Andrea Maunder, locovore, wine expert and pastry chef, is the owner and creative force behind Bacalao, a St. John's restaurant specializing in "nouvelle Newfoundland" cuisine.

Gulab Jamuns

I remember tasting gulab jamuns for the first time. I was 18ish and it was after a delicious Indian meal at The Curry House in St. John’s (anyone remember that spot?). I was practically intoxicated with all the heady spices and they insisted I try the gulab jamun with a cup of chai tea. I swooned. I had never tasted anything like it.

Gulab jamuns are essentially doughnut-hole-sized milk fritters soaked in a sugary syrup infused with cardamom and rosewater. (Gulab refers to rosewater syrup and jamun refers to a small, black plum-like fruit popular in Southeast Asia. Gulab jamun is a

traditional food served during Diwali, the Hindu  fall festival of lights.) Served warm, they were tender and comforting, and I experienced the added deliciousness of an almost “juicy” burst of floral, fragrant syrup when I bit into it.

I’ve attempted to reproduce that first gulab jamun experience over the years, without a lot of success. Indian cooks will tell you there’s a trick to getting the texture right. These fritters are traditionally made with khoya, which is a nearly dry paste made by reducing whole milk – a long, tricky process. For simplicity, many Indian cooks prefer to use powdered whole milk, called mawa. The only powdered milk I’ve seen in North America is skimmed. Since powdered milk makes up two-thirds of the recipe, and therefore significantly affects the texture, I had to do some recipe development to accommodate for the difference in milk fat content. I have to admit, the results might even be just a little bit better than I remember!

A couple of tips: be sure to roll the balls very smooth and even, with no cracks, or they will split in the fryer. After draining the jamuns of any excess oil on paper towel, place them immediately into the warm syrup. They need to soak in the syrup at least a couple of hours to be completely infused. Indian cooks might be horrified, but I have developed a way to hasten the process: after placing jamuns in syrup, I poke them gently a couple of times with a small skewer. The holes are imperceptible, and I get to enjoy my gulab jamuns a little sooner.

Gulab Jamuns

1 cup instant skim milk powder
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
2 tbsp barely melted butter
6 tbsp 35% cream
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
12 whole green cardamom pods, crushed to break open (or 1 tsp ground cardamom)
1/8 tsp rosewater

Either in an electric deep fryer or in a deep pot on the stove, heat oil to 325°F.

This next step is most easily done with a stand or electric mixer (on paddle attachment, not whisk), but can be done by hand as well. In a mixing bowl, combine powdered milk, flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in butter and mix well. Gradually add cream while mixing slowly until a moist dough comes together. Very lightly knead dough until smooth. Let it rest for 20 minutes while you prepare the syrup.

Syrup: In a medium saucepot over high heat, combine sugar, water and cardamom. Stir a few times until syrup is clear, then reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rosewater. Transfer to a lidded storage container (I prefer glass) to keep syrup warm.

Roll 12 equal-sized balls of dough (about 4 tsp each, the size of doughnut holes). Knead each piece a little, if necessary, before rolling into a ball to be sure it holds together well. Roll each ball very smooth with no cracks.


Deep fry balls in oil until deep golden brown and cooked through (2.5-3 minutes). Turn them over while in the oil. Depending on the size of your fryer/pot, you may need to fry a few at a time. Drain on paper towels and place in warm syrup. Poke them with a skewer, if you like, to hasten the uptake of syrup into the jamuns. Soak jamuns for 2-3 hours before serving. Serve warm or cold. (A jamun will reheat in 20-30 seconds in the microwave in a little syrup.) 

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