Gulab Jamun – Indian Donuts in Cardamom Syrup

gulab jamun

Gulab Jamun are one of a handful of Indian desserts I love. They are loved by almost every Indian and non Indian that has ever tried them. There is something addictive about these syrup, soaked donuts and you begin to crave them if you haven’t had them in a while. I don’t know if it’s the buttery, fried, donut balls or the exotically scented cardamom syrup that calls to you, but when it calls, you run!

In India, they are typically made from pure, condensed, powdered milk. It’s mixed together with a bit of ghee or clarified butter, an egg or milk if necessary and fried. They are dropped into a rose water flavoured syrup and are ready to be devoured.

The modern method of making Gulab Jamun is using dried nonfat milk powder. We have to add a little flour as a binder and an egg or milk. I have made both kinds, with milk or with eggs, and both have come out well. I have included the egg free recipe today.

The name Gulab Jamun comes from the Urdu/Persian language where gulab is a rose and jamun is a plum like fruit native to South Asia. When these donuts are fried they resemble the little dark plums and since they are soaked in a rose scented syrup, hence the Gulab Jamun.

Gulab Jamun are present at every holiday or special event in India and Pakistan, and every Indian and Pakistani’s house in America or around the world! They are readily available these days at Indian stores and restaurants and if you are lucky to live in Chicago or Houston, you can go to the specific Indian sweet stores and buy freshly made ones. I am sure other large cities have these specialty stores too, but I’ve been to the ones in Chicago and Houston and so I can vouch for them. There used to be a great Indian sweet shop in the Euston area in London. I don’t know if they are still around.

They are very prominent in Indian weddings and are almost always a part of the ceremony and the dessert at the reception! When my sister got married years ago, her mother in law got her gulab jamun for the many wedding traditions because she knew those were her favourite. Exchanging sweets and serving these sweets are a big part of Indian and Pakistani celebrations or any good news or event, from having a baby to getting a new job. Most of the time the sweets are an assortment of milk fudges and other ultra sweet stuff (mithai) that I don’t care for; but gulab jamun are always a part of that assortment and the ones we fight over!

gulab jamun

Now, gulab means rose and there is, traditionally, rose water in the syrup, but my recipe says cardamom syrup. I don’t care for rose water. I think as a youngster I ate some things that were overly scented with rose water and I have been turned off ever since. I love roses on my table and in my garden, but not so much in my food. I prefer to use cardamom because I absolutely love the flavour and smell of cardamom in desserts, my rice dishes, my kormas, my curries….

If you would like to use rose water instead, go for it! Just add a tablespoon to the syrup after you pull it off the heat and omit the cardamoms….that wouldn’t taste good at all.

gulab jamun

Β I won’t lie to you; they are time consuming to make but it’s the frying part that takes the longest. I hate to fry, but even I do it for these heavenly morsels. The great thing is they can sit in the fridge for a few days so you can dole them out everyday for days and enjoy dessert.

So, I hope you will try to make them or at least buy some from an Indian store or bakery (don’t buy the tinned ones!). Maybe if you try them once you will be inclined to make them yourself. If you do go to a dedicated Indian sweet shop, you may find different kinds…in essence they are all the same. You might see oval shaped ones, darker brown ones, golden brown ones and even stuffed ones (these are SO good). There isn’t anything different about them. The darker ones have been allowed to brown longer and so the milk has browned more to give a deeper flavour. The stuffed ones are filled with cream and they are excellent; extremely rich and decadent though!

