May 28, 2012

Chocolate Halawa Nut Bars

I know what is Halawa, right? 

I never heard of it (or saw it for that matter) until I moved to Dubai, but I'm very happy to have been introduced to this tasty little de-light. 

Halawa (or sometimes spelled Haleweh and can also be labeled as Halva) is a dense, sweet dessert that is typically sliced and eaten as it.  It's made from sesame seeds that are ground into a paste (tahini, one of the main ingredient in hummus) and mixed with sugar and pistachios.  The version I used here is a chocolate halawa.

Traditional Halawa is typically sold in blocks like this (so it's easier to slice and eat):

I always pass by Halawa at the grocery store and pick it up and put it down.  Pick it up and put it down.  I look at my husband and he never shows any interest so I put it back.  But since this blog is about exploration I thought okay, we are solving the Halawa mystery. 

So I said to the hub's the other day at the store, 'how do you eat this stuff?' I am probably asking the wrong person as he responds with 'I dunno put it on toast.'  But the wheels in my head start turning and I think maybe this little tub is like the Arabic version of Nutella, Bingo!

I got home and started searching online for any recipes that use halawa as an ingredient so I can determine the best way to use it.  But I came up with nothing.  Not one recipe.  Not one.  Plenty of recipes on how to make it from scratch, but no halawa cake, halawa brownies, halawa and salted caramel get me. 

So now I'm really intrigued because I could be onto something here.  This little un-touched gem really gets the creative juices flowing!  But part of me is still hesitant.  What if I incorporate it into a batch of brownies and it ends up becoming a greasy, nasty mess.  I hate nothing more than throwing away sweets.  So I make a call to one of the most informed Lebanese people I know, my dear friend Lara.

Lara has 4 kids, a full time job, and is a Lebanese master chef.  She knows everything and anything you'd ever want to know about Lebanese food, so I'm counting on her to give me some reassurance.

When I tell her I'd like to incorporate Halawa into a baked something-anything she responds with 'I never heard of anyone doing that.'  Oh dear.  She does tell me it won't melt, or will slightly melt but come together again once it cools.  So that gives me some confidence...well a little.

There is one recipe I could make with my eyes closed and that's Magic Layer Bars.  I've been making them for longer than I care to remember and they are consistent and perfect every single time.  You cannot f-them up even if you tried.  You might remember my Magic Truffles that are based off of these bars.

Since I know these bars by heart I thought I could crumble in the halawa as a substitute for the butterscotch chips.  Magic bars are one of those sweets you could substitute just about anything and they'd still be great. 

And damn it, it worked!

If you're in the US and you'd like to make these, your best bet would be to try and buy halawa online or visit one of your local Mediterranean/Middle Eastern markets.  If you're here in Dubai you can find halawa near the honey and jam at the grocery store.

If anyone reading this can recommend some other uses for halawa I'd love to hear from you!

Chocolate Halawa Nut Bars
yields about 2 dozen bars
printable version

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I used digestive biscuits ground up in the food processor)
4 ounces butter, melted
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup (approx 300 grams) chocolate halawa, crumbled
1 cup assorted, mixed nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan.

Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl.  Press firmly into the bottom of the pan to create and even crust layer.

Pour entire can of sweetened condensed milk over the crust layer.

Add the crumbled halawa.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the halawa in an even layer.

Top with the chopped nuts.

Press down firmly with a fork.

Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  I find these are usually easier to cut once they've been in the refrigerator for about an hour or so. 

Cut into bars and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Eagle Brand

May 24, 2012

Caramel Nut Tart

This recipe is from my hero, Martha Stewart. 

my two fav's, Martha AND Cookie Monster

Well...most probably it was created by someone on her staff anyway.  I'm guessing she is too busy running an empire to roll out pasty dough these days (unless she's being taped of course) but it doesn't matter I love her anyway.

The recipes from Martha's website, magazine, books, etc are never overly complicated.  They're written concisely and don't have a million and one ingredients which is something I love and appreciate about her brand.

The trickiest part about this tart (for me anyway) was the crust.  If you've read my post Gentleman's Apple Pie you'll see that I've given some tips about perfecting the pie crust.  I'm not there yet.  Not even close.  But it's okay you've just got to practice and eat.  Practice, eat.  Repeat.  It's the only way to learn.

This crust recipe is called a Pate Sucree which is fancy-pants-french for 'Sweet Dough.'  It is ideal for tart pans as it doesn't stick to the sides of the pan and doesn't shrink.  It's a bit 'tougher' than a flaky pie crust but still has a nice bite.  The taste is somewhat similar to shortbread cookie.  Crisp and buttery, not too flakey and not too sweet.

