Gulab jamun — The king of Indian sweets
April 27 2017 08:42 PM
Gulab Jamun is popular all over India. Photo by the author

The plethora of varieties, colours, shapes and sizes of Indian sweets is bewildering. Taste, colour, shape, variety often vary from region to region  but one dessert which is pan India and is boundary less is ‘gulab jamun’, the king of all Indian sweets. Gulab jamun is spongy milk balls soaked in rose-scented syrup, served with a sprinkle of dry fruits. Gulab jamun is popular all over India and has even more popular as compared to naan and tandoori chicken. 
In the beginning of my career while I was working at the Taj Hotels in their Airport Catering Division in Delhi which was the largest kitchen in Delhi and was like a huge food factory, I used to roll thousands of gulab jamun balls everyday for few weeks as a part of my kitchen management training. 
Every step in making this delicious king of desserts is important and requires a skill you can master only with practice and patience. The dessert making in itself is a specialised trade and the person who specialises is known as “Halwai”. 
The Halwai who worked there was so skilled and has been making sweets throughout his life that he could make them with his eyes closed and had so much practice that he could pick up gulab jamun balls from hot sugar syrup to check if it was cooked properly. 
The secret to make a perfect gulab jamun is to have patience and fry the milk balls on slow flame so that the centre is cooked through. As a child I remember going to one particular shop only to buy gulab jamun because my family was sure that the jamuns will be perfectly cooked and we never wanted to take chance with our favourite sweet. 
This sweet is derived from two words – “gulab” meaning rose and “jamun” meaning the seasonal tropical purple coloured jamun berry. India has a national obsession with sweets and desserts. Traditionally, sweets have been made mostly with milk, ghee and honey. 
Gulab jamun’s origin is, however, in Persia and the Mediterranean, where it is equivalent to Luqmat Al Qadi, which consists of deep fried dough balls dipped in honey syrup and sprinkled with sugar. 

Tips for a perfect gulab jamun 
Cooks who are new to gulab jamun commonly make the mistake of frying the sweet at a very high temperature. This will result in the outside skin appearing to dark and the centre becoming a lump of uncooked solid dough. The temperature of the oil for frying has to be on low to medium heat. 
At weddings, too, gulab jamun makes a presentation and is a must on the wedding feast. A perfect wedding celebration is one that offers an almost unlimited supply of gulab jamuns for its guests. Amid the crowds that come to celebrate the occasion you’ll find young restless boys who keep guard at the dessert table. They stuff their jamuns in their mouth in a contest to see who can consume the most. 

Gulab Jamun

Makes 20 to 25 pieces

For the dough
Milk powder 1 cup
Clarified butter  4 tbsp
All purpose flour 1/3 cup
Baking powder 1/2 tsp
Whole milk 6 tbsp
For sugar syrup
Water 1 1/2 cup
Sugar  1 1/2 cup
Cardamom powder 1 tsp
Rose water 3 tsp

For frying
Sunflower oil 1 litre

Cardamom powder to garnish

Take milk powder in a mixing bowl and add clarified butter and rub to get a sandy texture.
Sieve flour and baking powder to aerate and add to the milk powder mixture and mix well.
Gradually add milk, a few spoons at a time, and mix softly with clean fingers to make a soft dough. 
Do not over mix the dough as over kneading will make the dough hard. Rest the mixture for 15 minutes.
In the meanwhile prepare sugar syrup by boiling water, sugar and cardamom  till it is reduced to almost half.
Once reduced add rose water and keep aside.
Grease your palms with oil and pinch marble sized pieces of dough and roll them into smooth round balls. 
Do not make the balls big in size as they will swell to twice the size when fried and soaked in sugar syrup. 
The dough balls should be rolled with list hands with no visible cracks as they will split and crumble when deep frying.
Arrange the balls on a plate and cover with damp cloth to prevent drying out.
Heat the oil to low-medium heat in a heavy bottom pan and check by frying a piece of dough, the dough should not colour too quickly
Slide in 8-10 gulab jamun balls into the oil, and deep fry. Gently swirl the oil for them to float.
Fry them until golden brown in colour 5-7 minutes approx. Remove on paper towel and soak in warm sugar syrup. Leave them in sugar syrup and serve as required garnished with some dry fruits or cardamom powder. 

Note: To make an exotic version of gulab jamun you can stuff the dough balls with some raisins, saffron strands and crushed pistachios.

* Chef Tarun Kapoor, 
Culinary Mastermind, USA. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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