A true classic, this Ħelwa tat-Tork is a sweet decadently rich treat made from sugar and tahini with a crumbly yet soft texture.
If you are not aware of Malta’s history, this dessert is a true testament of it. Malta over several centuries has been under several different rulers, for it being in a strategic location in the Middle of the Mediterranean. One of the longest and maybe impactful rulers, were the Ottomans. Apart from the language, we have a lot leftover in terms of food. In fact, Maltese cuisine is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine and if you look closely you will see so many similarities. One of them is this Ħelwa tat-Tork, which basically is the Maltese version of halva. The name in Maltese literally translates to Turkish Halva, thus it kept it’s origin in the name!
What is Ħelwa tat-Tork?
As already mentioned Ħelwa tat-Tork is the Maltese variant of halva. In short it’s a rich crumbly yet soft fluffy treat made out of tahini (sesame paste), sugar and water. This is then flavoured with vanilla and nuts. The traditional and most popular version on the island contains large whole almonds. I remember my mum buying it from behind the counter and it being weighed out from a huge block. However, in recent years it’s more common to find it ready weighed and packed in plastic containers. As it became more accessible, more new flavours started to be ready available. Although at the end of the day the traditional one is the one containing only whole almonds.
How to make Ħelwa tat-Tork
The first crucial step it to roast the nuts. This will help bring out a richer deeper flavour which willl make our Ħelwa even better! In the meantime in a pot place together the sugar and water over medium heat. Bring everything to a gentle boil and wait until the temperature reaches 120°C/248°F. Place a candy thermometer so that you are precise with the temperature, this will take around 10 minutes. Whilst the sugar is reaching the desired temperature, in a separate bowl mix together the tahini, vanilla, salt and roasted almonds. As soon as the sugar reaches the desired temperature, stream it in gently into the prepared mixture and mix it in. Be careful not to over mix it. In a prepared dish or loaf pan with parchment paper, add the mixture and store in the fridge. I like to let it set overnight before trying to cut through it so that I give it time to set completely and harden as desired.
Tips & Tricks
For this recipe a candy thermometer is essential as it needs to indicate the temperature quickly and precisely so not to over or under cook the sugar. The temperature at what you finish cooking the sugar is what will make or break your Ħelwa! If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the second best option is a fast reading thermometer. It is highly unlikely to get a successful Ħelwa if you don’t use a thermometer.
How to store Ħelwa tat-Tork?
Store the Ħelwa in an airtight container. You can either store in the fridge, where it can last several months. Although, be aware that the taste might change, especially if you store heavily string scented foods near it as the Ħelwa might take over some of the scents present in the fridge. You can also keep it at room temperature in a cool dry area. This will keep the Ħelwa safe to eat for a couple of weeks. In both cases the longer you leave the Ħelwa, the drier it will become.
How to enjoy the halva?
Traditionally, in Malta, the Ħelwa tat-tork is served straight up as is. You nibble on this sweet treat on its own served with a cup of coffee or tea. I also remember having it as a snack spread over a piece of bread. Lately, it’s become custom to make Ħelwa ice cream, which is served as is or as an accompaniment to imqaret! You can also use this delicious confection in your baked goods such as cookies, brownies, muffins, etc. Lastly, you can also add the Ħelwa to a savoury or sweet platter! This luxurious dessert is extremely versatile and any way you serve it, it will make your life sweeter.
Why is my Ħelwa lighter in colour?
A pale light beige is the most associated with Ħelwa, however, the colour of the base is highly dependent on the type of tahini used! In addition, the colour will also vary depending on the toppings and flavours you add to the mixture.
Can I do different flavours?
The options are endless!! In the recipe here I’m providing the basic recipe, with the Maltese touch. However, you can experiment as much as you like with the flavour by switching the vanilla with other spices or syrups. You can also do toppings on top of your Ħelwa! Or even you can mix in melted chocolate or spreads to it. The options are truly unlimited.
Ħelwa tat-Tork (Maltese Halva)
- 260 g tahini
- 200 g almonds
- 200 g sugar
- 110 ml water
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp salt
- Prepare a dish or loaf pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Roast the almonds until slightly browned and fragrant.
- In a saucepan place together the sugar and water over medium heat. Bring everything to a gentle boil and wait until your candy thermometer shows a temperature of 120°C/248°F. This can take about 10 minutes.
- Whilst the sugar is reaching the desired temperature, in a separate bowl mix together the tahini, vanilla, salt and roasted almonds. As soon as the sugar reaches the desired temperature, stream it in gently into the prepared mixture and mix it in. Be careful not to over mix it.
- Add the mixture in the prepared sheet and store in the fridge and let rest at least overnight until it hardens.
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