There's nothing quite like the sweet, syrupy goodness of homemade gulab jamun. This traditional subcontinental dessert is a favorite for Eid, holidays, and just about any occasion that calls for something sweet. And while you can buy ready made gulab jamun from bakeries or grocery stores, nothing comes close to the delicious goodness of homemade gulab jamun, especially when they are warm.
While it may seem daunting to make this dessert from scratch, it's actually quite easy and requires just a few key ingredients, especially in this "cheat" version which uses milk powder instead of actual milk solids (or "khoya"). I will walk you through the steps to make delicious gulab jamun at home. So, whether you're a seasoned cook or a beginner in the kitchen, get ready to indulge in this decadent dessert!
WHAT IS GULAB JAMUN?
Gulab jamun is a popular dessert that originated in the Indian subcontinent and is now enjoyed all over the world, especially in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and even Mauritius. The recipe I am sharing today is the one I grew up eating in Pakistan.
Traditionally, gulab jamun is made from khoya, a type of milk solid that is obtained by simmering milk until most of the water content has evaporated. The khoya is then kneaded with a small amount of flour and shaped into small balls, which are fried until golden brown.
After frying, the gulab jamun balls are soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom and often rose water, which gives the dessert its signature sweet and floral taste. The syrup also gives the gulab jamun a beautiful moist and spongy texture.
WHAT DOES GULAB JAMUN TASTE LIKE?
Gulab jamun is a "mithai" or a proper confection. Unlike popular desserts like cakes or brownies, mithai is meant to be eaten in small portions and is usually very sweet and heavy. My recipe is modified so it is NOT too sweet and heavy, but even then, 2 balls are quite satisfying as a dessert.
While it is hard to describe the flavor of gulab jamun to someone who hasn't tried them before, here's what you can expect from my gulab jamun:
- Balanced sweet flavor with a hint of cardamom (and you can add rose water if you like that flavor)
- Caramel-y notes of toasted milk
- A moist, soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture
This recipe is an easier take on gulab jamun without compromising on the taste and texture. Here's what you will need:
- Milk powder - it is important to use a good quality whole milk powder for best results. I have always used Nido and found it to be the best for this recipe!
- All purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Egg - now, I know egg isn't used in many gulab jamun recipes, especially in India. And if you don't consume egg, you can replace it with a similar volume in milk (about 3-4 tbsp). The reason why I use egg in this recipe is it adds structure to the gulab jamun and prevents them from absorbing too much oil when fried
- Heavy cream or fresh cream
- Ghee or clarified butter
- Cardamom pods
- Oil for frying
Optional add ins include saffron and rose water, which are often added to the syrup of gulab jamun. I omit them as saffron is expensive, and I am not a big fan of rose water.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE GULAB JAMUN
Now, let's quickly talk through the process of making gulab jamun. Here's a quick video walkthrough:
1. Make the dough
You will mix together the wet and dry ingredients separately and then add them to each other to form a dough. Knead it with clean hands for 1-2 minutes. It will feel quite soft and oily, don't worry. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes, and then knead it again for a few minutes until it feels smooth and soft, and has no lumps in it.
Kneading the dough is important to ensure the smooth soft texture of gulab jamun. If it feels like the dough is dry and not holding together, add a little milk and see if the consistency improves. If it feels like the dough is too wet or sticky, try refrigerating it for longer and the texture should improve.
You need to knead until the dough feels smooth, but don't knead further as that can make the gulab jamun tough!
2. Form balls
Now you will divide the dough into 20g balls - this recipe should make 12 gulab jamun. These are quite small, about the size of a large grape.
This step is quite important to get right: you need to make sure the balls are perfectly rolled and don't have any cracks in them. If the balls have cracks, the gulab jamun will fall apart during frying.
The best way to form the balls is by gently rolling between your palms, applying a little bit of pressure to bind the dough. Then you alternate between just rolling with no pressure and applying a bit of pressure until you get a smooth ball. You can do it with practice!
3. Fry the gulab jamun
Heat ~2 inches of neutral oil in a wok. You want the oil to be medium hot, not hot-hot. To test, drop a small piece of dough into the oil - it should take ~5 seconds to rise to the surface. If it takes longer, the oil isn't hot enough. If it takes less time, it's too hot. Once the oil is at the right temperature, turn the heat to medium low.
Fry the gulab jamun in two to three parts depending on the size of the wok. Carefully drop them into the oil, and then gently roll them around while frying so then brown evenly on all sides. There are 2 ways to do this:
- You can carefully lift your wok and swirl it so the oil inside swirls and makes the ball rotate. This needs practice, though, so don't do it if you are not experienced in the kitchen
- Take a large steel strainer (the mesh thing you use to take out fries from the oil), and use it to move the gulab jamun around gently
Fry for at least 4 minutes until the gulab jamun are a deep golden (almost brown) color.
Tip: Always do 1 gulab jamun as a test first! This will give you an idea of how long it will take for it to cook through and if your oil is at the right temperature.
4. Make the sugar syrup
While you are frying the gulab jamun, start making the syrup in another pot or saucepan. Mix all the ingredients and simmer on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Then turn off the heat.
5. Soak the gulab jamun
Transfer the fried gulab jamun to the syrup. Swirl the pot to coat the gulab jamun on all sides, then cover and let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes. This is when the gulab jamun will soak in the syrup, become larger in size, and soft and squishy inside!
6. Serve & enjoy!
These are best when still warm!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you don't consume eggs, you can substitute the egg for ~3-4 tablespoon of milk. Add 3 tablespoon first to see the texture of the dough, and add more if needed.
If your gulab jamun turned out hard and dense, it may be because the dough was overworked or the heat was too high when frying. Be sure to knead the dough gently and fry the gulab jamun on low heat to prevent them from becoming tough. Frying on low heat allows enough time for the baking powder to activate and make the gulab jamun expand in size. It is also possible you fried for too long.
This can happen if the dough is too dry. When you are kneading it, it should be quite soft. If it feels dry, add a tablespoon of milk and see if the texture improves. It is also possible you did not form smooth balls and they had cracks in them, which will in turn cause the gulab jamun to have cracks after frying.
You should store the gulab jamun in an airtight container in the refrigerator and they will keep good for ~5 days. I suggest warming them in the microwave for just 10-15 seconds before serving.