Desserts · Doughnuts

Gulab Jamun

Cardamom and orange blossom syrup make these little doughnuts irresistible! # 181: Gulab Jamun

I’m sure none of you would have ever guessed, but I was inspired to research and make these fun little sweets because of the Great British Bake Off. I know, I know, shocking.

I follow a handful of past GBBO bakers on Instagram, including Ruby Hogal from the 2018 season. One of her recent posts mentioned her plan to make galub jamun, and it caught my eye. Having never heard the name before, the thrill of the mystery set in:

  • What is it?
  • Where was it first made?
  • Will it be easy to make or have 18,000 steps?
  • Will it be baked, fried, maybe frozen?
  • Will it use ingredients I already have in my kitchen?
  • Is it an every day dessert or for special occasions?

Every dessert has a story! I love the fact there are countless ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. Thanks to Google, I now know that they’re a popular Indian milk sweet soaked in a delicate simple syrup and topped with pistachios. Yes, please.

Traditionally the syrup is made with rose water, but I went rogue with some orange blossom water and it did not disappoint. (Rose water is too overpowering and perfumey for me.)

The first part of the name has its roots in the Persian words for “flower” and “water”, referencing the rose water syrup. The second part refers to the size and shape of the treat, since they resemble a small plum-like fruit that grows in India. The recipe moved to India from the Middle East with Persian travellers, and the versions you’ll find in the two regions are very similar. Apparently it’s more common to eat them cold in the Middle East and hot in India! There’s a bunch more fun facts here if you’d like to go down a rabbit hole. Come on in, plenty of room down here.

They’re deep fried, giving them a crispy outer shell that holds up to a long syrup bath. Unlike other doughnuts fried in canola or vegetable oil, these little beauties are fried in ghee. Ghee is butter that’s been clarified to remove the milk solids to give it a higher smoking point. I prefer cooking with butter, since the milk solids add lovely flavor as they carmelize, but it’s not as “pure” as using straight ghee. To each their own!

The choice of ghee makes sense regionally, but I love the irony that these sweets are essentially entirely made of milk solids! Meant to be.

Most recipes called for khoya, which from what I gather, is milk that’s been cooked down over low heat for a really long time. But I had milk powder on hand so I chose the easier ingredient (no shame.) I read that some Indian grocery stores in the Bay Area have frozen khoya, so I’ll definitely have to try these again when I have a chance to buy some!

I was so curious what the texture would be like, with only a tiny bit of flour and all that dried milk.

Full disclosure – it didn’t to come together into a “smooth dough” like all the recipes described. I tried to get as close as possible with over-working it, but it just didn’t feel like there was enough liquid.

I made the recipe twice, the second time adding more liquid milk to try to get a smoother dough. It still felt super dry, but since I had worked it less, the resulting doughnuts had a looser, fluffier texture than the first batch! Moral of the story, do not mix it to death.

Like a lil pearl in it’s shell! Oiling my hands in ghee before rolling them definitely helped them keep their shape.

I hit another conundrum at this point – how much ghee to melt for frying?? Enough to cover the doughnuts completely? Just enough to come up halfway and just continuously flip them? Being so used to frying in oil, it was bizarre to use that much ghee in one go. I chose the come up halfway route and crossed my fingers.

It worked! * happy dance * Just had to flip them every minute or so, and keep the heat low so the outsides didn’t brown too fast.

On the other burner, I mixed water, sugar, cardamom, orange blossom water and heat until it was bubbling merrily away. Tis called simple syrup for a reason. (Shout out to Pam for having orange blossom water on hand and letting me pilfer some!)

I still think cardamom is one of the best doughnut flavorings ever. It pairs with sweet so so well.

Straight from the frying pot to the syrup for a long soak. Lounging in a cardamom-scented hottub – what a life!

I feel like the lighting in these photos makes them look a little like chicken nuggets . . . But I can happily say that they taste NOTHING like chicken! The syrup gives them the perfect balance of sweet and spice and the pistachios add a perfect salty crunch for some contrast.

Though I wouldn’t say no to a leaning tower of chicken nuggets right now.

Happy munching!

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