Gulab jamuns (translated very roughly as 'rose-fruits') may have got their name from the fact that they are jamun (an Indian fruit) shaped, round, and usually soaked in a rosewater scented syrup. Essentially, deep fried balls made of milk powder, flour, butter and cream or milk, and then soaked in sugar syrup. They sound terrible when you put it like that, but oh!! they are so decadent, and very reminiscent of a rum baba in many ways.
These sweets were a rare treat for us when we were growing up. I am not sure why, but am guessing that the amount of work involved put my mum off a lot of the time. Its not a very hard recipe, but it does take a bit of patience and time. So my earliest memories of this sweet are associated with hot Saturday afternoons at home. My mum didn't work on Saturdays, but we had school in the mornings. We would get back, have lunch, then my mum would chase us into bed for a siesta. Of course, we being kids, protested very vocally at this intrusion into our playing time, but looking back I see why mum did this. It was her 'quiet time' where she could putter around the house, maybe sew a bit, garden, try out a new dish... and those new dishes were what we looked forward to the most. Ocasionally one of her friends or colleagues would join her, and they would together whisk up some magic in our teeny kitchen.
There were the disasters (remember your chocolate making session, mum?) and then there were triumphs, many of which I have plagiarised for this blog :-) Gulab jamuns were part of the triumphal parade. When we woke up after our naps and sleepily staggered into the kitchen, these round sweet, soft and spongy balls soaked in a delicate rose scented syrup would wake us up with no trouble. Our eyes would go round, and we would beg a taste. We would then be rationed out one or two at a time... my mum was a busy woman, and these would have to last all week, as she didn't do desserts. Ocasionally we would be daring enough to steal a jamun or two from the fridge, but the waiting and the rationing only made gulab jamuns taste that much sweeter.
Warning: This is not a healthy dessert if you're watching your diet... but...
I am of the firm belief, though, that it is important to treat yourself. Its the the philosophy I follow in my cooking. However, too much of anything will not make anyone appreciate the time and effort that goes into making a dish. Moderation, for me is the key. We eat real food in this house (well, except for fake veggie mince :-)) and that includes real butter and real cream. But we also make sure that we don't gorge on anything. I follow this principle when raising Aditi, because I want her to appreciate real food, but not at the cost of her health or her teeth. So while I would happily scarf down a whole bowl of jamuns, I restrict myself to one or two.
As is usual with Indian recipes, there is no one recipe for this sweet. Many people take the easy way out and use a premade mix to make it, and I would myself do this if I was pressed for time. But this time I wanted to try it our from scratch. I browsed around the internet and through my recipe books, but couldn't find a recipe that I was super impressed by. I did find an old handwritten recipe that I found in my files, so using that as a base, I gathered the basic ingredients and measurements through my research, and then used the ratios to come up with an approximation of what I wanted a jamun to taste like. I tasted the raw dough first, then fried one ball to see if my ratios worked.
I was pretty darn delighted with the result. I kept the gulab jamun classic in its taste, as I didn't want to mess around with it too much. It didn't taste identical to the premade mix, but was close, dare I say even better. You can vary the infusions for the sugar syrup. I used rosewater and cardamom because that's what my mum used, but you can experiment with cloves, cinnamon, orange flower water... pretty much anything you choose actually, these guys are incredibly versatile. The only thing to watch out for here, really, is your diet :)
I have added a few notes at the end of the recipe, do take a minute to go through them, as you may find them useful.
For the jamuns:
¾ cup skim milk powder
3 tablespoons plain flour
½ tablespoon caster (very fine) sugar
A pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons melted ghee or butter (+ 1 tablespoon extra)
Seeds from one green cardamom pod, crushed finely in a mortar and pestle
About 1/3 cup half and half (or whole milk) + a little extra *see notes
Enough oil for deep frying
For the sugar syrup:
¾ cup sugar
2 cups water
4 green cardamom pods, cracked, but left whole
2 teaspoons rosewater
Sift the milk powder, flour, sugar and baking soda into a bowl. Add the finely ground cardamom seeds and stir.
Make a small well in the centre and pour in 2 tablespoons of the melted ghee or butter. Add the half and half or whole milk, little by little, until you have a very soft and sticky dough. Rest the dough for about 5 minutes.
Grease your palms well with the extra ghee. Shape the dough into 1 inch balls *see notes. This quantity of dough should make roughly 12 - 15 balls. Place on a greased plate.
Heat the oil for deep frying in a small pot *see notes. Gently lower the shaped jamuns into the hot oil, and fry until they are golden brown. This will take around 5 - 7 minutes. Fry a little longer if you want your jamuns darker in colour.
Gently take out the fried jamuns and drain for a few minutes on absorbent kitchen paper.
Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup. Place the sugar, water and cracked cardamom pods in a pan over a medium heat. When the sugar dissolves, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil, skimming away any scum that may rise to the surface. Boil for about 2 - 3 minutes, then turn off the heat. Stir in the rosewater.
Place the hot jamuns into the sugar syrup, and leave to soak. The jamuns will absorb the syrup.
Serve just warm or cold. This dessert goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
- The amount of cream or milk required will depend on the weather. My climate is very dry, so I used all the cream. My dough was very sticky, but a few minutes of resting made it a little firmer. I also sprinkled over some extra flour to help make it easier to shape into jamuns.
- When shaping the dough into jamuns, make sure that there are no cracks in them. If the jamuns have cracks, they could split open while deep frying. So its important to grease your palms thoroughly, and coat the shaped jamun in a light coating of ghee.
- Once the jamuns have been shaped, they need to be fried immediately. This is for the same reason as above. Keeping the jamuns for a long time before frying will cause them to crack.
- The problem with frying gulab jamuns is that the oil needs to be at a specific temperature. Too hot, and the jamuns will go a dark brown without cooking in the centre. Too cold, and the jamuns will absorb a lot of oil and crack. I experimented a few times, and I found that the ideal temperature for the oil was between 300 and 325 degrees Fahrenheit. You can test your oil if you have a candy or a deep frying thermometer. Checking the temperature of the oil really does take the guesswork out of frying these jamuns, and you will get golden jamuns that are perfectly cooked in the centre.