Gulab Jamun: Sweet Serendipity from India

Gulab Jamun

Those that know me also know of my love for all things spelled CAKE ๐Ÿ™‚ It is perhaps my dessert of choice, on most given days. And it has always been like that, my fascination with cake dates back to childhood and beyond. Which is surprising, since Cake, in India, was for a long time a British dessert meant only for one occassion, your birthday. Of course, these days it has made it’s way into many other occassions as well as everyday eating but it still remains a relatively novel dessert. I remember a particular incident from my 7th or 8th grade class that still surprises me in terms of its veracity. And we are talking of an incident that took place in small town india, many many many years ago ๐Ÿ™‚
I was attending a regular Oriya (my mother tongue) lessons class when, in the course of our discussion, the teacher (a very good teacher, Mr JND) asked each one of us our favorite dessert. Now if you know about India, then you know that not only does the country have very different and very indigineous desserts, but each state also has quite a unique selection to offer. Most people tended to be very limited and loyal to their state desserts, with only a few managing to establish themselves as national treasures. So he goes around asking each student the same question, about their favorite dessert and with every answer provided some nice feedback of his own regarding the dessert mentioned. Then comes my turn and pat comes the response – a chocolate cake. His face was a mixture of shock, disapproval and ridicule as he replied “who eats a silly thing as a cake” :D. You see, I was the only person in the class to have chosen a western, uncommon, novelty item as my favorite dessert and that itself was a surprise. I am sure that was the day they branded me the snob westerner ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, after his disapproval I was given another choice to tell my ‘favorite’ dessert again, with focus being on real Indian stuff ๐Ÿ™‚ So I chose Gulab Jamun, a syrupy, rose flavored, dairy rich dessert which resembles a doughnut hole floating in a bed of syrup. He approved, as would perhaps just about every one who has ever had one. It’s melting warmth, soft crumbly texture, seeping sweetness and intense cardomon or rose flavor truly can fire up your senses. It has been for a long time India’s beloved sweet and continues to be extremely popular and adored to this day. Any Indian restaurant worth its weight in salt would feature this dessert prominently, be it in India or abroad. And you know the most interesting part about it, 5 years ago I figured out that it is one of the easier desserts to make. Oh, and I still love this dessert a lot ๐Ÿ™‚
My recipe comes from one of the most effective everyday recipe sites for vegeterian Indian food, Manjula’s Kitchen. She started her website as a way to meet requests from young students for simple, basic, everyday home-feel recipes. Her simplicity is her greatest treasure, besides the fact that she has a video for each of her recipe and provides some very smart tips on cooking. I tried this gulab jamun from her website and have never looked back. I must have made it 20 times by now with sterling results every time ( except when I realize I have run out of ingredients after having been half way through the dough or when I am preparing a smaller batch than the original recipe and forget to proportion it accordingly :D…oh yeah I have screwed up). Point being, follow the instructions carefully and you have to be in a really foul mood to mess this one up !!!

Ingredients: Makes 20-24, Serves 10-12
1 cup nonfat milk powder
1/4 cup All Purpose flour (plain flour, maida)
3 tbps room temperature unsalted butter
1/4 cup room temperature whole milk
Pinch of baking soda
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
2-3 coarsely pounded cardamom pods (or 1 tsp rose water/flavoring)
1 tablespoon sliced almonds and pistachio
Vegetable Oil for deep-frying

Syrup:
1. In a large pan, add water, sugar, and ground cardamom pods (or rose water) and bring it to a boil.
2. Let the syrup boil for a minute then remove it from the heat.
3. Stir the syrup until the sugar is dissolved.
4. Set the syrup aside.

Gulab Jamun:
1. In a bowl, mix milk powder, flour and baking soda.
2. Add the butter and mix well.
3. Now add milk to make soft dough. The dough will be sticky.
4. Let the dough sit for a few minutes. Milk powder will absorb the extra milk. If the dough is dry, add more milk, as the dough should be soft.
5. Knead the dough. Grease your hands with butter before working with the dough.
6. Divide the dough into about 20 equal portions and roll them into round balls.
7. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. The frying pan should have at least 1 ยฝ inch of oil. To test if the oil is the right temperature, place a small piece of dough into the oil; it should take a minute to rise. If dough rises faster, oil is too hot; if dough just sits without rising, oil is not hot enough.
8. Place the gulab Jamuns in the frying pan. Note: remember gulab jamuns will expand in double the volume, so give them enough space.
9. It should take about 7 minutes to fry the gulab jamuns. While frying keep rolling the gulab jamuns around so they are evenly browned. Fry until the gulab jamuns become dark brown.
10. Let the gulab jamuns cool off for a few minutes before placing in the hot syrup.
11. The gulab jamuns should sit in the hot syrup for at least 20 minutes prior to serving. Gulab jamuns can be kept at room temperature for about a week and up to one month when refrigerated. Gulab jamuns can be frozen for months.

Tips:
1. If the gulab jamuns are fried on high heat, they will become hard inside and not fully cooked.
2. Too much baking soda will cause the gulab jamuns to get too soft or they will break apart when frying.
3. Donโ€™t place the gulab jamuns in the syrup immediately after frying. This will cause the gulab jamuns to lose their shape and become chewy.

Variations:
1. Using the same recipe, make slightly smaller gulab jamuns (say, 24 instead of 20). After the gulab jamuns are soaked in the syrup, take gulab jamuns out of the syrup and roll them in ยฝ cup of unsweetened coconut powder. Also, you can substitute coarsely ground almonds for the coconut powder.
2. Using the same recipe, make about 10 larger gulab jamuns. Cut the gulab jamuns in half when they are at room temperature. Garnish with sliced almonds and pistachios.

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