I got an idea stuck in my head a few months back, when my Instagram discovery feed exploded with posts about halva. Now I don’t remember searching for halva, since all I knew up to that point, was that I thought it was one of the items on a Haft Seen table, displayed at nowruz, the persian new year. While I cannot find definite proof that the dish, called samanu, I thought was halva, is actually a kind of halva, it didn’t exactly incite me to go and buy one of the many halva boxes on display at my local grocer. The samanu was a disturbing hue of brown and sickeningly sweet.
Back on my phone, instagramming it up, I was bombarded with all sorts of sweet goodness, making me salivate until I read the description – halva chocolate chip cookies, halva brownie, halva cheesecake. I was disconcerted. Nonetheless, halva started sprouting in my parietal part of the brain (the part responsible for, among other, the processing of taste information). You smart that way, Instagram, you very smart!
I went back to the grocer with an excuse to cultivate my already well cultivated spice drawer. I was slowly making my way to the aisle with the neon boxes. That’s how I knew I had arrived. Apparently halva needs to come with a display otherworldly, for it is not very high screaming in appearance, and, as I later found out, its texture rather.. blah. I chose a plain sesame based halva as opposed to the indian varieties on account that all these boxes didn’t let me peek into its interior. And samanu in mind, I didn’t want to open a box only to find the false promises of delicious sweets of my childhood.
The taste, when I finally got the courage to try it, was rather enjoyable. A grown up kind of sweet. A bit bitter as sesame can be, but with more depth that mellows into a sugary candy floss like quality. However, texture-wise, I was not sold. At first crumbly and dry, it then hardens and sticks to the roof of ones mouth. For now, I only have space in my life for one mouth-roof-hugger (peanut butter), so I knew I had to do something about that. I found it blends beautifully into a, well yes, peanut butter consistency. Which then mixes beautifully into whipped cream. I then started experimenting with what uses this halva cream could be utilized (a lot I would imagine), and tried a few designs that made the cream stand out rather bland. Until I realized that simple pleasures like whipped cream goes well with other simple pleasures like, say, puff pastry. Please do yourself the favor of making (deceivingly easy) homemade puff pastry. Not only is it pretty ego-boosting to hear people’s gasps when you tell them that, “yes of course I made it myself, don’t we all do that on lazy Sundays?”, but the flavor of a butter puff pastry is akin to very fresh and delicate caramel. Please don’t skimp on such a simple dessert where all elements are easily dissected. This recipe is great!
Finally, out of a feeling of guilt for shaming a central part of iranian culture, and quite possibly million of people’s taste buds, I decided to pair the halva with, what to me is essential persian, rose-water and the sweetest late-season strawberries. The result is this elegant summer indulgence.
HALVA & ROASTED STRAWBERRY MILLE FEUILLE
400g/14 oz strawberries, hulled
1 tbsp rose water
1 tsp vanilla paste
A quantity homemade puff pastry / 300g/10 oz all butter pastry
100g/3,5 oz plain halva
250ml/1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tbsp icing sugar + some for dusting
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
If necessary halve the larger strawberries, and keep the smaller ones intact. The important thing is to get an even size. In a large bowl, mix the rose-water and vanilla paste. Gently toss in the strawberries until everything is coated. Turn the strawberries onto the lined baking sheet, and arrange into one layer. Bake in the lowest part of the oven for 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through. The strawberries should be soft, but not total mush. Remove from oven. Cool completely. Keep the oven turned on. Drain
While the strawberries are roasting, roll out your puff pastry to a rectangle of 26x45cm. With a sharp knife cut into 5x13cm rectangles. That would make 18 rectangles for a total of 6 mille feuille. Prick pastry all over with a fork. Transfer the puff pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover the pastry with another layer of parchment paper. Put a baking sheet on top, to make sure the puff pastry doesn’t rise unevenly. Bake in the middle of the 200°C/400°F hot oven for 15 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper and bake for 5 minutes more, or until browned and crisp. Remove from oven and cool the puff pastry completely on a wire rack.
In a small food processor, process the halva until the consistency of peanut butter. About 2-3 minutes. In a bowl, whip the cream together with the icing sugar, until semi stiff peaks are formed. Gently fold in the halva. Streaks are fine. Keep cool.
To assemble: Lay out six puff pastries, pipe half the halva cream on these six. Arrange half the (somewhat well drained) strawberries on top. Top with a layer of puff pastry and repeat. Lay the third layer of puff pastry on top and dust with icing sugar. Serve immediately.