You will not see a lot of baked foods coming out of a traditional South Asian kitchen. That’s because most things are cooked over an open fire or stove top. With the exception of the Tandoor Oven, which is used for some savory dishes and naans, an oven is not used for desserts. Bengalis are intrepid however, and we are known for our desserts. There are a lot of Bengali desserts made out of dairy products and some that are non-dairy, like Jilebi and a whole host of Pithas and Halwas. The traditional Gulab Jamun is made with a homemade ricotta cheese base which takes a bit of effort and time to make.
My mom, (like most Bengali, I call her Ma) is a champion dessert maker. In fact, if there is a special occasion or a wedding coming up, people like to call her up and ask her to make some of the more complicated desserts. She is a true professional. I like to take a few short cuts in the kitchen. Some of the traditional methods of making desserts take forever. My philosophy is that if the end product tastes just as good with a little shortcut, let’s take the short cut! I have to confess, I had a LOT of failures before I could make this properly. The first time I made this, I made the balls the size that I usually ate them as a finished product, I had no idea that they expanded about 1 1/2 times their size. I ended up with these HUGE tennis ball sized desserts that fell apart in the syrup. I tried various concoctions and methods with varying degrees of success and finally settled on this recipe. This Gulab Jamun passed the Ma test. She said that it tasted (almost) as good as hers. High praise indeed!
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup dry powdered non-fat milk
1/4 cup all purpose flour (Maida)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
3 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
Oil for frying
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
3-4 cardamom pods crushed
saffron strands (optional, it adds great color and some flavor)
2 tsp lemon juice (to prevent crysallization)
In a large heavy bottom pan mix together all the ingredients for the syrup and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture boils, turn down heat to low and simmer for about 8 minutes and turn off the heat.
In a bowl, mix together powdered milk, flour, baking soda until well incorporated. Add softened butter and mix with hands and slowly begin adding liquid milk until a soft and sticky dough forms. Pat it together and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes until all liquid absorbs and dough becomes easier to handle. Knead dough until smooth and form small balls about the size of a nickel. Recipe should yield about 30 balls. In medium/low heat slowly fry the balls until they are a golden brown. It’s important to go slowly so that the balls are not hard in the middle and cooked on the outside. This is the most important step. The balls will expand in size as they are being fried. Keep turning the balls in the oil so they get an even golden brown color. When they are a deep brown color, take them out with a slotted spatula and place them on a paper towel covered surface to absorb excess oil. While they are still warm, place the balls gently into the syrup. Dessert is ready after 1 hour of being in syrup. They taste even better the next day. The finished size is about the size of a golf ball.