Syrup Sweets (PART 1): Gulabjamun
I RECENTLY EDITED regional Indian menus for Gourmet magazine's 1998 cookbook, and gulabjamun, predictably, was the featured North Indian sweet. Gulabjamun is India's most famous sweet made in homes, temples, and restaurants worldwide. When Srila Prabhupada first made gulabjamuns for us in 1966, they were an instant favorite. His young followers referred to them as "gulabs," "sweet balls," and "ISKCON bullets." Gulabjamuns were my first prasadam prepared by Srila Prabhupada and dropped from his fingers into my palm the day I met him a day that changed my life.
Syrup Sweets Defined
Almost every Indian cook has his or her repetoire of syrup sweets. In the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, they include both milk-based and grain-based sweets gaja, khaja, pantoa, jalebi, malpura, balushai, gulabjamun. Each of these sweets is fried and then infused with flavor in a fragrant syrup. Some varieties are served in the syrup, and others are soaked, drained, and coated with a syrupy glaze. None of them are quick and easy to make, and to different degrees they are challenging to master. If you are a newcomer to making syrup sweets, start with the malpura recipe on page 635; it's the easiest of the lot.
Making gulabjamuns is time-consuming, and the art of getting them right is difficult to master. But temple cooks and anyone who wants to learn to cook traditional Indian sweets for Krsna should become adept at making gulabjamuns.
The quantities for what goes into the dough in any gulab recipe can only be guidelines, because the texture, moisture, and other properties of the ingredients vary by brand. So you'll need to adjust the measurements accordingly.
The adage "Good gulabs means fresh ghee" is sound; other oils never make the mark. Purists will not consider making gulabjamuns without fresh ghee. If you use a medium or small bowl-shaped Indian karai or Oriental wok, you'll need only about five cups of ghee for the recipe given here; if you use a pot, you'll need closer to seven cups. Alternatively, use less ghee and a smaller karai and make two batches.
The recipe in the class textbook uses 1 ½ tablespoons of flour in the dough and requires a long frying time. The recipe below calls for 8 tablespoons of flour, greatly shortening the frying time, and the dough is enriched with a little butter and moistened with milk, yogurt, or buttermilk. Prepare a dough that is soft and slightly sticky, either in a bowl or food processor. Because the dough hardens quickly, roll it at once into crack-free balls.
Maintain the suggested frying temperatures. If the balls are fried too quickly, the inside stays uncooked and the balls will deflate when placed in syrup. The instructions here are brief but sufficient. For more detailed cooking instructions, refer to the recipe on page 637 of the class textbook.
So put on a nice Krsna conscious tape, get comfortable, and meditate on both hearing and frying. Gulabjamuns are a joy to prepare for the pleasure of the Lord. Make them with love and the finest available ingredients milk, sugar, and fresh ghee.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times.
(Makes about 20 balls)
2 ½ cups (600 ml) water
2 ½ cups (525 g) sugar, preferably turbinado
fresh ghee or vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 ¼ cups (125 g) nonfat dry-milk powder
½ cup (60 g) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon (4 ml) baking powder
4 tablespoons (½ stick) (60 ml) unsalted butter
1/3 to ½ cup (80 to 120 ml) buttermilk, stirred yogurt, or milk
1 tablespoon (15 ml) rose water or ½ teaspoon (2 ml) rose essence
1 tablespoon (15 g) slivered pistachios
To make the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a wide-mouthed 4-quart pan, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently boil the sugar water for about 5 minutes; then set it aside on very low heat. Begin heating the ghee or oil in a frying vessel to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
To make the dough, combine the milk powder, flour, and baking powder in a food processor or bowl; mix well. Add the butter and mix until the texture resembles that of corn meal. Add enough liquid to make a smooth, soft, slightly sticky dough. Transfer the dough to an oiled surface. Wash and oil your hands, and immediately shape the dough into about 20 smooth and crack-free 1-inch balls. Cover the balls and set them aside.
When the ghee or oil has reached 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), slip in the balls. They will sink at first and then float to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, gently but constantly agitate the balls for even browning. Maintain a frying temperature of 280 degrees F (140 degrees C) to 310 degrees F (155 degrees C), and fry until the balls are dark brown, about 10 minutes. If the temperature becomes too hot, remove the pan from the heat.
Transfer the balls to the warm syrup and simmer them on low heat for about 15 minutes to soften the balls and allow the syrup to thicken. Add the rose water or essence, and cool to room temperature off the heat. Garnish with pistachio nuts, and offer to Krsna.