A delicious flour halva recipe with the perfect flour, oil, and sugar ratios! Not overly sweet or fatty, un helvasi is a ceremonial Turkish dessert. Vegan with a gluten-free option.
Flour halva is a dessert made by creating a paste with toasted wheat flour and syrup. It is a simple pudding made on a stovetop that takes forever to make...but the result is so worth it!
My family in Turkey makes the semolina version of this dessert on a regular basis, while flour halva is often reserved for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Besides Turkish, there are many other cuisines such as Greek, Persian, Balkan, Israeli, and Indian (such as suji or besan ka halwa) that have halva.
📋 What is halva?
Saying "halva" in the Middle East used to be akin to saying "pudding" in England: it meant dessert. That's because the Arabic word "ﺣُﻠﻮ", or "hulw", translates to "sweet".
Nowadays, halva encapsulates a specific kind of dessert. They all are or are made from a "paste" of sorts. In Turkey, these three types of halva are the most popular:
Tahini halva: Also known as "tahin helva", this kind usually is manufactured professionally and is rarely made at home. Tahin helva starts off as a paste, but then is solidified into rectangular blocks.
The popular flavors are pistachio, chocolate, and sade (plain). It has tahini, sugar, water, and most importantly—soapwort extract.
Soapwort is an emulsifier used in many Middle Eastern and Turkish desserts such as certain types of Turkish delight.
Some people also use it to make a natural shampoo. It's fascinating stuff and could revolutionize vegan desserts!
Semolina halva: Made using semolina, butter or oil, sugar, and water. This is the most popular kind of helva you'll run into in Turkey.
Flour halva: Pretty much identical to semolina helva, but is made with wheat flour instead. It also takes much longer to make—the browning of the roux can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours! This is the type we're making today.
🧈 Ingredients used in un helvasi
Following the quantities to a T is essential for this recipe more so than many others. Especially the ratio of flour to oil... you may be shocked by the amount of oil you'll be pouring into the pan. I certainly was the first time I saw grandma make it!
Unfortunately, decreasing the amount of oil doesn't work. I knew it wouldn't work since all the flour particles need to be thoroughly coated in oil to avoid lumps, but tested it using less oil anyway.
Just as expected, the roux was unsuccessful when made with even 20% less oil.
This dessert is meant to be extremely rich and objectively unhealthy while being all the more tasty for it.
So I suggest using the entire quantity of ingredients as listed and enjoying halva sparingly if you must.
This is what makes un helvasi, "un" helvasi. I've seen versions made with whole wheat or gluten-free flour as well, but haven't tested it.
Even though it wouldn't make a traditional flour helva—there are many substitutions that could work well.
For example, in India, "besan ka halwa" is a popular dessert made with split brown chickpea flour (gram flour).
Whatever type of flour you use, make sure to sift it a few times to avoid any clumping.
My family always used vegetable oil for both flour and semolina helvas. Sunflower oil works very well. You could also use grapeseed, canola, or any other neutral oil.
Olive oil (especially if fresh and extra-virgin) tastes a little too savory in a helva.
Besides not being too heavy, another advantage of using vegetable oil in helva comes from allowing a high smoke point.
This lets us use high heat to make the roux. This way we can go past the white and blond stages and go into peanut butter roux territory!
Note that many people prefer using butter in helva, at least partially. Owing to the long toasting process of the flour as a roux is made, there's incidentally a flavorful browned butter.
Personally, I find even vegan butter to be a bit too heavy in this dessert.
Feel free to substitute the oil completely or partially with vegan butter if you like its flavor more. Check out this recipe by Okonomi Kitchen for a vegan butter that browns!
Butter (including most vegan butter) is 18% water so if you do replace the oil with it, make sure to increase the amount of butter accordingly.
I use regular granulated sugar to make the syrup. I haven't tested the recipe with unrefined sugars such as molasses or coconut sugar.
The quantity of sugar listed in this recipe as my family makes it is perfect in my opinion. The dessert isn't cloying, but still quite sweet just as a helva should be.
The flour helva recipe in the New York Times instructs using more than double the amount of sugar for the same amount of flour though, so be forewarned that some may like it way sweeter than this.
Optional: Nuts and Spices
In Turkey, flour halva is usually served without nuts or spices—especially if made for a ceremony in order to make it more affordable.
When made at home, people add their favorite toppings such as cinnamon or cardamom, and pine nuts, blanched almonds, or pistachios.
Personally, I love a light dusting of cinnamon and crushed pistachios on flour halva!
🥣 How to make flour helva
Making flour helva is quite simple as long as you stick to a few key tips. We will basically make syrup and a dark roux, then combine them.
Make the Syrup
Using hot syrup on flour helva is not ideal—so we'll make the syrup first and give it a chance to cool.
Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan over high heat. Once it starts to boil, turn off the heat and set aside to let cool.
Since we aren't boiling it for long, crystallization-preventing ingredients such as citric acid (also found in lemon juice) aren't necessary, but feel free to add a small amount for peace of mind if desired.
Sift the Flour
Sifting the flour is important to minimize the chances of clumping. Sift a few times for best results.
Make the Roux
Heat the neutral oil (or melt the vegan butter) on a large, wide pan on low heat. Gradually add sifted flour while vigorously mixing with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. It will become smooth within a minute.
Mix, Mix, and Mix a 'lil Longer...
This is the most time-consuming part of making flour halva.
There simply is no going around it—take a look at this comparison and see how cutting corners may affect the results:
On the left, we have roux that was cooked for 45 minutes. It would taste good with syrup, but not great. The appearance is pale, unlike authentic flour halva.
On the right, we have roux that's been cooked for 2 hours. Halva made from it tastes amazing and is the perfect deep golden brown halva color!
So for best results, cook the roux on medium heat for 1.5 to 2 hours, stirring the corners and bottom at least once every few minutes so that halva doesn't burn.
If you'd like to be done sooner (40-50 minutes instead of 2 hours), cook on high heat and mix continuously.
Combine the Syrup with Roux
Once the roux reaches the peanut-butter-colored stage, carefully pour the cooled syrup into the flour paste away from your face.
Mix for about a minute, turn off the heat, cover pot with lid or cloth napkin, and let cool.
Shape and Serve
This is the most fun stage of making halva! You can make it in any shape you prefer.
In Turkey, the most traditional way to shape flour halva is by placing it onto a spoon and smoothing it out with another spoon. This creates perfect little bites.
Another popular serving method is to place all the halva into a large dish, then to make decorative indents using a fork or knife.
Personally, I like using baking tins or plastic molds to shape halva for an impressive effect. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle with crushed pistachios if using.
Enjoy alongside Turkish coffee or tea, as well as a cup of water, for the most authentic flour halva experience.
💭 Other Turkish desserts
Looking for other Turkish recipes? Try:
- Easy baklava
- Semolina cake (sambali)
- Turkish pumpkin dessert (kabak tatlisi)
- Turmeric pudding (zerde)
- Turkish delights (lokum)
Did you make this Turkish flour halva recipe? I'd love to hear about it! Please comment and leave a star🌟 rating below. This helps me run Aegean Delight and I always appreciate it 🙂Print