Almond halva (hull-vah), also known as barfi (ber-fee), was a staple of my childhood. Growing up, my dad would make it a few times each year, and to this day it is my absolute favourite dessert. I still can’t eat any store-bought or restaurant versions because they are so intensely mediocre by comparison. The one downside to them is that they are a LOT of work. Specifically, they are quite physically demanding depending on the batch size that you make.
Now that I’m an adult (sort of), I felt like it was time to learn how to make it properly. I’m home for Christmas, so it also served as quality father-daughter bonding time. Usually my dad eyeballs everything, so I forced to him to actually measure quantities this time. The ingredients are really simple; the challenge is knowing when it’s done, and being strong enough to get it there.
- 450 g almonds
- 454 g (2 cups) unsalted butter
- 1400 g granulated sugar
- 1 pinch saffron
- 720 g (3 cups) 2% milk
- Put the almonds in a pan filled with water, and bring it to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside.
- Put butter in a saucepan and put over medium heat. Make clarified butter or ghee.
- Grease a standard size jelly roll pan with a spoon of clarified butter.
- Once the almonds have softened sufficiently, peel the skins off of them. This can be easily done by hand once the almonds have soaked long enough.
- In a blender or food processor, blend together the almonds, 1 cup of milk, and 1 cup of sugar. Keep blending and add the rest of the milk until a smooth, uniform texture is formed.
- Add the saffron to the blender and blend a little more.
- Put the almond mixture and the rest of the sugar in an oversized saucepan over low-medium heat and stir consistently.
- Once the water has largely boiled off, the mixture will start sticking more to the sides of the saucepan. At this stage, add half of the clarified butter.
- Continue mixing until the butter is incorporated. Gradually add the rest of the butter (leaving a few spoons behind).
- Continue stirring the mixture. Eventually, it will become more viscous and lighter areas will start to be visible.
- The mixture is ready to be poured when ridges stay for at least 10 seconds, lighter areas are often visible, and the bottom edges start coming out of the pan.
- When the mixture is ready, take it off heat and pour into the jelly roll pan. If possible, get somebody else to shake the pan around to even out the mixture.
- Let the mixture cool for a few hours. Put a larger plate on top of the pan, and flip the halva onto the plate. You may need to drop it a few times. Once it comes out of the pan, use a ruler and knife to cut it into diamonds.
- Generally, we leave the almonds to soak overnight. If you want to expedite the process, bring the water to a boil twice and let them soak for an hour.
- We always use ghee, but the idea is to just use butter with the water removed.
- The more liquid you add, the longer it takes to make. If you use a blender, you get a smoother consistency, but you need more liquid. If you use a food processor, you get a slightly coarser consistency, but it will take less time.
- The time it takes to make can vary greatly by the amount you choose to make. This recipe took just over 1 hour of (more or less) continuous stirring. In the past, we’ve made batches that took 3 hours of continuous stirring.
- The last 10 minutes of stirring are difficult. The last 5 minutes of stirring are even more difficult.
- There isn’t a very quantitative way of determining when the mixture is ready to be poured. There is about a 60 – 90 second window of ideal pouring time. If it’s too soon, the texture will end up a little sticky. If it’s too late, the texture will end up dry and hard to cut. It will be delicious either way, but getting the perfect texture is quite challenging, and pretty experience based.
Beginning the heating process
Starting to see bits of different coloured pieces
Immediately post pour
Cutting it up