When I lived in Punjab with my husband and his family, I discovered a new favourite sweet; the Gulab Jamun. Who would have known that a ball of deep fried goodness drenched in the sweetest syrup would become my new go to dessert staple. Though once you become a connoisseur you will easily soon be able to identify an inferior Gulab Jamun.
Who would think that such a simple looking dessert would be so challenging to get just right. Especially as there are an infinite array of ways to make the Gulab Jamun. As with anything in India it all comes down to the culture, demographics and personal preferences. So there is no wrong or right way to make a Gulab Jamun, however there are certainly tricks of the trade when it comes to preparing this dessert.
There are so many ways where you can go wrong with making the Gulab Jamun. It is definitely not a dessert for first time cooks. Making the syrup is the easiest component as you can't really go wrong if you don't cook it longer than approximately 8-10 minutes. As the syrup only needs to slightly thicken, and believe it or not the longer you cook it doesn't result in a thicker syrup. It only results in the syrup crystalising once it cools down.
Traditionally in Punjab spices aren't added to the sugar syrup except for possibly a couple of green cardamon pods. However I love a little spice to cut through the intense sweetness. Therefore adding spices to your syrup is optional. Also feel free to add your own combination of whole spices to the syrup. Just be sure to opt for sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamon pods, star anise, rose petals, nutmeg, or nutmeg. I also like to keep the spices in the syrup when soaking the Gulab Jamun's as this intensifies the flavour and I like the rustic charm of seeing whats in your food.
Note if you are going to try to make this for your Punjabi partner be warned they may screw up their face at you. My husband absolutely hates the spices added and couldn't understand why they didn't taste like the Gulab Jamun's he grew up with. That was until I told him what I included in my syrup and dough. It seems that South Indian Recipes are more likely to include spices as with many of their cuisines.
Making the dough is when the challenges start to set in. I know as I have made this a few times after trial and error. Firstly don't make the dough until you are actually going to use it as the dough dries out and will be crumbly. This results in cracks when you go to roll your Gulab Jamun balls.
The dough needs to be a soft and sticky texture, and still slightly stick to the hand as you work with it. Don't over knead the dough either as it will result in tough Gulab Jamun's. Just knead it enough to combine it into a workable dough. As you roll your balls smear a little oil on them to prevent drying out. It also makes it easier to roll a nice round shape. As the Gulab Jamun's will expand once cooked, and then further expand once soaked in syrup, you only need to roll small balls. Over sized balls won't keep their shape once soaked with the syrup.
Again traditionally Punjabi's don't add spices to their dough so this is optional. However as a rule of thumb if you don't add spices or acidity from lemons then you may need to switch from bicarbonate soda to baking powder. Bicarbonate Soda is also referred to as Baking Soda. Don't confuse the two as it may result in small tough Gulab Jamun's or oversized soft crumbly ones.
Cooking the Gulab Jamun is the toughest challenge as it is very easy to under or over cook. As a general rule cook your Gulab Jamun's over a medium heat. To test if your oil is at a medium heat place one of your Gulab Jamun's in the oil. If it sinks immediately to the bottom without floating to the top again then the oil isn't hot enough yet. If it immediately floats to the top and appears dark in colour then it is too hot. Your oil is ready when your Gulab Jamun floats straight to the top and slowly darkens in colour.
If you overcook your Gulab Jamun's they will be dark in colour and have a hard surface. This will prevent the syrup from soaking through as well as it should. Which will mean that the syrup won't penetrate to the centre of the Gulab Jamun. If it is under cooked it will be tough and doughy in the centre. So it is crucial that you cook them just right otherwise they simply won't be as enjoyable to eat. When soaking your Gulab Jamun's you should select a dish that is both deep enough, and has room for the balls to expand. It is also best to select a dish that is deep enough to fully immerse the Gulab Jamun's in liquid. If they aren't fully immersed then you should turn them over every so often to ensure the syrup soaks in thoroughly.
A Gulab Jamun should appear nicely browned, firm yet soft to the touch and easily pulls apart. This means that once they are placed in the syrup they will soak up the sugar syrup to the core without falling apart. It should hold its shape perfectly and you will be able to see the change in appearance once it has thoroughly soaked the syrup. When you cut through the centre you will see the dough has an almost translucent appearance from the syrup thoroughly soaked through.
The best way to achieve the perfect Gulab Jamun is to practise and then practise some more. My Gulab Jamun's are far from perfection though they are good enough to eat. They are delicious served warmed up with a scoop of ice cream then sprinkled with chopped pistachios and dried rose petals. I absolutely love rose petals as they have such a beautiful intense aroma and taste just as good as they smell. Though the flavour really depends on the type of rose. The most common that I have found is a delicious floral sweetness with a hint of musk. How could you not love such a fragrant combination of flavours.
However you can serve your Gulab Jamuns hot or cold and with any accompaniment such as natural yoghurt, ice cream, cream, slivered almonds, chopped pistachios, dried rose petals, or simply just on their own. Why not give them all a try.
How do you make Gulab Jamun's? I'd love to hear from you, so let's start a conversation and leave your comments below in the comments section via desktop only.
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Indian Spiced Gulab Jamun's
Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 20 mins | 4-6 servings
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Caster Sugar
1 Cinnamon Quill (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Green Cardamon Pods (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Cloves (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Rose Water (Optional)
1 Cup Full Cream Milk Powder
1/2 Cup Self Raising Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Bicarbonate Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon (Optional)
1/4 Teaspoon All Spice (Optional)
25 Grams Butter, chopped
Vegetable Oil, for cooking
Chopped Pistachios, to serve
Dried Rose Petals, to serve
Vanilla Ice Cream, to serve
Step 1 Combine water, sugar, cinnamon quill, cardamom pods and whole cloves in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Simmer for roughly 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly. Stir in rosewater once you have taken the saucepan off the heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
Step 2 Combine the milk powder, flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour. Add the water to make a soft sticky dough, add more water if necessary. Once you have the right consistency shape heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture into small balls using a small amount of oil to help.
Step 3 Heat oil in a deep frier or saucepan to a medium heat. Once you are satisfied you have the right temperature cook a small batch of the balls, turning regularly, for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Don't overcrowd your pan as they will expand and they need room to cook thoroughly on the surface. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towel. Repeat with the remaining balls.
Step 4 Place the Gulab Jamuns in a dish, arranging them in a single layer, being careful that you allow room for them to further expand. Allow to soak overnight for best results.
Step 5 Serve with your favourite accompaniment and enjoy! I recommend trying crushed pistachio nuts and dried rose petals with a side of vanilla ice cream.