Soft Gulab Jamun
Today I’m sharing the best recipe for soft Gulab Jamun – an Indian dessert made with milk powder, soaked in cardamom syrup. If you’re coming here as a “Gulab Jam” aficionado, these ones are the softest.
With my in-laws in town, we are celebrating the Indian holiday Diwali today. We spent the day together in the bright, cold November sunshine, wrapped in wooly scarves and chunky, hand-knit hats.
When we were tired and hungry, we drove to a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant and devoured piping hot samosas and pakoras in the car. Tonight we’ll light small oil lanterns and place them in the window.
And because it’s a food-centric holiday filled with traditional sweets, I spent two days obsessively working on this gulab jamun recipe.
I made no fewer than five variations.
It kept me awake at night.
They aren’t particularly difficult to make, but they are difficult to make perfectly.
The base is milk powder and a bit of flour with milk added to form a soft sticky dough that is fried and then dunked in hot, cardamom-infused syrup. (Seriously, you’re sold, right??!)
Why are my gulab jamun tough?
The question that everyone who makes them at home asks. If you’ve ever had them at a restaurant, you know that good gulab jamun are super soft and spongy, allowing them to soak up the syrup deeply.
The important keys to getting them perfect in your own kitchen, I found, are as follows: a light hand, a really loose, sticky batter, and a moderate oil temperature so that the dough cooks all the way to the middle without getting too brown on the outside.
The first dough picture you see above was an earlier trial – it was too heavy, and while it made perfect, plump little balls, they weren’t tender.
The consistency below, which is like a waffle batter, is too loose to be shaped by hand, but dropped into the hot oil, it makes the lightest, spongiest, softest gulab jamun you can achieve at home. (As you can see from the picture of the saucepan above, they aren’t smooth spheres but still puffed and lovely in their imperfection.)
You can use less milk if you prefer to shape them by hand, as is traditionally done – just start with about 5 tablespoons of milk and oil your hands to shape them. But they won’t be as tender.
Keep in mind that the dough gets drier and heavier as it sits, and if they are heavy before cooking, they will be tough after cooking.
As with pancakes, muffins, etc. you should stir gently and only until ingredients just combined. If you work the dough too much, it will be tough.
I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist sneaking some pics of my little peanut, all bundled up and adorable.
Happy Diwali to my Indian readers!
Soft Gulab Jamun
For cardamom syrup:
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 10 cardamom pods
For gulab jamun
- 1 cup skim or full-cream milk powder
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp butter softened
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- oil for frying
- To make the cardamom syrup, combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Crush cardamom pods by pressing on them with the flat side of a chef's knife, and add them to the saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, then boil for one minute and turn off the heat.
- In a medium bowl, stir together milk powder, flour and baking powder. Add butter and use your fingers to work it into the dry mixture until well incorporated. Add milk, using a very light hand, stir until just combined. Let mixture stand 10-15 minutes (it will thicken up).
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a shallow saucepan to a depth of 1" over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add a drop of batter to the oil to test to see if it is the right temperature - if it sizzles but doesn't immediately change colour, it's ready. If it floats and starts to brown immediately, it's too hot (remove from burner for a minute and reduce the heat; test again before proceeding). If it sinks and doesn't sizzle, it is not hot enough.
- Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil, cooking about 5 at a time. Using a slotted spoon, turn gulab jamun frequently until well browned and doubled in size, 4-6 minutes. Remove gulab jamun as they are reading, letting excess oil drip back into saucepan. Add immediately to syrup. Let stand in syrup until ready to serve. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Best served warm (you can rewarm them gently over low heat in the syrup).