Walnut and Halvah Cake

My boss recently went to Israel and brought some halvah back to the office for everyone to taste. In case you didn’t know (because I didn’t know until only recently), halvah is a candy made with sugar or flour and some type of nut butter, such as sesame or sunflower seeds. My boss brought us halvah made with tahini sesame nut butter and sugar. Having not had it before, I found it to have an interesting texture and unique flavor. Although I’m not sure that I could eat it like I would eat other types of candy, like a Reese's cup or Hershey's bar, I was very intrigued by the halvah. Since trying it, I’ve learned that many people add it to cakes and cookies and other types of baked goods.   I honestly don’t know how I’ve not known about this until now.  
Of course, my new baking mission began, and this generally happens when I learn of a new baking ingredient. It just so happens that this particular recipe has been sitting on my bookshelf for several months calling out to me to make. I found this fabulous recipe very quickly in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, called Plenty More. While I’m not a vegetarian (yet), I absolutely love Yotam Ottolenghi. He is an Israeli and Italian British chef and he is a genius when it comes to cooking, especially vegetarian cooking.  Check him out here: http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/yotam/.  His walnut and halvah cake is delightful and delicious.  It’s a simple yellow cake with a walnut streusel halvah filling, topped with a streusel walnut topping. Oh, I shouldn't forget to mention the best part -- the streusel, used in both the filling and topping, is made with a browned butter, which totally enhances its nutty flavor.  This is my first attempt at making this recipe and baking with halvah. It is so easy to make, it’s delicious and it will most definitely impress all of your family and friends.




For the filling and topping:

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • Scant 1 1/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Scant 3 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar (may substitute turbinado or another coarse raw sugar)

For the Cake:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 6 ounces plain sesame halvah, broken into 1-inch pieces



Step 1: For the filling and topping: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Allow it to sizzle for 3 or 4 minutes, until it is light brown and smelling slightly nutty. Remove from the heat to cool.
Step 2: Combine the brown butter, walnuts and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Divide the mixture in half, then stir the muscovado sugar into one of the portions; don’t be afraid to use your hands spread the sugar evenly throughout the mixture. Set the two mixtures aside.
Step 3: Cut the halvah into i-inch pieces.  Set aside.
Step 4: For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with a little butter, then line the bottom and sides with parchment or wax paper, cut large enough so that it overhangs by several inches on each side (for ease of removal).
Step 5: Combine the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. 
Step 6: Add the eggs one at a time; beat on medium speed, until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Step 7: Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this to the batter on low speed, alternating with the sour cream, in a couple of additions, being careful not to over-mix.
Step 8: Spread half of the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Scatter the sugarless butter-nut mixture evenly over the batter. Dot the halvah pieces on top. Spread the remaining batter evenly as a top layer. Finish by sprinkling the sugary nut mixture evenly over the surface.
Step 9: Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes, then gently remove it from the pan by lifting the parchment paper. Discard the paper; transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.


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