As always with any pastry dough remember the following so you won't be cursing in the kitchen:

Work FAST: don't dilly-dally (like message your friends telling them you're making pie).  You want the dough cold cold cold.  Two important reasons.  First, pastry dough is much easier to work with when it's cold.  It is less likely to stick to the counter and rolling pin if it's chilled.  Second, you want chunks of butter (not hunks of butter, more like slivers) throughout the dough.  These chunks go into the oven cold and melt in place, in turn creating a buttery crust.  Yum yum.

Less NOT more (it terms flour): When rolling out your dough, sparingly use flour to dust the counter and your rolling pin.  If you find that your dough keeps sticking the culprit is mostly likely that it has become too warm.  By continually adding flour to the dough you're setting yourself up for a brittle, tough crust.  Work cold and work fast.

Caramel Nut Tart
Yields 2 nine-inch tarts
printable version

For the Pate Sucree
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons ice water
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten

For the filling
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pound (16 ounces) assorted mixed nuts (I would go with unsalted) such as hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, almonds, pecans, or cashews
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In the bowl of a food processor, add flour, sugar, and salt.  Add butter and process for approximately 10 seconds or just until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

With the motor running, add ice water drop by drop (don't just dump it in).  Slowly add egg yolks until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky, about 30 seconds.  Test the dough at this point by squeezing a small amount together.  If it is too crumbly, add a bit more water.

Divide dough into two equal portions (I weighed mine for accuracy).  Flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling.  If you keep the dough in the refrigerator over night, move to the counter for at least 30 minutes so it will soften slightly and be easier to roll.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Have ready two 9-inch tart pans with a removable bottom (I only have one so I had to make the pies separately.  If you have two pans you can bake them at the same time).  Cut out two parchment circles to fit the size of the pan and set aside (note: if you only have one pan you only need one circle, you can just re-use after the first pie is done). 

Roll out one disk of pate sucree to a 12 inch circle with a 1/4 inch thickness.  After rolling hold the pan over the dough to make sure the diameter is correct.  Roll dough onto the pin and unroll over one of the tart pans.  Press dough into place and being careful not to stretch the dough.  Use a paring knife to trim off excess dough.  Repeat with remaining dough and tart pan.  Chill both pans for 30 minutes.  If you only have one pan keep the other disk of dough in the fridge until later.

Line pastry dough with the parchment circle and fill with pie weights or dried beans. My husband walked in at this exact moment and said 'oh you're making a bean pie, are they going to cook all dry like that?' I mean really, what else could he say? Yes honey you've been bad, you get a bean pie. A dry one. Ick.

Bake until pastry begins to take on color, about 25 minutes.  Remove the parchment and weights (beans) and continue baking or until light golden brown all over, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside until ready to use.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.  To prepare the filling, place butter, both sugars, honey, and heavy cream in a large saucepan over high heat. 

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil 5 minutes.

Stir in nuts and vanilla and remove from heat.  Pour filling equally into reserved tart shells.  I weighed the mixture so each tart would have an equal amount of filling.  If you're only using one pan at a time, cover remaining filling and set aside.  Once you're ready to fill the second tart shell, microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds until it's somewhat fluid and easy to transfer (as it firms up somewhat quickly).


Bake tarts on the center rack until the filling bubbles. 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 days.


Pate Sucree and Filling recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart

May 12, 2012

Fluffernutter & Kit Kat almost Fudge Bars

These bars are 100% my husbands fault.  He brought home a big bag of mini Kit Kat Bars...if he would have brought one bar home I could have left it alone...but when I see a unopened bag of anything candy related my first reaction is to chop them up and throw them into some sort of chocolate concoction. 

And here we are, Fluffernuter & Kit Kat almost Fudge Bars.  I know what a ridiculous name but really that's what they are. 

If you are not familiar with The Fluffernutter, oh boy do we all feel sorry for you.  Well, I guess it's probably an American thing anyway.  I made my husband his first Fluffernutter a couple of years ago and he was like 'where has this thing been all my life?!' 

Ok, The Fluffernutter is B.A.S.I.C.

1. White Bread, preferably Wonder Bread (yep off to a bad start already)
2. Peanut Butter
3. Marshmallow fluff

Don't let the simplicity of this yummy sandwich beast fool you.  This is one of those treats that's perfect for hangovers or also great when you're sick or have no food left in the house.  Ok, and good for college kids and 7 year olds. 