gulab jamun

Gulab Jamun ~ Indian Donuts in Cardamom Syrup

Prep time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 36 donuts

Serving size: 2-3 pieces

  • 3 cups/700g sugar
  • 3¾ cup/890mL water
  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 3 cups/293g instant, nonfat, dried milk powder
  • ¼ cup/35g plain/all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons/28g melted butter
  • ½ cup/120mL warm milk, as needed
  • oil to deep fry, about 3 cups/710mL
  1. In a big pan place the sugar, water and cardamom pods and heat.
  2. Stir to dissolve all the sugar and bring to a boil.
  3. Boil for 5 minutes and then take off the heat and put aside.
  1. Place the oil to deep fry the balls in a large deep pan or a wok.
  2. I used an electric wok which was perfect to control the heat.
  3. You can use an electric fryer (use clean oil) or even an electric skillet.
  4. You want the oil to be around the 200-215℉ (102℃) when you start dropping the balls in.
  5. Start making the donut balls while the oil is heating up.
  6. In a big bowl, add the milk powder, flour, baking powder and salt and stir well to blend.
  7. Add the melted butter into the milk flour mixture and mix.
  8. Add milk a little at a time to make a sticky dough.
  9. You may not need all the milk so do not add all of it at once.
  10. Start with half and add as much as is needed to make a sticky dough.
  11. Roll into a ball to see if the shape holds, if not add a little more milk.
  12. You want the size of the balls to be like a large gum ball.
  13. Place them on a greased plate.
  14. They will expand when fried and even more so when soaked in the syrup.
  15. Don't make them too big, smaller ones soak better and are softer than huge ones.
  16. Continue rolling until you get about 36 balls, placing them on the plate.
  17. Once all the balls are rolled and the oil comes up to temperature, drop in the balls.
  18. I did about 12 at a time but my wok was big.
  19. Don't overcrowd the pan and only put in as many as will fry properly.
  20. The trick to evenly coloured donuts, is constant agitation.
  21. You will have to roll them around in the oil constantly to make sure they are browning evenly.
  22. Once they reach a nice golden brown and feel light, they are done.
  23. This will take some time.
  24. Do not hurry the frying because you will get either hard donuts or donuts that disintegrate in the syrup.
  25. Remove from the oil and drop them into the warm syrup.
  26. Repeat with the rest of the donuts and drop them all in the syrup.
  27. Make sure the donuts all have a chance to soak in the syrup.
  28. Turn them around gently to rotate.
  29. Allow them to soak for a few hours.
  30. These are best at room temperature or slightly warmed.
  31. Store them in the fridge for about 5 days.
  32. Heat up a little before enjoying.
You may or may not use all the milk so do not dump it all in! I have made this mistake before and then had to add lots more flour to correct. The best donuts are the one with as little flour as possible. It's all about the dry milk. The key to success is to ensure even frying. Start the oil low and fry them while constantly turning. This is where an electric skillet or wok comes in handy, you can change the oil temp at the touch of a knob if you feel they are browning too slowly or too fast.

gulab jamun

Hope you are all having a great weekend! We are finally warming up after 36 hours of snow. We had 15 inches (over 30cm) of snow, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Today the sun was out like nothing had happened the last few days! I think, finally, I am ready to see some spring blossoms and my sunny daffodils. Have a great weekend!

  1. Pingback: My 13 Favourite Posts for 2013 » Coffee and Crumpets

    • I am sure your donut holes were magnificent! These are just a bit different πŸ™‚ Thanks Monet!

  2. Great photos! And such a great dessert. I’ve had it often in restaurants, but never made it at home. I probably should – it doesn’t look that hard, although as you point out it takes a bit of time. Really nice post and recipe – thanks so much.
    john@kitchenriffs recently posted..Moroccan Carrot SaladMy Profile

    • Thanks John! I am glad you have had a chance to try them. They are easy to make and you should have no problem, just a bit of time!

    • Thank you GG! They can be addictive but they are still kinda rich so you cannot eat too many at once!

    • Try them Kari! They are SO good! Should be available in any Indian restaurant or shop.

    • Thanks Rafeeda. You should have no problem making them! They can be tricky but if you know what your are doing they’re a cinch to make.

  3. Your opening photo, Nazneen, is stunning! I’ve never herd of gulab jamun but you make them sound so enticing. I feel I must embark on a quest to find them. I live a few blocks south of Little India, so, my quest will not be long nor tortuous, lest it’s too cold to walk and I can’t find parking. πŸ™‚
    Thank you for telling us about these little donuts and for sharing your recipe. I can’t wait to give them a try.
    ChgoJohn recently posted..Burrata Returns and This Time It’s Packin’ FusilliMy Profile

    • Thank you John! You must try them and if you are going to Devon St, go to Tahoora. They have the best Indian sweets around. Try the gulab jamun but also get something called habshi halwa…you will love it. Let me know what you think!

    • Thank you Balvinder! They turned out well. I am always scared of making these because they never turn out the same. I am always scared they’ll be hard. This time they were good which was great because they were for a dinner party!

    • Thanks Minnie, I am chuffed to hear that! Well when you visit CO with your kids, I will make some for them

    • Thank you Charlie! It was time for a change, I’ve had the same look for two years now. It’s such a hassle to change so I just left it. I am sorry to hear you can’t try these. I am sure you have some Indian place near you. I would definitely send you some if I thought they could survive the trip!

  4. Nazneen, my friend! I am about to invade the monitor…Well, I wish I could!! πŸ™ Gulab Jamun is my favorite Indian dessert. I looooooove it… with the cardamom syrup is even better. I also prefer cardamom to rose petal water. Like you, I hate to deep-fry and only make exception for things that are really worthy. Now I know how to make a good gulab jamon…Thanks to you!!!
    Denise Browning@From Brazil To You recently posted..Tips for a Moist Cake and a Brazilian-Style Carrot Cake (Bolo de Cenoura)My Profile

    • Thanks Denise! I am so glad you like these and now you can have a go making them! They should be no problem for you to make.

    • Thanks Maureen..they do look like tangerines but they taste nothing like them πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks Bobbi! They are a bit dangerous but honestly, they are so rich that you can’t really eat too many!