Treat yourself to soft and juicy homemade Gulab Jamun! These iconic Indian mithais take just 15 minutes and are easy to make with milk powder. The jamuns are fried in ghee and soaked in a syrup flavored with cardamom, rosewater, and saffron. Serve them at festivals, weddings, and to celebrate other special occasions.
I don't know a single person that doesn't know what a Gulab Jamun is! It's definitely the most famous and iconic Indian dessert out there. It is common at restaurants, festivals, weddings, parties, and as a dessert at people's homes.
I've often heard people describe them as little milk-based donuts that are fried and soaked in syrup flavored with cardamom, rose, and saffron. They're soft, squishy, juicy, and so fragrant.
It's also incredibly easy to make at home! These Gulab Jamuns with milk powder are based off of my Sita Mami's recipe. My mom told me a story of how Sita Mami would make this dessert in the middle of the night to fulfill her pregnancy cravings and it gave me a good laugh.
Sounds like something I absolutely would do. I promptly requested the recipe and I found myself making it at midnight, too. That's always when my cravings for this mithai hit.
Gulab Jamun is traditionally made with khoya, which are milk solids from simmering milk until the water evaporates. Unfortunately, khoya is quite difficult to come by in the U.S., and it takes some patience to make at home.
Milk powder has become an easy substitute, and still results in the exact same delicious, juicy jamuns. Gulab Jamun mixes can also be purchased from companies like Git or MTR or in readymade tins by brands like Haldirams.
What are Gulab Jamuns?
Gulab Jamun is an Indian mithai traditionally made out of milk solids, or khoya. It's fried and then soaked in a syrup flavored with saffron, cardamom, and rosewater. In recent years, milk powder has been used as a substitute to khoya and still achieves the soft, juicy jamun we all know and love.
The word gulab refers to the rose water-scented syrup, with origins from the Persian words gol (flower) and āb (water). Jamun is reminiscent of the Indian fruit called jamun or black plum, which has a similar shape and size to the little desserts.
It's the most popular Indian dessert and can be found at Indian restaurants, festivals, weddings, or easily made at home. The government of Pakistan declared it the official national dessert of Pakistan. World Gulab Jamun Day is celebrated on October 10th of every year.
Gulab Jamun originated in India with influences from Iran. It's thought to have been an accidental creation made by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's personal chef.
There are also a few varieties of gulab jamun, such as Kala Jamun which are black in color from caramelization.
Ingredients - Notes and Substitutions
First things first, you will need a lot of ghee to fry up the jamuns. Neutral oil is also acceptable, but it'll make the syrup oily when transferring the jamuns over to soak. Regular butter won't work as a substitute, because the smoke point isn't high enough.
The sugar syrup for gulab jamun is always a 1-to-1 ratio of water to sugar. Saffron, cardamom pods, and rosewater make this syrup especially flavorful.
Please use whole cardamom pods that are slightly smashed, and not ground cardamom. The whole pods will release a ton of flavor into the syrup.
There will most likely be plenty of syrup leftover! Use it for pancakes, Apple Jalebis, etc. It's absolutely delicious.
The gulab jamun dough is made with a total of 5 ingredients.
- Whole milk powder - The purpose of the milk powder is to mimic khoya, or milk solids, and paneer which are more traditional for making soft gulab jamun. However, khoya is not readily available in the U.S. and is arduous to make at home, so milk powder is a quick hack to make jamuns that are just as soft and scrumptious.
- All purpose flour - Helps bind the dough and form the tiniest bit of gluten to keep the jamun's structure.
- Baking powder - Makes the dough light and airy.
- Ghee - Used for frying and to hydrate the dough. Substitute the ghee in the dough with unsalted butter. Substitute the ghee for frying with a neutral oil, or half oil and half ghee.
- Whole milk - Rehydrates the milk powder and softens the dough so that there aren't any cracks.
How to make the Rosewater Sugar Syrup
Making the rosewater syrup is incredibly easy! Start off by making a simple syrup, which is a 1-to-1 ratio of sugar to water.
Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar. Stir the sugar until melted. Lightly crush the cardamom pods, and then add them into the syrup. Rub the saffron in the palm of your hands to break it into smaller pieces. Do this over the pan so it falls directly into the simple syrup.
Simmer the syrup until it comes to a one string consistency. Dip your pointer finger into the syrup and rub it between your pointer finger and thumb, then slowly pull your fingers apart. There will be one strand of syrup between your fingers. You don't want it to get thicker than this.
Remove the syrup from heat, and stir in the rosewater. Cover the syrup with a lid to keep it warm.
How to make Gulab Jamun
Get started on making the jamun dough while the syrup simmers. To make the dough for gulab jamun, start by combining the milk powder, baking powder, and all-purpose flour in a mixing bowl. Give it a whisk.
Then, create a well in the middle and pour the ghee into the center. Combine the ghee with dry ingredients using your hands. You'll end up with a sandy textured flour that'll start clumping a tiny bit.
Next, add the milk one tablespoon at a time, gently kneading the dough until it comes together into a smooth and soft dough ball. There shouldn't be any cracks and the texture won't be crumbly. It should also be well hydrated without sticking to your fingers.
It's not necessary to fully knead the dough here either, because we're not looking for any gluten formation! We're just looking for a soft, smooth dough.
Getting the right texture for the dough is incredibly important! If there are cracks in the dough, the jamun will completely fall apart while they're deep fried. If the dough is too hard, it won't soak up syrup all the way to the center.
I found that adding a tablespoon of all-purpose flour at a time helped smooth out dough that had too much hydration, while adding milk helped with a softer, smooth dough.
