Gulab jamun are tender, delectable berry-sized balls prepared with flour, milk solids, and a leavening agent. These are relished after being steeped in sugar syrup with rose flavour. In Hindi, the words “Gulab” and “jamun” respectively mean “rose” and “berry.” In other words, gulab jamun are berry-sized balls dipped in rose-flavoured sugar syrup. It represents India’s national dessert. It is also widespread in countries with sizable populations of individuals with South Asian descent, including Mauritius, Fiji, the Gulf States, the Malay Peninsula, Great Britain, South Africa, and the Caribbean nations.
WHAT ARE GULAB JAMUNS?
Gulab jamun is a type of funnel cake or doughnut. According to Michael Korndl in The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin, there are a few theories about where it originated in the Islamic world: either in ancient Persia, the Central Turkic regions, or during the rule of the Mughal Empire in India— the personal chef of the Mughal monarch Shah Jahan is believed to have created it by accident.
Gulab jamuns can be made in two different ways, one using dry milk powder and the other utilizing khoya. Khoya, often referred to as khoa or mawa, is traditionally one of the key components of gulab jamun dough. It is a type of dried milk that is made by cooking a sizable pot of milk slowly over a period of hours until all the water evaporates and the milk solids are left behind. Khoya must first be finely grated before it can be used to make the dough for gulab jamun. It is sold in blocks in Indian grocery stores. In addition, chenna, which is similar to paneer in that it is made of milk proteins that have been heated and acid-coagulated but not yet expressed to remove excess liquid, is occasionally used in place of khoya.
However, because non-fat dry milk powder is much more generally available in supermarkets, I decided to use it in place of khoya, paneer, or chenna for this dish. Since lactose and milk proteins make up the majority of non-fat dry milk, it has a comparable texture and flavour.
Utilizing Flour or Semolina
Despite the fact that gulab jamun are predominantly made of milk proteins, regardless of the source, the dough is nonetheless supplemented with a tiny amount of flour and/or semolina to help the balls stick together and maintain their shape while being fried. I’ve discovered that semolina works best, in part due to its comparatively big grain size; the semolina’s large particle size helps limit gluten development, which results in tender gulab jamun.
Semolina must be soaked in milk before being combined with the other dough ingredients because it won’t absorb much of the liquid used to produce the dough. As a result, the gulab jamuns’ inside remain moist.
The gluten will be overworked if you overmix or over knead the dough, which will result in unappealing hard gulab jamuns.
The Soaking Syrup
For the soaking syrup, I cook sugar, water, and spices in a saucepan together to release the flavour molecules from the spices.
Rose water is used at the very end because, unlike entire spices, it is very volatile and doesn’t require heat to release its aroma and flavour. To stop the sugar syrup from crystallising, I also include a small amount of acid in the form of lemon juice.
For the Syrup:
- 2 cups (480ml) water
- 2 cups (400g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice
- 1 pinch saffron
- 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon ( rose water
For the Jamuns:
- ¼ cup (40g) fine semolina flour
- 1/4 cup (60ml) milk
- 2 cups (150g) non-fat dried milk powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground green cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) heavy cream, divided plus more as needed
- 3 cups (720ml) grapeseed oil, for frying
- 3 tablespoons chopped pistachios or cashews, for garnish
- For the syrup: In a medium saucepan, mix the water, sugar, lemon juice, saffron, cardamom, and cloves. Stirring regularly with a rubber spatula, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, or until a drop of the syrup placed between two teaspoons forms a sticky, thin thread when spoons are pulled apart. After taking the mixture off the heat, toss in the rosewater, cover it, and keep it warm.
- For the jamuns: Semolina and milk should be combined in a small bowl, and the mixture should be left alone for 30 minutes to soak. Use parchment paper to line a baking sheet with a rim. Mix the milk powder, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a sizable bowl. Use your hands or a bowl scraper to break up any lumps or pieces that may have remained in the strainer basket as you sift the mixture twice through a fine-mesh strainer onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Make a small well in the center of the re-mixed, sifted ingredients in a large bowl. Return the parchment paper to the baking sheet and set it aside. Use clean hands to combine the ingredients to create a stiff but sticky dough in the center of the well after adding the semolina-milk combination and 1/4 cup (60ml) of the cream. If the mixture appears dry, add additional cream as necessary, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until dough forms. Avoid vigorously kneading the dough when combining it; doing so will cause the gulab jamuns to become very dense. Instead, press the ingredients together gently with your fingertips to form dough.
- Take 1 spoonful of dough and roll between your palms to produce a round, even jamun that is 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. The dough will initially seem sticky, but the warmth of your hands will assist to soften and make it more pliable. Wet your palm with a few drops of heavy cream to help shape and smooth out the ball if any cracks emerge on the surface. Repeat the forming process with the remaining dough, placing the jamuns on the reserved parchment-lined baking sheet (you should end up with 18 balls).
- Ghee or oil should be heated to 325°F (160°C) in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven using a medium heat setting. Stack paper towels on a platter. Working in two batches, slowly add half of the dough balls, one at a time, to the hot oil; using a slotted spoon, quickly move each ball as it is added to the oil to keep them from adhering to the bottom of the pot. During the last three minutes of cooking, stir the balls regularly with a slotted spoon to achieve equal cooking. After transferring with a slotted spoon to a dish lined with paper towels, give the food 30 seconds to rest. Place the covered fried jamuns in the fragrant syrup. Work with the remaining dough balls in the same manner.
- Jamuns should soak in the syrup, covered, for at least 4 hours and ideally overnight. (After the initial 4-hour soak, the gulab jamuns can be moved with the syrup to the refrigerator.) When ready to serve, gently reheat the gulab jamuns in the syrup over low heat until well heated. Transfer to a tray or individual serving plates, drizzle syrup generously on top, and, if desired, top with chopped cashews or pistachios. Serve immediately.
Note: Traditionally, gulab jamuns are deep fried in ghee. Ghee is a type of clarified butter. I chose to use grapeseed oil for my recipe because you need a large amount of ghee for the frying, and this can be quite expensive.