If your food fanatic friend wanted to show you a dish involving miniature milk doughnuts in a rose-infused syrup where would you expect to be taken?
The closest hipster joint?
A hole-in-the wall place that no one has ever heard of?
An experimental cuisine place?
Maybe that one place that’s into molecular gastronomy?
How about a Michelin starred restaurant?
Now let’s say that your foodie friend didn’t want to you have any dish involving miniature milk doughnuts in a rose-infused syrup, but the freakin’ best dish involving miniature milk doughnuts in a rose-infused syrup in the world. At least he says that when he takes you back to his place. What would you think?
That he went out and got the dish with all those cool things in it from one of these fancy places, but he doesn’t want to share where he got it from?
That you are about to take part in some sort of food experiment of his?
That this is some sort of ruse or surprise for something else and the delicious sounding rose infused whatchamacallit doesn’t exist?
That this is all getting a little creepy and you should maybe tell a friend where you are?
That your friend is an overly ambitious cook who presumes to know too much about cooking? (spoiler alert: he’s not – probably.)
Imagine now (just a bit longer, I promise) that he brings out for you something that looks like this:-
Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?
You bite into it, enjoying the slight crunch you feel when you bite into the doughnut and the soft center within, all of which is soaked with a rosy sweetness (literally)
What if I told you this isn’t some newfangled kind of cuisine, your friend isn’t the world’s greatest chef (I think, although in any case you have to give him kudos for knowing this dish in the first place) and that this dish, in some form or another has been around since medieval times?
So put on your rose-tinted swimming goggles (see what I did there?) and let’s dive in!
Gulab Jamun are, in short, traditionally milk doughnuts in a rose-flavored syrup. They are one of the most eaten sweets in India, if not the most popular Indian sweet dish (although I haven’t counted or anything so it could be anything, really).
There’s a theory out there that Gulab Jamun was accidentally made by the personal chef of an Emperor called Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan is, the avid historians among you may recall, the man that commissioned the Taj Mahal (you might say he was kind of a big deal), so the fact that Gulab Jamun was made for this Emperor makes its history all the more rich.
Today you can get Gulab Jamun in almost any Indian restaurant, but unfortunately its popularity doesn’t mean you can get good Gulab Jamun just anywhere. It seems more and more that with the exception of stalls that make the Gulab Jamun fresh in front of your eyes, (and sometimes even here – they may not be fried as recently as it would look, or the dough might be older than it should be.) Gulab Jamuns are often offered as a stale, reheated dessert that is reused in buffets for Indian restaurants abroad and served on demand but not fresh in even the ‘best’ Indian restaurants. A perfect Gulab Jamun, in my opinion, has a slightly crunchy but not hard outer shell and a soft but thoroughly cooked center from its deep frying. The Jamuns (doughnuts) should be put into the rose-infused sugar syrup as soon as they are fried so that they do not dry, and absorb enough flavor to become sweet and actually taste like roses!
I used to like the store or restaurant bought Gulab Jamun cold out of the fridge, since that way they seemed to concentrate the flavor (and also so I didn’t have to heat them up – not gonna lie), but since I started making these fresh I’ve come to enjoy these warm off the pan. It’s a whole other level of awesome, especially on a cold or rainy day!
The key to good Gulab Jamun lies in making sure that as much syrup as possible is absorbed into the Jamun. For this it is important to not overcook the doughnuts, and to immediately put them in the syrup after frying so that they do not dry out. Enjoy freshly made if you can!
Serves 8 for a small dessert
For the Jamuns
150g dried milk powder
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
50 ml whole milk
Oil for deep frying (Vegetable, Canola, etc)
For the rose syrup
300g caster sugar
2.5 tbsp rosewater
Put all the dry ingredients for the Jamuns in a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the melted butter.
Mix until the ingredients come together, then add just enough milk to bring the ingredients together in a stiff dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then gently simmer until it forms a single string when poured from a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Take off the heat and add the rose water.
With a light, damp hand, roll out the dough into balls roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. Keep the raw balls under a damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out. Do not make the balls too compact, since this will reduce their softness and make them less absorbent of the syrup after frying.
To deep fry, heat up oil in a karahi, wok or other deep circular cooking pot. There should be enough oil to submerge three-fourths each ball. Over medium-low heat, deep fry no more than three to four balls at a time, turning continuously with a slotted spoon to ensure even browning. We want the outside of each ball to cook but remain soft while the outside becomes golden brown. When golden brown, remove the balls with the slotted spoon, briefly drain them by holding against the side of the pot. Immediately dunk and coat the doughnut in the syrup to keep it soft and allow it to absorb syrup.
Allow the doughnuts a few minutes to absorb the syrup, and enjoy hot!