When watching television in the evening, Mr. Wonderful often looks in my direction and asks if there are any brownies, knowing full well that there aren't. I take the hint and make a batch during a commercial break, then bake them until the program is over. It works out well, since both of us love the results. Last night was different.
Brownies contain butter and eggs, which we are to avoid during Great Lent. So, in answer to Mr. Wonderful's dessert hint, I said, "no problem, I'll make Halva." Eaten from the Balkans to India, halva is an East of Paris dessert that I grew up with. It has a melt in your mouth sweetness only made better with sips of Turkish Coffee.
Usually, we buy a marbled chocolate vanilla variety made from pressed sesame seeds. Sometimes we buy the kind with pistachios. On occasion, I make a version with farina [a/k/a semolina]. Consider this a sophisticated cream of wheat dessert.
Before I set forth the recipe, I have to explain why the results last night were, uh, problematic. This goes back to the time I got married. A group of girlfriends came to my new home and helped me arrange the kitchen. One of them put all the spices in the cabinet in alphabetical order, and I have been diligently keeping them in alphabetical order for more than ten years. Or so I thought, when I reached for the cinnamon and accidentally took out a jar of cayenne pepper. Unfortunately, I did not realize my mistake until we started eating the halva. Oops!
This morning, I made the semolina style halva again, but first I arranged all my ingredients so that everything was mise en place. I even decided to be daring and enhance things with a bit of cayenne. The results were met with approval.
3 Tbsp farina/semolina
1-1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3-1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar [lumps are OK since they will melt]
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
Melt the butter or margarine in a heavy sauté pan on medium high heat. When it sizzles, add the farina. Heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the farina starts to color. [This part is similar to making a roux and seems to take a long time, but once the farina starts to darken it goes fast, so careful not to burn it.]
Next, quickly add all the water and stir. While the farina is rapidly boiling, add the rest of the ingredients. Keep cooking over medium high heat until the mixture becomes very thick.
When you can run a wooden spoon through the mixture and can see the bottom of the pan, it is almost done. Cook for another minute, then place in a shallow bowl.
Decorate with walnuts and cool.
The finished halva can be eaten warm or cold and should be soft but thick enough to hold together when cut with a knife.