There is no Indian sweet closer to my heart than the gulab jamun. I’ve probably eaten many times my body weight in gulab jamuns during the course of my infatuation with these little deep-fried, sugar-soaked orbs.
Though these are a little fussy to make, they’re actually among the easier Indian sweets to make at home. The dough can be made from store-bought khoya (condensed milk solids) and paneer, and the syrup—often such a painstaking and frustrating thing to get just right with Indian sweets—is eminently obliging and takes no more knowledge of sugar work than knowing how to turn on your stove for approximately five minutes.
This recipe is inspired by the one on Dassana’s Veg Recipes. I’ve had to adapt it quite a bit because the khoya and paneer you get in US stores tends to be much harder and drier than the kind you would make on your own, or buy in a grocery store in India. That said, even in the US there is bound to be some variation in the consistency of the paneer and khoya you can buy, so if I had to give you one piece of advice for gulab jamun-making it would be to watch your dough carefully, add liquid to it slowly, and make sure that you end up with a finished product that’s pliable and easy enough to pinch between your fingers, but that doesn’t feel wet or slack.
Also, though I know that rose water is an essential component in gulab jamun (the Hindi word for rose, gulab, comes from the Persian gul (rose) and aab (water)) I’ve just never been a fan of rosewater all on its own, so I’ve taken the rather unorthodox but delicious step of adding just a splash of orange blossom water to the sugar syrup along with the rosewater—the two play wonderfully together, along with the tickle of cardamom in the dough for the jamuns.
Makes approximately 40 1-inch gulab jamuns
300 gms store-bought khoya
150 gms store-bought paneer
4.5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 tbsp fine semolina
5 green cardamom pods crushed, pods discarded and seeds ground to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle
½ tsp + 1 pinch baking soda
Whole milk as needed
750 gms granulated white sugar
3 cups water
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water
Grate the paneer and khoya into a large bowl using the small holes on a box grater. Especially with American store-bought khoya and paneer, this will be a pretty laborious task, but don’t overlook it—it’s important to reduce both to a fine powder to avoid lumps in the final dough.
When you have a bowl full of grated khoya and paneer, add in the flour, semolina, cardamom powder, and baking soda and mix well.
Constantly kneading with one hand, slowly add milk to the mixture, a couple of tablespoons at a time, leaving a minute or two between additions to make sure you’re not overhydrating the dough. I used close to a quarter cup of milk here, but the exact amount you’ll need will vary depending on the dryness of your khoya and paneer.
When you have a smooth, pliable, but not overly wet dough that can be easily handled without sticking to your fingers, you can begin rolling out the jamuns.
Roll the dough out between your palms into 1-inch balls, making sure that they are evenly round and don’t have any cracks. Cracks are the devil here and if you don’t pinch them shut at this stage, they will very likely open up during frying or soaking and cause your jamuns to disintegrate.
When the jamuns are all rolled out, cover them with a sheet of plastic wrap or a moist tea towel and set aside while you prepare the sugar syrup.
Pour the water and the sugar into a large, high-sided pan and set over medium heat. Allow to come to a simmer, stirring constantly just till all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup has turned clear. Turn off the heat and set aside for five minutes before adding the rose water and orange blossom water.
To fry the jamuns, heat 3–4 inches of a neutral oil (or ghee if you’re feeling extravagant) in a kadhai over a medium flame.
Check the oil temperature with an instant-read thermometre. When it reads 330F, start adding the jamuns carefully into the hot oil. Make sure to only add as many jamuns as fit comfortably into the oil in one layer.
Using a slotted spoon, gently stir, flip, and shimmy the jamuns around so that they are evenly browning. They will tend to brown fastest on the bottom, so make sure to turn them over regularly.
When the jamuns are a rich chestnut brown, remove them from the hot oil and set them to drain on a large plate lined with paper toweling for five minutes before transferring them to the warm sugar syrup.
Repeat the process with the rest of the jamuns till all are fried and soaking in the syrup.
Bring the pan with the syrup and the jamuns to the gentlest possible simmer (there should only be the rarest of bubbles rising to the surface) and leave for five minutes to encourage the jamuns to soak up more of the syrup.
Turn off the heat and allow the jamuns to soak for at least 2 hours before eating.
These can be stored in the refrigerator for upto a week. Some people like them cold, but if you ask me they're best gently reheated in a pan and served warm (with or without vanilla ice cream).