So what do Fluffernutters & Kit Kat Bars have in common?  Well they're both awesome so why not marry the two?  Also I had half a jar (the big jar, not the 7 oz. size) of marshmallow fluff left over from my husbands S'mores Cake, so I needed to quickly use it up before I ate it spoonful by spoonful watching Martha Stewart in the morning. 

I've been wanting to do some sort of Fluffernutter inspired recipe, but then I had these damn Kit Kat Bars in the house so I figured what the heck let's see what happens.

The addition of marshmallow fluff in this recipe gave the bars somewhat of a light, nougat texture which was really interesting.  It's lighter and not as dense as fudge, but just as sweet.

I added the candy topping because the bars alone looked a bit ugly on top.  The mixture thickened up quickly so you don't have too much time to spread the top to look pretty.  It's okay, give them a chocolaty peanut-buttery hat...who's gonna complain about that?!? 

Fluffernutter & Kit Kat almost Fudge Bars
printable version

For the bars
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup (4 oz.) melted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons peanut butter (chunky or smooth, doesn't matter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 jar (7oz. or something close to that) marshmallow fluff
30 individual sticks of Kit Kat Bars (I used a 250 gram bag), chopped by hand, not want nice sized chunks to bite into.  I would think any candy would actually work in this recipe.  Reese's peanut butter cups or Snickers would also be de-lish.

For the candy topping
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used chunky but if you want a smooth, lump free top use the creamy kind)

Combine sugar, cocoa, butter, & milk in a large pan and boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter, vanilla, and marshmallow fluff.  Stir until smooth and creamy.

Add chopped Kit Kat Bars and stir to combine.

Quickly transfer mixture to a greased (I used non-stick cooking spray) 13 x 9 baking pan and spread evenly with an off-set spatula.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge while you prepare the topping.

To prepare the topping, combine the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a heat safe bowl.  Microwave for 1 minute, stirring halfway through.  Stir again and microwave for an additional 30 seconds if needed.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and all the chocolate and peanut butter is melted. Mine was lumpy from the peanuts in the peanut butter.

Poor mixture evenly over the bars and place back in the fridge to firm up, about 1 hour.

Make sure the kiddos approve...

Cut into bars and enjoy!

Bar recipe adapted from Yummly

Candy topping recipe courtesy of Jaseys Crazy Daisy

May 11, 2012

Gimmie S'more Cake

Now that is a cake.

No, it's THE cake.

If I never bake another cake for the rest of my life I think I'd be long as I could keep making this one. 

This is called THE S'more cake.  7 layers.  Yep, 7.  2 brownie, 2 cheesecake, 2 cookie dough, and 1 graham cracker.  Layered with marshmallow frosting inside, chocolate frosting outside.  You know it's gonna be good when it won't even fit in the fridge. 

One thing about blogging is you must always pay credit when credit is do.  So hands down to the creator of this cake, Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body.  She also made this 'moutain of fun' for her husband, I think for their anniversary...sweet. 

I tested this recipe for my hubby's 30th birthday. Big cake for a big day. My tough guy even had trouble cutting into this one, which was fun to watch. Look at that face...

As you may know my husband doesn't have the same caliber of sweet tooth as moi, but this cake pulled him over to the dark, sweet, side. Really how could anyone not like something so lovable?   And tall.   And f'ing fantastic if I do so say myself.

One of the changes I made to the original recipe is I opted to use a cookie dough layer instead of a baked cookie layer.  I thought we might prefer the softness of the cookie dough verses the crispy cookie.  With that said, this cake is pretty versatile.  If you have a favorite brownie or cookie recipe that you'd prefer then give it a try.  Bake what makes you happy and never feel too constricted to any recipe. 

But please, don't look at this picture and think 'oh God I could never make something like that' because that is exactly what I said the first time I saw the recipe.  But once the cake was complete and we cut out a slice you should have seen me doing a happy dance.  I swear I did, right in my kitchen.  My husband was very excited about this too...big cake, happy wife, lots of happy dancing, was really a great birthday.

However if you are still skeptical, let's review...

Can you bake brownies?  Yes, of course you can.

Can you make a 5-ingredient cheesecake...with no crust, come on!

Cake you prepare cookie dough...not sure?  Yes, you can don't worry.  This part is easier than baking chocolate chip cookies.

Can you whip up pretty frosting?  OK here is where I would say NO.  I am horrible with frosting. I always over-beat and it separates and then I have my meltdown.  This is every time without fail.  BUT, this frosting is my new BFF because it's fool (and Gina) proof.  So you can do it too.

See, so far we're good.  We can make all the components of this cake no problem.  All you have to do is layer up everything you already know to make.  Then we happy-dance.

