Tar Halva is a very traditional Persian dessert made with rice flour, ground cardamom and butter. It is sweetened with a light saffron syrup that is mildly scented with rosewater. Tar Halva translates to “moist halva,” which is a different version of the regular Halva; it is made with rice flour and has a softer and moister consistency. Tar Halva is made using various methods in different parts of Iran from North to South, and this results in many types of Tar Halva with different colors, consistencies, and flavors.
The word Halva comes from the Arabic “Halwa,” which means desserts or sweets. Halva is a very popular dessert in many parts of the world and every country uses a different method with special added ingredients. You could say there are as many different halva recipes and techniques as there are countries that make them.
For example in Iran there are so many different types of Halva: Tar Halva is made with rice flour. The regular Halva is made with wheat flour. Halva Ardeh is made with sesame paste mixed with sugar and pistachios. Halva Havij is made with carrots. Halva Zanjabil is a drier halva with a hot ginger flavor.
In today’s Iran desserts such as Rollet, Napoleons, Cheesecakes, Danish Pastries as well as many others are baked by the home cooks and also by the pastry chefs in confectionery (ghannadi) shops in every city in Iran. Back in the day when these desserts were not available, the sweets with more simple ingredients were made in every home to share with one’s family and guests. The recipes for the traditional desserts such as Tar Halva have been passed down from generation to generation; this is one such recipe.
One thing that I can say with certainty is that no matter how many different European and western pastries and sweets are enjoyed in Iran, there is no scarcity of desserts like Tar Halva on the table at big parties and gatherings. This fragrant dessert is cooked with good quality butter (kareh), exotic cardamom (hel), golden saffron (zaferan), and perfumed with a touch of rosewater (golab). So no wonder it is still extremely popular with so many who savor the rich flavors and love the soothing smooth texture that melts in the mouth.
To make the Tar Halva, the rice flour must be stirred and cooked in the skillet without any oil until it is aromatic and nutty without changing color. Then the butter is stirred in with the hot flour over heat until the flour is all moistened by butter and resembles a paste. If you notice the color is getting darker reduce the heat and continue stirring until the paste is smooth without a greasy texture.
Drop a small piece of the hot paste into the lukewarm syrup and if it sizzles then it is hot enough to be mixed with the syrup. Pour the entire syrup into the skillet over the hot paste.
Use a wooden spoon to stir and mix the hot paste and syrup. Keep stirring until the Tar Halva mixture is well blended and once again starts forming a paste. Turn off the heat and keep stirring until the Tar Halva starts pulling away from the bottom and sides of the skillet and comes together to form a ball.
Transfer the Tar Halva to a bowl and and cool for about 15 minutes at room temperature. Then transfer the it to a shallow serving platter and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Use the tip of the spoon to make designs on the Tar Halva. If you don’t like how it looks, no sweat, just smooth it out and start all over again; this is a very smooth and forgiving halva!
Add some optional garnish with slivered or chopped pistachios and dried rose petals.
Enjoy this delicious saffron and rosewater scented dessert after lunch or dinner with a cup of tea.
- FOR THE SYRUP
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- ¼ tsp saffron powder
- 2 TBSP rose water
- FOR THE TAR HALVA BASE
- 1 cup rice flour
- 2 ½ ounces unsalted butter, cubed
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- Optional Garnish:
- Slivered or chopped pistachios
- Dried rose petals
- First make the syrup: Mix sugar and water over medium heat only until the sugar dissolves and comes to a low boil. Add saffron and stir. Remove from the heat. Add the rosewater and stir to combine. Set aside so it cools to lukewarm. Do not boil the syrup.
- Now make the base: Add the flour to a nonstick 10-inch skillet and stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon for about 8-10 minutes, or until it becomes aromatic and smells nutty. The flour should not change color.
- Add cold butter cubes and ground cardamom to the skillet. Stir over medium heat until all the flour becomes moist and paste like. Keep stirring until all the butter is completely cut into the flour and the mixture is nice and paste like but not greasy looking.
- Add a small piece of the hot paste to the lukewarm syrup. If it sizzles the paste is hot enough to be mixed with the syrup.
- Now add all the syrup in the skillet over the hot paste. Keep stirring over medium heat with wooden spoon until well blended.
- Keep stirring until once again the mixture sticks together and forms a paste.
- Turn off the heat and keep stirring until the Tar Halva starts pulling away from the sides and bottom of the skillet.
- Add the Tar Halva to a bowl and cool at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
- Transfer the Tar Halva to a shallow serving platter. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon, then use the tip of the spoon to make designs on top.
- Garnish with some slivered or chopped pistachios and dried rose petals.
- Enjoy the Tar Halva after lunch or dinner with a cup of tea.
To make ground cardamom: Grind the whole pods in a small food grinder until you get a soft powder. No need to remove the skin.
To make ground saffron: Grind saffron threads in a small food grinder until soft powder.