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Gulab Jamun with Milk Powder (Indian Sweets)

A pile of Indian Gulab Jamun topped with pistachios in a decorative metal bowl along with a pansy

Dare I say it – Gulab Jamun is the most famous and most beloved of Indian desserts! Gulab Jamun are fried ‘doughnuts’ made from milk which are then immersed in a gorgeously perfumed syrup scented with cardamom, saffron and rose water. You will be hard pressed to find a single soul across India who doesn’t relish a good homemade Gulab Jamun, and for good reason!

In Hindi, “Gulab” means Rose and “Jamun” is a dark purple fruit/berry. Thus Gulab Jamun are named for their berry-like appearance and gorgeous rose steeped flavour! They are deliciously sweet, with only a subtle hint of saffron, rose and cardamom – never overpowering. The soft, rich texture of the Gulab Jamun almost melts away to nothing which makes them dangerously addictive.

Gulab Jamun are a must for the festive season – whether that be Diwali, Holi, Navratri, Eid, or even Christmas. Although to be honest, you don’t need an excuse to eat Gulab Jamun!

Traditionally Gulab Jamun are made with Khoya the milk solids which are left in the pan after slowly boiling milk for many hours. Consequently, this is an extremely lengthy process that many in our modern culture simply don’t have time for. Fresh khoya is available to buy in some stores, but not commonly. This is why I love making Gulab Jamun with Milk Powder – the process is easy, doesn’t take long to make, and the resulting texture is to die for. The only thing to note is that it’s really important that you use full fat milk powder.

How are Gulab Jamun made?

  1. Make a simple dough from Milk Powder, All Purpose Flour (Plain Flour/Maida), Baking Soda, a little Ghee, Yoghurt, and fresh Milk.
  2. Make a deliciously sweet and fragranced Sugar Syrup from Water, Sugar, Cardamom Pods, Saffron, Rose Water, and Lemon Juice.
  3. Shape and deep fry the Gulab Jamun balls until a deep golden brown.
  4. Seep the Gulab Jamun in the warm sugar syrup for a few hours to soften them to perfection and flavour them with the sweet spices.

That’s it! Making Gulab Jamun is simple if you break it down into steps and read the tips below.

Tips to make the BEST homemade Gulab Jamun:

  • Measure everything well. Measure by weight using a kitchen scale, not by volume in cups. Gulab Jamun is one of those recipes that depends on accuracy. If the proportion of one ingredient is off in either the Gulab Jamun dough or the Sugar Syrup, the resulting texture will be all wrong. Texture is the most important thing when it comes to a successful Gulab Jamun and that’s why it’s important to use the most accurate measurement. If you don’t have a kitchen scale already I highly recommend investing in one.
  • Don’t knead the dough. It might be tempting, but kneading your dough will result in a hard Gulab Jamun. Just mix everything together and gently, then grease your hands well and shape the Gulab Jamun.
  • Test the oil temperature first. Take a small piece of the Gulab Jamun dough and drop it into the oil to test the temperature. The oil should begin to bubble and the dough should rise to the surface within a few seconds. It should not brown immediately (oil too hot – lower the temperature) or stay at the bottom (oil to low – wait longer or increase temperature a little).
  • Above all, take it slow and cook with confidence. Gulab Jamun can be a hard thing to master. Although it’s very simple, one thing done wrong can throw the whole recipe off kilter. That’s why it’s important to take things slow and have confidence in yourself. If you’re trying this recipe for the first time and are worried about wasting ingredients, you have halve the recipe. And if you don’t get it quite right the first time, don’t give up – learn from your mistakes and try again later.

Troubleshooting Issues with homemade Gulab Jamun:

  • Why are my Gulab Jamun uncooked inside? This will happen if the Gulab Jamun are fried in oil that is too hot. It causes the outside of the Gulab Jamun to cook and brown quickly, while the insides remain completely uncooked. It’s vital that you cook the Gulab Jamun on medium-low heat to ensure that they cook through completely and turn a lovely golden brown colour outside.
  • Why are my Gulab Jamun hard? There are several reasons for this. Firstly, you didn’t add enough moisture (through milk) into the dough. Secondly, you kneaded the dough instead of simply mixing it. This develops gluten in the flour which makes it dense, chewy and hard.
  • Why did my Gulab Jamun break in the oil? Again, there are several reasons. Firstly, you added too much moisture (milk) which made it wet and break. Related to this, not using the correct amount of flour can result in the same problem. Secondly, not using enough milk in the dough will create cracks when you roll them and once fried they will split. Thirdly, too much baking soda can result in breaking. Finally, be very careful when frying the Gulab Jamun. It can be easy to accidently create indents in the surface when turning them and therefore cause splitting. I recommend turning the Gulab Jamun only after they have risen to the surface and lightly browned to avoid this issue.
  • Why are my Gulab Jamun not round? If you add the Gulab Jamun to the sugar syrup when it’s either too hot or too cold, they can deflate. Additionally, make sure that the pot which you use to soak the Gulab Jamun is of a suitable size. As they expand, if there isn’t enough room they can become squashed which results in deformities. Furthermore, make sure to grease your hands well when rolling them into shape to make a lovely shape to begin with!
  • Why did my Gulab Jamun not soak up the syrup? The syrup for Gulab Jamun must be thin. If it’s too thick, the Gulab Jamun won’t be able to soak up the syrup and become gorgeously sweet and soft. The recipe below will give you a lovely fragranced thin syrup which will be perfect for the Gulab Jamun – they will soak it up but not become so soft as to break.

