The long “a” in the name of this Indian dessert escapes the lips of anyone who has ever tasted badam halwa—the vowel inextricably wed to a sigh tinged with yearning. Served warm this softened paste of ground almonds, sugar and ghee is generously perfumed with saffron. Eating badam halwa, one forgets purposeful speech and mastication and is instantly transported to culinary rapture.
Badam halwa is marzipan gloriously deconstructed. Unlike malleable almond paste (which is sculpted or enrobed in chocolate) badam halwa resembles a scented, exotic pudding. Fragrant musky notes in the saffron vibrate against its inherent woody qualities and in combination with the delicate gloss of ghee, set off a synergistic effect against the taste and texture of ground almonds. Exhaling without a sigh or moan at first taste is impossible. Even the letting go of breath seems unacceptable, as if the desire to completely take in the preciousness of badam halwa’s olfactive and gustatory delights deserves an infinite amount of time—much longer than is humanly possible to go without inhaling once again. Perhaps this is the nature of seduction by food.
Tiffin Wallah and Chennai Garden in New York City serve terrific badam halwa. Both restaurants are owned by Pradeep Shinde, who is one of the Indian restaurant pioneers of Curry Hill (he is the former owner of Madras). Shinde's interesting past includes a stint working for Leona Helmsley, one which he recalls fondly as it reinforced his sense of accommodation and hospitality. When asked about the regional manner in which badam halwa is prepared at his restaurants, he emphasizes its south Indian style, which is softer than the badam halwa prepared in the north. Both styles of this dessert have their merits and each manages to move the senses. Indulging in badam halwa after a meal of dosa is highly recommended.
For more information on the history of saffron read "Saffron: Flavor and Fragrance of Joy." If the saffron and almond combination of badam halwa speaks to your tastebuds, you can bake Gâteau Baiser De Safran, a saffron cake delicately perfumed with almond extract, rosewater and cardamom. The story and recipe were written for Bois de Jasmin's Flavor Fridays section.
Photo of a spring almond blossom from the BBC.