Next to any busy marketplace, roadside or a village carnival in Bangladesh, Pakistan or India and you’ll see people in little stalls making fresh hot Jilebi. They are a little like funnel cakes but more delicate and crispy. There’s nothing like eating hot Jilebis. It’s better than hot Krispy Kremes! They melt in your mouth in a little explosion of sweetness and crunchiness. Of course, you can also buy them at fancier establishments, restaurants or sweet shoppes, but the road side ones are the best. I miss that here. Sometimes when the nostalgia gets to be too much, I just make my own. We were invited to dinner at a friend’s house. I offered to bring dessert just so I could have an excuse to make Jilebis. The problem was that I ate quite a few of them even as I was making them. I finally had to stop so I’d have enough to take to the dinner.
It took me a while to get all the proportions right and to figure out what tool to use to actually expel my batter into the oil to make the jilebi shapes. It also took a lot of trial and error to make them taste like the roadside Jilebis. I think I finally got it. You try it out and let me know.
Proof the yeast by adding sugar and water to activate it
Mix everything into a batter. It should be smooth and without lumps, about the consistency of pancake batter
Cake or cookie decorating bottles are a great Jilebi making tool
Any size tip can be used in the squeeze bottle...
I used a Wilton #7 tip
Using even pressure and a circular motion put batter into hot oil
Get the syrup ready to boil in the back burner
Fry Jilebi until it's a deep golden brown color
Place on paper towel to absorb oil
Place in hot syrup and coat evenly before taking Jilebi out
Fresh, hot Jilebi
It's hard not to smile when eating hot Jilebis
Here’s the recipe:
1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)
1-2 tsp of chick pea flour (Besan)
1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp oil
1/2 cup of warm water
oil for frying
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 crushed cardamom pods
3-4 strands of saffron (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice (to keep it from crystallizing)
Assemble the Jilebi:
In a small bowl add the water, sugar and yeast and let it sit for about 3-5 minutes until it’s all foamy and bubbly. In a separate bowl, mix the two flours and the oil. Slowly add in the proofed yeast while stirring the flour mixture until it’s smooth. Consistency should be like a pancake batter. Make sure there are no lumps. Let it sit covered for about 1 hour.
Make the syrup:
Before getting the batter ready for frying, assemble all the ingredients for the syrup and bring to a boil. Turn it to the lowest setting and let it simmer for about 5-8 minutes. Turn off heat.
Making the Jilebi (this goes fast so have everything ready to go):
Preheat oil. Test readiness by putting a little of the jilebi mixture in the oil and if it floats to the top right away it’s ready. Make sure not to overheat the oil. Pour the jilebi mixture into a squeeze bottle or a ziplock bag with a tip cut out to make a small hole. The mixture will be slightly stringy and elastic. If using a squeeze bottle from a baking store, try the Wilton decorating tip number seven. It’s the perfect size hole plus the bottle and tip only cost about $2 and you can use the bottle for tons of different things. Using a circular motion and even pressure put batter into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and set it over some paper towels to absorb excess oil. While jilebi is still hot put it in the warm syrup to coat both sides and take it out immediately. Best served hot. But if you must have some later (if there is any left), please heat in the oven and not the microwave so it retains the crispy texture.
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!
Mix together dry ingredients, work in softened butter and then add the milk to make dough
Dough will be very sticky, let it rest for about 10-15 minutes until everything absorbs
While waiting for the dough to set up, get the syrup ready to boil
Pre-heat oil and make little balls out of the dough. Should be the size of a nickle (yields about 30)
SLOWLY fry the dough to an even deep brown color (it's a little like watching paint dry but necessary). Balls will expand as they are being fried.
Place on paper towel covered surface to absorb excess oil
Place into syrup while still warm, as they absorb the syrup they will expand some more
Gulab Jamun has to soak in syrup at least an hour before they are ready to eat. They are even better the next day.
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.
I found a wonderful Hazelnut Tea Cookie recipe in this great food blog called Emmycooks. I love a good cookie, especially ones I can eat while sipping a good cup of tea. I also really, really, really like Nutella. It’s smooth velvety chocolate and rich hazelnut flavor is to die for. It’s a standard “staple” at our house along with fresh ground peanut butter (so I can make a variety of Thai and Indonesian sauces and put it on my toast too). You know what I had to do with this Hazelnut Tea Cookie recipe, I had to “Nutella-fy” it. So now you have a choice, you can make the delightful original recipe from Emmy’s blog or you can also try this version. It’s a win-win.
Drop by scoopfuls onto a cookie sheet (I use silpat to line my baking pans) and bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees
Melt some chocolate chips with a little bit of vegetable oil in a double broiler (basically a heat safe bowl on a pan with some water in it)
Dip the bottom of the cookies in the melted chocolate
They are truly decadent
Here’s the recipe:
Chocolate-dipped Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Tea Cookies
1 stick of butter (1/4 pound or 8 tablespoons), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup AP flour
1 cup finely chopped Hazelnuts (toasting them really helps with the flavor)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips (for melting and dipping)
1 tsp vegetable oil
In a food processor finely chop Hazelnuts to yield one cup. Put in a microwave safe plate or dish and microwave for 1-2 minutes stirring every 30 seconds or so until nicely toasted. This intensifies the hazelnut flavor.
Cream the butter and the sugar together. Add in egg, salt, soda and incorporate well. Slowly add in the flour and mix well. Hand stir in the toasted hazelnuts and mini chocolate chips to the batter and drop by scoopfuls on to a Silpat lined or Parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool on a cooling rack.
In a heat safe bowl melt semi sweet chocolate chips with the vegetable oil over a double broiler (basically another pan with 1 1/2 inches of water in it that is heated up so the steam melts the chocolate, this is safer for the chocolate so it doesn’t burn, make the sure the bottom of the pan does not touch the water). When chocolate is melted place each cookie bottom side down in the chocolate to coat it well. Place the cookie on a cooling rack with the chocolate side up. When all the cookies are coated place them in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes for the chocolate to harden. Serve with hot tea or coffee.