Pati’s Gulab Jamun (aka, Indian Donuts in Saffron Simple Syrup)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

If you’ve never had gulab jamun, you’re in for a treat. Think: round donut holes soaked in a saffron- and cardamom-scented simple syrup. What’s not to love?

Never heard of gulab jamun? I hadn’t, either, but made its acquaintance through my husband, who loves the stuff. Think about a moist plain donut hole soaked in a simple syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and saffron. I used to find it far too sweet, a bit one-note, though it’s grown on me. And, because he loves it so much, I finally broke down and started making it on special holidays. And Diwali (Deepavali), the Indian festival of lights, is the ideal joyous ocassion. We attend a party yearly with Indian American family and friends with lots of very tasty Indian food, as you can imagine (plus a few American dishes for the blander palates). And for dessert? Jamun, of course.

Ironically, it’s the white girl in the bunch—me—that brings this favored Indian sweet, a recipe from my husband’s grandmother affectionately known as “Pati” (as many Indian grandmas are called). This dish is essentially hers, and we make them together each year for the party: I roll, he fries. The team effort makes it more fun and easier to manage: moving through this recipe in a timely fashion is important, because you don’t want the dough to dry out, and the jamun cook quickly. Kids would be helpful in this project too, on the rolling part (given the hot oil).

In any case, this jamun is as good as it gets—far better than many restaurants here or in India, I can fully attest.

One of these years I’ll start experimenting to take things up a notch: a drizzle of dark chocolate? A sprightly zest of orange? Until then, I bring it the way the people want: classic jamun, in all its sweet goodness, a celebration of light.

Happy Diwali!

Gulab Jamun (Indian Donuts)


2 cups nonfat dry milk power
1 cup white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup heavy cream
3/4-1 cup yogurt (nonfat plain)


2 cups sugar
2 cups water
15 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch salt
Several pinches saffron


1. Mix all syrup ingredients together and bring to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Heat canola oil to 325 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together, then add in cream and yogurt, mixing gently with your fingers until combined. The mixture should be very sticky, so add more yogurt if it’s not. Roll into balls around 1 inch in diameter; it seems small but they expand greatly during cooking. Try cooking one first to check before making the whole batch. (Mine often come out larger than I’d like so I always do this.)

3. Add jamun, cooking in batches and gently rotating with a spider until evenly browned, approximately 5 minutes. Jamun should be a medium to dark brown (not amber) to ensure the dough it fully cooked.

4. Move cooked jamun into syrup, which should be warm: cold syrup will not infuse the jamun, while hot will compromise shape and texture (though my husband prefers them super-saturated). After jamun have sat in the syrup for about 5 minutes, remove to a serving pan or platter.

5. Jamun are best served warm and can be reheated in a microwave for inividual portions, about 20 seconds, with a spoonful of syrup. Remaining jamun can be refrigerated, and they also freezes beautifully.

Note: This is a Diwali-sized party recipe, which makes around 55 jamun. It takes around 90 minutes to make them, fairly actively, since you need to roll / fry / bathe in batches. If you’re not making them for a crowd, halve or quarter this recipe—or you’ll find yourself popping them into your mouth more than you’d like.

Diwali is one of the most popular festivals in Hindu cultures, signifiying the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair. (Something the world sure could use more of, certainly.) Families and friends the world over celebrate the holiday with lights, sparklers, fireworks, prayers, and, of course, food.

This recipe and post is dedicated to our beloved Pati.

Learn more about food personality and health expert Dr. P.K. Newby here, or her experience as a nutrition scientist, professor, and consultant here. Or click here if you just want to ogle food porn featuring plant-based, globally inspired cooking.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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