When I think about what makes me who I am today, I feel so much pride to have grown up as a child of immigrants, along with the customs we celebrate and of course the recipes my parents brought from India.
As a teenager, however, the desire to blend in and minimize anything that made me feel different than my peers burned so strongly, it honestly felt easier not to talk about these cultural parts of myself.
Growing up, my parents were super involved in our after school and summer swimming league. My dad was an official on the sidelines of the pool, and he and my mom spent hours each week sharing duties as treasurer of the team board. This meant attending frequent socials with the other parents and coaches, where they’d catch up over a potluck of foods that everyone would bring along to share. There was one evening I can distinctly remember as my parents got ready to attend another potluck meeting. My mom was getting a glass platter together filled with these coconut rolled gulab jamun.
I’ve grown up for as long as I can remember with gulab jamun, and more specifically, with my mom’s gulab jamun being the only ones I would ever eat. No other aunty could make them as good, and packaged gulab jamun’s were absolutely no match. They’re one of my favorite desserts and I would gladly eat them for every meal.
But in this specific moment, I remember thinking, why is my mom bringing something so Indian to a potluck? No one would know what a gulab jamun is, what if they thought it was weird? What was wrong with bringing a plate of cupcakes or cookies?
A part of me looks back at moments like that with a shade of regret. I used to be so worried about what other people would think when there was something so specific to call out our differences. Something as small as the fact that my mom never baked chocolate cupcakes but fried cardamom syrup soaked gulab jamun’s just seemed to carry so much weight.
The other part of me though looks back with a sense of pride, not for myself of course, but for my mom. Looking back, it was so shocking to me that she wouldn’t do something that would let her just blend into the crowd, instead choosing to do something that was just who she was. But maybe that’s the point, that being daring isn’t about doing something shocking or groundbreaking, but about being so authentically yourself and wearing your truth so proudly on your sleeve that it doesn’t matter what anyone else might say or think. Even if that truth is simply in the form of coconut rolled gulab jamun.
So let’s get to the important things, like what exactly is a gulab jamun?
The easiest way for me to describe them is to say that they are similar to donut holes, but texturally soft and spongey when they get soaked in a cardamom sugar syrup. There are two different preparations I grew up with, one being the coconut rolled version you see here, and the other being the little dough balls served in a bowl of the syrup sans coconut. Both are perfect, both are delicious. What might be new for you though, is the use of milk powder in the dough. Milk powder is basically what it sounds like, aka dried milk, and there are many Indian desserts that use it as the base for their dough. It gives these gulab jamun a unique flavor and texture that is different from what you would expect from a regular donut hole situation. And I know I’ve this is now the second fried recipe I’m giving y’all, but I promise it’s worth it to bring out the pot of oil. I’m not claiming this to be a healthy recipe by any means, but sometimes that’s okay too.
The process to make these is actually super easy! The dough comes together so easily, it takes a quick dip in the oil, and then soaks in a deliciously sweet and floral syrup before you roll it all up in coconut. The finished product is a pillowy, moist, spongey, sweet, bite of flavor, and I promise you won’t be able to just eat one.
for the dough ::
- canola oil for frying
- 1 cup (145g) of milk powder
- 6 tbsp (66g) of all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 7oz of heavy cream
for the syrup ::
- 2 cups of granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 8 fresh cardamom pods, seeded and crushed
- 1/4 tsp kewra essence (optional)
for topping ::
- shredded coconut
- In a large stove top pot safe for frying, fill with a couple inches of canola oil. You want the oil deep enough so that the gulab jamun don't sit on the bottom and have room to float. Turn on the heat at a medium high and let the oil heat while you prep the syrup and dough.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the milk powder, flour, and baking soda. Stir to combine.
- Using the paddle attachment, turn the mixer on low. Slowly stream in the heavy cream. Let the dough combine, stirring for about two minutes. The dough should come together and away from the sides of the bowl, it should be a similar texture to play dough. If the dough seems to dry, add an extra half ounce of heavy cream, though don't add too much as you don't want the dough to be sticky or wet. You should be able to form the dough into a ball in your hands when it's done.
- Once the dough is done, measure out 20 gram pieces of dough, and roll into balls. You want to firmly roll them to make sure there are no cracks. Once you've formed a ball, place on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel while you form the rest of the gulab jamun.
- To know when the oil is ready for frying, either use a cooking thermometer to note when the oil reaches around 335 degrees F, or use a dough tester. A dough ball should rise back up to the top of the oil and be bubbling when it is placed in the oil. For frying, keep the oil between 330 - 340 degrees F.
- Place about five or six of the gulab jamun into the oil with a spider spoon, constantly turning and stirring the dough balls for about 3 1/2 - 4 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.
- Remove the fried gulab jamun from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate while you finish frying the rest of the dough.
- To prep the syrup, add the sugar, water, and cardamom seeds into a stove top pot and set on the stove, bringing up to a medium high heat. Stir the sugar to help it dissolve, and bring the sugar water up to a boil. Let boil for about 2 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat.
- Place the drained gulab jamun into a large bowl, and pour the warm syrup carefully over them, stirring to make sure every gulab jamun gets coated. Add the kewra essence if using and stir with the coated gulab jamun. Let the gulab jamun sit in the syrup for about 2 - 3 hours so they soak up the syrup.
- When the gulab jamun have finished soaking, remove them from the syrup and place on another paper towel lined plate to drain any extra syrup.
- To finish, pour some shredded coconut onto a plate, and roll each of the soaked gulab jamun in the coconut to evenly coat.
- Serve and enjoy!