Ultimate S'mores Cake
printable version

For the brownie layers
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa (I used Hershey's Dark)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate, your preference)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease 2 round cake pans.  Line with waxed paper and grease the paper.  Or you can line the pans with aluminum foil as shown below.  This step made the brownies super easy to pull out once they cooled and also made clean up a breeze.  

In a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl, or in a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat (or microwave) briefly, just until it’s hot (about 110°F to 120°F), but not bubbling; it’ll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

While the sugar heats a second time, crack the 4 eggs into a bowl, and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla till smooth.

Add the hot butter/sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.

Add the flour and chips, again stirring until smooth. Note: If you want the chips to remain intact in the baked brownies, rather than melting in, let the batter cool in the bowl for about 20 minutes before stirring in the chips.

Divide the batter into the pans and check the weight to make sure they're equal (if you have a kitchen scale).

Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool on a wire rack. 

Wrap the cooled brownies in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to assemble.  If you're planning to leave them for a few days in the freezer wrap with aluminum foil to guarantee freshness.

For the cheesecake layers
1 1/4 pounds cream cheese (20 oz.), room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium until fluffy, scraping down side of bowl.

Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down side of bowl after each addition. Beat in sour cream.

Use the exact same pans you used to bake the brownies and either grease (and line the bottom with parchment) or line with aluminum foil.   Pour half of the filling in each pan (weigh again to make sure they're equal!) Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temp down to 325 and bake for an additional 45 minutes.


Remove pan from oven, let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of the pans to loosen from the sides; let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.

For the cookie dough layers
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup (8oz.) butter, melted
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
6 tablespoons whole milk

Line your pans with aluminium foil (using the same pans from before).

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, salt, brown sugar, and granulated sugar.  Add butter and vanilla. Mix until a dry dough forms. 

Add chocolate chips and mix on lowest speed.

Once the chips are thoroughly mixed into the dough, add whole milk 1 tablespoon at a time with the machine on the lowest speed. 

Using a kitchen scale (or carefully eye-ball!) equally divide the dough into the two prepared pans.  Place dough in the refrigerator until ready to use.  If you're not going to be layering the cake right away. let the dough harden up in the fridge, then wrap with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until ready to use.

For the Chocolate Frosting
1 pound (16oz.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups/12oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl; stir until the cocoa is dissolved.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners' sugar and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.

Add the melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1-2 minutes.

 Beat in the cocoa mixture until well blended. (Note: My frosting was still a bit runny for decorating at this point. I let it cool longer before frosting the cake so it could firm up slightly.

For the Marshmallow Frosting
1 jar (17 oz.) marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Beat together the marshmallow fluff and butter on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat an additional minute. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until it's light and fluffy. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.

Remove all 6 layers from the freezer.  Don't they look amazing already?!

Divide your marshmallow frosting into 4 equal portions.  Weigh the portions if you have a kitchen scale.  This will guarantee you will have even layers of frosting throughout your cake.

Have your cake stand close by.  I bought a disposable cake board to use under the cake.  This is helpful if you plan to frost the cake on a revolving cake stand then transfer to a pretty one for display.  If you don't own a revolving one but do frost a lot of cakes I highly recommend buying yourself one.  They make frosting a cake a snap.

Place a brownie layer on your cake stand (with the cake board underneath if you're using one) and spread on the marshmallow frosting.

Top with a cookie dough layer and cover with another layer of the marshmallow frosting.

Top with a cheesecake layer and then top with the chocolate frosting.
Layer graham crackers on top of the chocolate.  You'll need to break them around the edges to fully cover the cake in an even layer.  Don't worry about what it looks like, no one will ever see and it won't make one bit that they are in tiny little pieces.

Cover the graham crackers with another layer of the chocolate frosting.  Then repeat the same layers as before, but this time going backwards.

After the chocolate, layer with the other cheesecake layer, then a layer of marshmallow.  Then another layer of cookie dough, marshmallow, and finally the remaining brownie layer.  PHEW!

Cover with the remaining chocolate frosting.  Work from the top of the cake and then slowly down the sides.  Don't try to frost the sides in one big schmear.  I worked two layers at a time then moved down.  Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

look closely you can see our Kali trying to catch some chance doggie!

I also recommend moving the cake to the counter at least 30 minutes prior to cutting so it'll be easier to get the knife through.

S'more Cake created by Fat Girl Trapped In a Skinny Body
Brownie Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour
Cookie Dough Recipe courtesy of Sprinkle Bakes

Chocolate Frosting Recipe courtesy of Annie's Eats