been combined the milk was added.  The mixture thickens very quickly at this point.

Here I tasted the mixture and determined a bit more sugar was needed.  Add the other 1/3 cup or not depending on if a sweeter paste is desired.

I then split the paste into 3 bowls to experiment with flavoring.

cooked halwa w spices

One was given 1 Tbs of date syrup, another 1 tsp of rosewater, the third ¼ tsp of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.  I stirred each ramekin thoroughly and tasted the connections.   My favorite was the spicing.  The date syrup was very sweet and taste while the rose-water mixture was almost light and tripping on the tongue.  Next time I make Halwa I will try with candied citrus peels or even candied ginger, perhaps maybe a few grains of paradise as well!

halwa w buns

Khubz al-Abazir (spice bread) was used as the carrying medium.


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