Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like candy. Candy brings out the kid in all of us and reminds us how to have fun again. Besides, an occasional indulgence is good for your health. Your doctor agrees. I checked.
I’ve taken a week off for Christmas this year. The Plan is to decorate, wrap presents, listen to holiday tunes, dance with Daisy, eat cookies, visit with friends and family.
And bake, bake, BAKE.
I can just see the look of terror on my husband’s face as he pictures stacks and stacks of frosty cakes, cookies, brownies, candies piling up and taking over our house. Like me, he is a ferocious sweet-tooth.
My Plan is going to challenge his efforts in training for an upcoming endurance mountain-bike race.
The good thing is that most of it is going to leave the premises in the form of presents.
Homemade treats are always the best gifts. They stand up against mass-produced, corporate conglomerate stuff. And while it’s true we work hard to earn the money we spend, anything made with care by hand, however imperfect, is extra-special.
Old-fashioned sweets are the best. Halva is a time-honoured treat from the Middle East. Tracing its roots to old Arabia, halva has traveled miles and changed its shape, flavour, and consistency.
My favourite is a gooey, buttery, mildly sweet soft fudge scented with cardamom, saffron and rosewater, topped with a generous handful of crunchy pistachios. The recipe requires no special equipment or skill and takes no planning, because the ingredients are so basic.
My grandmother used to make this for us. I can still see her standing at the stove, patiently pushing the flour back and forth, around the pan with a wooden spoon til the kitchen smelled toasty. It’s my new Christmas favourite, because it’s such an unexpected dessert. Edible glitter adds a subtle shimmer. Serve a big platter of it with fresh lavash bread and watch your guests’ eyes sparkle and shine.
Saffron Pistachio Fudge (Halva)
Note: This fudge can be made ahead of time and frozen in an air-tight container.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
A pinch saffron
A pinch sugar
2 Tb hot water
2 cups flour
2 sticks butter, room temp
A pinch of cardamom
1/4 cup rose water
1/4 cup raw pistachios, chopped
A pinch edible glitter (optional)
Fresh lavash bread for serving
Pour water into a heavy-bottomed pan, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Heat gently to make the syrup.
Using a small mortar and pestle, crush saffron threads with a bit of sugar. Transfer to a mug, add a couple tablespoons of hot water, cover with a saucer and set aside to steep.
In a large pan, mash soft butter into flour, add a smidge of ground cardamom and set onto medium heat. With a wooden spoon, stir the butter-flour mixture around the pan, heating it evenly until toasty and fragrant. The colour will darken slightly.
Add saffron to the syrup and pour over the flour-butter mixture, a bit at a time, and stir to incorporate well. Continue until all of the syrup is used and the fudge has thickened, another 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cool a bit, ~ 10 minutes.
Add rose water and stir to combine.
Transfer fudge to a pretty platter. Give the pistachios a good bashing and sprinkle over the fudge, along with a bit of edible glitter.
Serve with fresh, soft lavash.
This fudge has an exotic foreign accent. A gift from the Middle East that makes a statement. It says you’re a stylin’ world traveler with sophisticated taste, even if you haven’t ever left town.