Gulab Jamuns are ideal confections for festive moments and entertaining. When guests are confronted with them for the first time they invariably ask, “What are they? ” Guesses then range from preserved fruits to doughnuts. In fact, Gulab Jamuns are made from just milk powder and flour. They’re fried slowly in ghee until the lactose in the milk powder caramelises and turns them a golden brown, and then they are soaked in a rose-scented, medium- heavy sugar syrup. Hence, the Hindi words Gulab Jamun meaning literally “rose ball”.
Although it only takes a few minutes to assemble the dough, the Gulab Jamuns must be fried slowly under carefully controlled temperatures. Some recipes increase the flour content of the dough in order to minimise the importance of the heat regulation, but it is a fact that the less flour there is in the dough, the better the quality of the Gulab Jamun. If the balls are browned too quickly, or not fried long enough, they tend to collapse in the sugar syrup.
Because the balls must be constantly agitated while they fry, I suggest you take your phone off the hook, pull up a stool, and put on your favourite CD.
PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: about 45 minutes
YIELD: 20 Gulab Jamuns
4 cups water
3 ¾ cups sugar
5 teaspoons pure distilled rose water
ghee for deep-frying
1½ tablespoons self-raising flour
2½ cups full-cream milk powder
¾ cup warm milk, or as required
Combine the water and sugar in a 3 litre pan over moderate heat and stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat. Add the rose water and set aside.
Pour the ghee to a depth of 6.7 – 7.5 cm in a non-stick deep-frying vessel at least 25 cm in diameter. Place over very low heat.
To make the dough: sift the flour and milk powder into a small bowl. Pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Sprinkle the small bowl of milk powder and flour into the large bowl of warm milk while mixing with your other hand. Quickly mix and knead the combination into a moist, smooth, and pliable dough. Wash your hands, rub a film of warm ghee on them, and divide the dough into 20 portions. Roll those portions into 20 smooth balls. Place them onto an oiled tray or plate.
When the ghee temperature reaches 102°C, drop the balls in, one by one. The balls will initially sink to the bottom. Do not try to move them. You can, however, gently shake the deep-frying vessel from side to side occasionally until the balls start to rise to the surface. From this point on they must be gently and constantly stirred, rolling them over and over with the back of a slotted spoon, allowing them to brown evenly on all sides.
After 5 minutes, the temperature of the ghee will have increased to about 104°C and the balls will have started to expand.
After 10 minutes, the temperature should be increased to 107°C. After 25 minutes, the ghee temperature should be about 110°C and the balls should be golden brown.
Test one by dropping it into the warm syrup. If it doesn’t collapse within three minutes then remove all the balls (3 or 4 at a time) with the slotted spoon and place them in the syrup. Otherwise, cook the balls for another 5 minutes. When all the Gulab Jamuns have been placed in the syrup, turn off the heat under the ghee and allow the sweets to soak in the syrup for at least 2 hours.
Gulab Jamuns can be prepared a day in advance, allowing them to fully soak overnight. They should be served at room temperature or slightly warmed.