Along with the cans of macaroons, jelly rings and coconut marshmallows, every Passover supermarket display includes bags of Joyva sesame candy. It’s not terrible, but nothing compares to the deliciousness of homemade sesame brittle.
Our Moroccan and Iraqi mothers and grandmothers always made batches of their own sesame brittle for Jewish holidays, hennas (a traditional Sephardic pre-wedding celebration), bris ceremonies and mimouna (a traditional North African celebration to mark the end of Passover).
The combination of toasted sesame seeds and honey originated with the Ancient Greeks, then spread throughout the Middle East and Southern Europe. In Greece and Cyprus, it’s called “pasteli;” in Arabic “haloua de jijlan;” in Spanish “aljalwas de ajonjoli;” in Italian “giuggiulena;” and “croquent de sesames” in French.
Sesame brittle is still very popular throughout the Middle East, Italy and Spain. European bakers consider it chic to decorate wedding cakes and cream puff towers with thin strips of sesame toffee. And while peanut brittle reigns supreme in the U.S., sesame brittle is growing in popularity — not that it ever went out of style in our homes.
Rachel’s Spanish Moroccan family calls sesame brittle “halwa.” As a little girl, she recalls her mother, Rica, making it for all their family celebrations, served with a glass of fresh mint (nana) tea. Nowadays, her husband and cousins are so excited when she makes it. Sharon’s grandmother called sesame brittle “sim`isiyi,” and always had a tin of it on hand. She would serve it to her guests on long Shabbat afternoons with fresh fruit and a small glass of cardamom tea.
The texture of this joyous, nostalgic dessert can vary from chewy to extra crispy, and the recipe may include roasted almonds. Vegan and gluten-free, it’s the perfect quick treat to add to your repertoire, coming together in 30 minutes. Store in a tin or glass container with a tight lid for four to six weeks.
- When making sesame brittle, make sure to lay out all the utensils and have the ingredients pre-measured. Working with hot sugar means having to work quickly, before it has a chance to harden.
- The tricky part is to roll the brittle thin. We recommend using a stone countertop or a Silpat non-stick mat on the bottom and another on top of the syrup. Place the rolling pin on top of the mat, to ensure that it doesn’t stick.
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 1 cup raw sesame seeds
- 1 cup raw slivered almonds, optional
- 3 Tbsp hot water
- vegetable oil spray
- Spray the work counter with plenty of vegetable spray. Spray the rolling pin and have it ready to use.
- In a pan over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds and almonds until golden, then remove from heat.
- In a deep, heavy pot, add the sugar and warm over a low flame. As the sugar slowly melts into a caramel, begin to stir with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the caramel is dark and golden and all the sugar has dissolved. If sugar lumps appear, keep stirring until they dissolve.
- Add the sesame seeds and almonds all at once and stir vigorously. Quickly pour onto the work counter.
- Using a well-oiled rolling pin, start to roll the caramel out as thinly and quickly as possible.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut brittle into 1×2-inch squares.
- Let cool completely for 15 minutes and separate the squares.