Split the dough into 12 pieces that weigh 20-25 grams each. Ensure the balls are completely smooth with no cracks! A few creases are okay, but if there are any cracks it will need to be reworked. Roll each piece into a smooth ball between your hands or using a flat surface.
In the meantime, add the ghee on a medium-low setting in a wok. Test a small piece of dough to see if it starts bubbling and floats to the top. If it does, the ghee is hot enough. The ghee shouldn't be too hot so that the insides of the jamuns get a chance to cook before the outside has browned.
Quickly add the dough balls into the ghee and start gently stirring the oil to ensure they don't sit at the bottom. Continue to stir the oil every few seconds so that the dough balls never settle. This way they'll get an even cook on all sides without hot spots on the bottom.
Once they're golden brown, transfer the jamuns directly into the warm syrup. Let the jamuns soak up the syrup for a minimum of 3 hours at room temperature. After the soak time, they're ready to serve.
Note: If the dough balls have been sitting in the bowl for too long, the bottom side will flatten. Give it a quick roll in your hands to round it out before transferring it into the oil, otherwise it'll hold its flat-bottomed shape. Fry the jamun in batches based off of how large your wok is.
Serving Suggestions and Storage Instructions
Serve the Gulab Jamun chilled, at room temperature, or warm. Garnish it with rose petals, slivered almonds or pistachios, and even edible silver foil.
Two jamuns to a bowl is ideal, with a few tablespoons of syrup to scoop up while digging into the jamuns. Additionally, serve gulab jamun with ice cream or as toppers to cupcakes, cheesecakes, and cakes.
Store gulab jamun at room temperature for up to a week, or in the refrigerator for up to 30 days.
Tips for the Best Gulab Jamun
The worst thing ever is hard, dense gulab jamun or having it fall apart while it's frying. Because the base of the jamun is milk powder, it can be quite delicate. Here's a few pitfalls and tips to having the softest, scrumptious jamun!
- Overkneading the dough. Overworking the dough will result in more gluten formation than we want or need. The dough should just come together until it's soft and smooth.
- The texture of the dough. It is absolutely mandatory for the jamun dough to be completely soft and smooth with no cracks. It also should not be dry or crumbly, otherwise it'll disintegrate while frying. If there are cracks, the ghee will also fry the inside of the jamun, resulting in a hard jamun that's also uncooked.
- Moisture content in the dough. If the jamun dough is dry or cracking, there's not enough moisture from the ghee or milk. The jamun dough needs to have enough moisture for it to expand while it's frying
- Too much leavening. Stick to the ratios in the recipe as much as possible. Too much leavening will result in jamun that's too soft and won't retain its shape. They can break or disintegrate while frying.
- The syrup is sticky. The syrup for gulab jamun should reach one-string consistency before adding the jamun into it. This means that if you stick your pointer finger into the syrup and press it against your thumb, then slowly pull your fingers apart you should see one string of syrup. If it's too watery, the jamuns won't hold their shape and can become soggy. If it's too thick, the jamuns may not soak enough syrup to the center. You'll also want to make sure the syrup is still warm when transferring the jamuns. Avoid using any type of pan that retains too much heat, otherwise the syrup will thicken too much and crystallize.
- Perfect temperature for the frying ghee. Check the temperature of the ghee before frying by adding a small piece of dough into the hot ghee. It should hit the bottom, then slowly start to rise up while it bubbles. It shouldn't brown immediately. Then the ghee is hot enough for frying. If it's not hot enough, the jamun will absorb the ghee and it'll be really soggy. If it's too hot, the jamun will crack and the outside will brown before the center gets a chance to cook. Stir the ghee once the jamun are added so they get an even golden brown.
More Indian Desserts to try
- In a sauce pan on low to medium heat, pour in the water and sugar. Stir until the sugar melts. Rub the saffron between the palms of your hands over the pan to crush them a bit. Smash the cardamom seeds under the flat edge of a knife and add them into the sugar water as well.
- Simmer the syrup until it reaches one strand consistency. To do this, dip your pointer finger into the sugar water and rub it between pointer and thumb and slowly pull your fingers away from each other. You should see one strand of syrup.
- Remove the syrup from heat. Add the rosewater and stir everything together. Ensure the syrup stays warm for soaking the jamuns by covering it with a lid or keeping it on the lowest heat. Keep it nearby to the wok which will be used to fry the jamuns.
- Sift the milk powder, all-purpose flour, and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Create a well in the middle and add the ghee. Mix the ghee together with the dry ingredients until the flour is a sandy texture with small clumps.
- Add the whole milk one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together to form a soft, smooth ball of dough. This may require more than 4 tablespoons of milk. The dough shouldn't be crumbly, sticky, or have any cracks.
- Divide the dough into 12 pieces that weigh 20-25 grams. Roll each piece in between your hands or on a flat surface to form a smooth and round ball.
- In the meantime, add enough ghee for deep frying the jamun on a medium-low setting in a wok. Test a small piece of dough to ensure it bubbles and floats to the top. If it does, the ghee is hot enough. It shouldn't be too hot so that the insides of the jamuns get a chance to cook before the outside has browned.
- Carefully transfer the dough balls to the hot ghee and immediately start gently stirring the ghee with the slotted spoon to ensure they don't sit at the bottom of the wok. Continue to stir until they're all a proper deep golden brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes.
- Transfer the jamuns into the warm syrup. Let them soak for 2-3 hours at room temperature. Serve chilled or warm with slivered pistachios as garnish.