Most Greeks are named after patron saints (others given ancient Greek names) and each person celebrates their “name day” on the day their namesake (patron saint) died. The saint’s memory is celebrated along with all those named after that particular saint on that particular day. There are name days practically every day in Greece (many obscure Greek names) but when there’s a big one, usually there’s also a “Panigyri” or festival.
A festival in Greece may go from one day to a week and since there’s such a large gathering of people, the by-product of a flea market, farmer’s market, rows and rows of stalls with people selling their wares and where there are people – there’s food. Lots of food! Food trucks set up at the Panigyria, restauranteurs rent kiosks and stalls to sell souvlaki, Gyro or whole lamb or pig on the spit, sandwiches, snacks and many types of desserts, sweets and confectionery are offered to lure the adult and child alike.
One of the treats offered at festivals is called Halvas Farsalon (not to be mixe-up with the other better know halvas). Many of you are familar with the semolina halva and there’s also the “Makedonikos Halvas”, a name given to the halva made traditionally with sesame paste and honey. Halva Farsalon comes from central Greece and originally from the town of Farsala…and this halva is the hallmark of this town. Halvas Farsalon is unique in that it’s made with corn starch (not semolina) and the consistency is of a jelly with a buttery caramel flavour.
Halvas Farsalon is made as such: sugar is added into large rounded pots (with heavy bottoms) over moderate heat with the purpose of forming a deep copper-coloured caramel. Waiting in the wings is a mixture of more sugar, corn starch and water that’s added into the pot as soon as the caramel has formed in the pot. Constant stirring then ensues and slowly the caramel melts away into the corn starch then the liquid begins to thicken and that caramel that you watched over with patience has come back to life and a dense, transparent caramel jelly has formed. At this point toasted almonds are added along with melted clarified butter (in increments) while stirring some more.
As soon as the butter has been absorbed and the halva no longer sticks to the sides, the treat is almost complete. The halva is left in the pot for a few moments to allow a crust to form on the bottom. Then, the halva is flipped/inverted so that the caramel-crusted bottom is on top and now the Halvas Farsalon is emptied onto a large round tray and allowed to cool. A sprinkle of cinnamon tops the Halvas Farsalon and it ready to be eaten – room temperature or chilled in the fridge.
This is very easy to dish to prepare at home until you get to the stage of creating that crust on top. One needs one of the large pots as shown in the above video and some practice flipping this large portion of Halva. At home, you have options: simply skip making the crust or be creative and use another method to make the crust. For me, the crust is a ‘must”. Once the Halva has cooled completely, you can sprinkle some sugar on top and either torch or brulee the top or place under your broiler in the oven until just brown on top. There’s another method to create that caramel top and you’ll find my suggestion at the end of this recipe!
Halvas Farsalon (Χαλβάς Φαρσάλων)
an 11-inch round metal pan (2 inched deep)
3 cups sugar
2 cups corn starch
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup melted clarified butter (unsalted)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, halved and lightly toasted
ground cinnamon for finishing
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2-3 Tbsp. water
- Mix 2 cups of sugar with cornstarch and vanilla and pour in 5 cups of water and mix until blended.
- Add remaining 1 cup sugar into heavy-bottomed pot and stir continuously until a dark gold/copper colour is attained. Remove from the heat and pour the corn starch/sugar/water slurry into the pan.
- Return to stovetop and stir over medium heat until mixture is thick and comes away from sides of pan.
- Add almonds and some of the butter and stir and then add the rest of the butter (stirring) until once again absorbed. Empty the Halvas into the pan and level the top with wooden spoon. Allow to cool completely.
- Once the Halva has cooled completely, place a small pot on your stovetop with the sugar, cream of tartar and water and melt the sugar over medium heat. Watch the sugar turn into caramel and as soon as you’ve acheived a deep copper colour, pour it all over your cooled Halva and quickly tilt it around to even distribute the caramel over the entire top. Allow to cool and serve room temperature or chilled. Halvas Farsalon lasts covered in your fridge for up to 3-4 days.
*The town of Farsala is located in central Greece, in the southern part of the province of Thessaly. This mainly agrarian area is concentrated around cotton and livestock farming with some textile industry. The origins of Halvas Farsalon are from the Near East (Turks) who settled in the mid-1400’s. Although Halvas Farsalon originates from Farsala, once can find this treat at Panigyria (festivals) throughout Greece. Efforts are currently being made to make Halvas Farsalon a PDO product.
. All rights reserved.