Syrup Sweets (PART 2)
OF ALL THE syrup sweets Srila Prabhupada taught his disciples to make, the most famous is gulabjamun, the focus of my last column. Gulabjamuns have been a trademark sweet at ISKCON feasts and festivals since Srila Prabhupada taught disciples to make them more than thirty years ago.
Besides gulabs, Srila Prabhupada relished and taught his disciples to make all the syrup sweets mentioned in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine kanti, gaja, malpura, balushai, pantoa, jalebi, and mysore pak. In Rishikesh, 1977, and in Delhi, 1971, Srila Prabhupada requested fresh hot jalebis to ward off a cold. In Vrndavana, 1974, he asked a disciple from Vrndavana to make bundi jalebi. At the Radha-Damodara temple, 1972, his sister Pisima made his childhood favorites: gaja and kanti. And at various times and places I made him khaja, balushai, and malpura.
Simply stated, syrup sweets are sweets made with sugar syrups. They vary widely in taste, texture, and appearance. For example, fried and syrup-soaked jalebi is light, juicy, and slightly crunchy,balushai is a flaky pastry drenched with a flavor-infused syrup glaze, and mysore pak is a melt-in-your-mouth chickpea-flour fudge made with sugar syrup. Many cooks include as syrup sweets therasgulla family, whose textures range from airy and spongy to dense and cakelike.
Sugar syrups fall more or less into four categories: light (1 part sugar to 2 parts water), medium (1 part sugar to 1 ½ parts water), medium-heavy (1 part sugar to 1 part water), and heavy (2 parts or more sugar to 1 part water). These syrups are invariably infused with an aromatic, from simple cardamom seeds to exotic essences of flowers such as the rose, dhus, and kewra.
Here are questions most frequently asked of me about syrup sweets:
Q: Why do gulabjamuns collapse?
A: Success in gulabs rests in controlled frying temperatures, so use a thermometer if necessary.
Q: Can I use any frying oil for khaja and other syrup sweets?
A: Fresh ghee is the frying medium of choice. Nothing yields a similar result, although some cooks recommend new vegetable oil.
Q: What kind of milk powder is best for these sweets?
A: For purity, I prefer nonfat, noninstant organic milk powder. Experiment with what you have available and make minor adjustments as necessary.
Q: Can I use any kind of sugar?
A: In India today, whitish-gray granulated sugar is used. I recommend fructose, turbinado sugar, or natural-processed cane sugar.
Q: How do I control the texture of a finished rasgulla?
A: Rasgulla success rests on the moisture content of the cheese and on maintaining the recommended syrup consistency while cooking; thin as necessary, and take notes for comparison.
Syrup sweets are difficult to master, with variables that demand patience and knowledge. But by learning classic sweet-making arts, we take part in a great tradition hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Let us try to master making some of these sweets, learn the kitchen lessons to be learned, and pass the knowledge to future generations. In this way, let us try to please Srila Prabhupada.
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.
Flaky Pastry Diamonds with Honey Glaze
Instead of sugar syrup, this recipe calls for drizzling with slightly warm local honey.
1 ½ half cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
¼ cup ghee or unsalted butter
½ cup milk, or as needed
ghee or vegetable oil for frying
warm honey for drizzling
In a wide bowl, mix the first five ingredients. Add ghee or butter and blend with your fingertips until the texture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the milk and work the mixture briskly into a rough dough. Knead the dough, adding sprinkles of more flour or milk if necessary, to make a medium-consistency smooth dough. Gather the dough into a smooth ball, cover it, and set it aside for half an hour.
Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a deep frying pan. Divide the dough in half and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until the dough is ¼ inch thick. Brush off excess flour. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into approximately 1-inch squares or diamonds. When the ghee is hot (a piece of dough sizzles and floats to the surface), add the dough pieces until the surface of the ghee is covered.
Fry the pastries until they're golden-brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to absorbent paper. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Drizzle the pastries with warm honey just before offering to Lord Krsna.