I know that this can appear to be quite overwhelming. However, don’t worry – if you follow all of the tips above, I’m quite sure that you will end up with perfectly delicious melt in the mouth homemade Gulab Jamun!

How to store Gulab Jamun

Let the Gulab Jamun soak for at least 2 hours in the Sugar Syrup before serving. This allows the Gulab Jamun to soak up all the lovely flavours of cardamom, rose water and saffron, and become really soft. Any leftovers should be stored in the syrup.

Depending on the environment, Gulab Jamun can be stored at room temperature for anything from 2 days to 5 days. Otherwise, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. They will surely be finished in that time, but you can also freeze them for up to 3 months.

This Recipe Is …

  • A fail-proof version of India’s most famous dessert!
  • Packed full of helpful hints & tips
  • DELICIOUS, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth, heavenly goodness!
  • Made from easily accessible ingredients
  • Fragrant with Cardamom and Saffron

If you’re interested in more Indian dessert recipes, why not check out these Soft and Spongy Bengali Rasgulla, Maharashtrian Til Chikki (Sweet Sesame Crisps!), Sevai Kheer (Vermicelli Rice Pudding), or Aamrakand (Sweet Mango & Saffron Yoghurt).

A Gulab Jamun topped with rose petals, pistachios and silver leaf being held on a spoon, with more Gulab Jamun in the background

Gulab Jamun

Yield: 20
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour

The most beloved Indian sweet - Gulab Jamuns are milk 'doughnuts' soaked in a rose and cardamon sugar syrup.

Ingredients

For the Sugar Syrup

For the Gulab Jamun

  • 120g Full Fat Milk Powder
  • 50g Plain Flour/All Purpose Flour (In Hindi - Maida) 
  • 1/8 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Ghee
  • 1 tbsp Greek Yoghurt or Natural Yoghurt 
  • 7 tbsp Full Fat Milk**

Instructions

  1. Begin by making the Sugar Syrup. Add the water, sugar, crushed cardamom pods and saffron to a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Leave the pan uncovered and simmer for around 25 minutes. Continue with the steps below while the syrup is cooking.
  2. Make the Gulab Jamun dough. Sift milk powder, flour, and baking soda together in a large mixing bowl or parat. Mix well and then add ghee. Rub together with your hands until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and the ghee is well incorporated.
  3. Next, combine yoghurt and 5 tbsp milk in a small bowl and Whisk to combine. Add this to the dough and gently begin to bring the mixture together. Do not knead. It should 'stick' together when pressed. If the mixture is too crumbly, add milk in 1 tbsp increments until you reach the right consistency - for me this took 7 tbsp milk**. To test the consistency grease your hands and take a small piece of the dough. Roll it between your hands. It should be smooth and crack free - if there are cracks add more milk to the dough.
  4. Shape the Gulab Jamun. Split the dough up into 20 roughly equal sized pieces. Grease your hands well with oil and roll a piece in-between your palms to get a completely crack-free smooth ball. Repeat with all other pieces, greasing your hands as necessary, until all are finished. Keep the finished ones covered with a cloht to prevent the dough from drying out.
  5. Pre-heat your oil or ghee in a large kadai or saucepan at low-medium temperature.
  6. By this time roughly 25 minutes should have passed and the sugar syrup will be nicely infused. It should still be thin but reduced in quantity. Add the rose water and lemon juice, mix, turn off the heat and leave to rest.
  7. Take a small piece of the Gulab Jamun dough and drop it into the oil to test the temperature. The oil should begin to bubble and the dough should rise to the surface within a few seconds. It should not brown immediately (oil too hot – lower the temperature) or stay at the bottom (oil to low – wait longer or increase temperature a little).
  8. Once the oil is at the correct temperature carefully lower a few Gulab Jamun into the oil (be careful not to overcrowd your pan). Let them brown and slowly rise to the surface of the oil and cook for around 5 minutes, or until they become a lovely deep dark brown. Once fried carefully remove the Gulab Jamun from the oil with a slotted spoon, shake off excess oil and add them to the warm sugar syrup mixture. Repeat with the remaining Gulab Jamun.
  9. Let the Gulab Jamun soak in the sugar syrup for at least 2 hours before serving.

Notes

* Although rose water is traditional and my preferred flavouring, feel free to experiment with Kewra Water (Pandan Flower Water) or Orange Blossom Water.

** The amount of milk used varies depending on the brand and quality of your milk powder. I suggest starting with 5 tbsp and adding in 1 tbsp increments until you reach the right texture. For me, this took 7 tbsp milk.

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How to serve Gulab Jamun?

Homemade Gulab Jamun taste fantastic topped with pistachio slivers, almonds or cashews. Pour a little extra sugar syrup over them to indulge even further. You really don’t need to eat them with anything else!

However, many people love to eat warm Gulab Jamun (reheated in the microwave or on the hob) with vanilla ice cream or malai kulfi (Indian ice cream). Nowadays it’s also fashionable to add cooked Gulab Jamun to cheesecakes or use them to decorate Indian flavoured cakes. Yum!

They also make an excellent dessert at the end of a delicious thali.

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