The closest thing to a Jalebi in the western world is probably a funnel cake. The Indian Jalebi is much smaller and spiral shaped. It is dipped in a lemony sugar syrup and not dusted with sugar. It is a North Indian sweet. There is something similar in my part of the world called Jangiri which is like the Imarthi of North India. I’m sharing a recipe for an Easy Jalebi today, in time for Diwali.
For many people in North India the Jalebi is not just another sweet. It is part of a winter ritual, a breakfast food in some places, and a snack for some others. Its festive fare too, for festivals like Holi, Diwali, Dussehra/ Navrathri, Uttarayan/ Makara Sankranthi, etc. All these festivals are celebrated during the cooler months of the year.
Like I said the Jalebi is not served only just as a sweet dish. It is eaten for breakfast and as a tea time snack in some parts of India. Samosa and Kachori with Jalebi is one such combination. Jalebi is typically eaten with Poori and Aloo ki Subzi (potato curry) in the Indian state of Bihar. In Madhya Pradesh, it is served with Poha or savoury and spicy beaten rice flakes. Jalebi is often enjoyed with reduced, thickened milk called Rabri. Hot milk and fresh Jalebi keeps the cold of the North Indian winters at bay and is even considered medicinal.
As Indian as the Jalebi is, its origins are elsewhere. There is no consensus on its exact origin, but the Jalebi very likely came to India from the Middle East/ Persia. There it is called Zulubiya or Zolbiya. Recipes have been found in cookbooks dating back to the 10th and 13th century. The sweet was supposedly distributed to the poor during Ramzan.
The Jalebi is usually made with maida or all-purpose flour. It can also be made with sooji or semolina, lentils, paneer or Indian milk cheese. Traditionally, the Jalebi batter is mixed and leavened when the wild yeast in it is allowed to multiply overnight. A sort of sourdough-ish batter, if you will. This version tastes the best. Diwali and other festivities are busy times so an easier version leavened with baking soda is often used.
An easier and more instant version uses baking soda as leavening. Diwali and other festivities are busy times so this Easy Jalebi works very well at times like this. This quicker version also makes very good Jalebi. The perfect Jalebi is light and crisp, juicy from the sweet and slightly tangy syrup.
This is easy to achieve if a little attention is paid to a couple of thing. Let’s start with the batter. The consistency is very important. It should be on the thicker side but of flowing consistency, a little thicker than pancake batter. If the batter is too thick, thin it down with a little water. If the batter disperses in hot oil, it could be thin. Add a couple of teaspoons of flour as required, to thicken it.
Adding a little fine rice flour or corn starch to the batter results in crispy Jalebis that stay crisp for longer. The golden yellow colour of the Jalebi comes from saffron, but more often yellow-orange edible colour. Some people add turmeric powder to the batter, but if you use baking soda with it, you will get an orange colour. I prefer to use edible colour in the batter and saffron in the syrup. Together they will result in beautifully golden yellow Jalebi.
Traditionally, Halwais or sweet makers pipe the batter into the oil from a cloth bag. Only experts can handle this. You can use a regular piping bag and cut the tip. Even better, use a plastic squeezy bottle if you have one as its easier to hold and control. Just make sure the tip isn’t too small. Ideally Jalebi should not be too thin or too thick in size.
It is advisable to use a wide but deep flat based pan or pot to do the deep frying. This makes the Jalebi easy to pipe and helps retain the shape. I have a cast iron Jalebi pan which looks somewhat like a small Paella pan but with straight sides and deeper.
Last but not least is getting the temperature of the oil or ghee right. The oil for deep frying should be just hot. Turn down the flame when piping the batter. The turn the heat up to medium and cook the Jalebi on both sides till crisp. Do not let them brown. Pipe and fry about 4 to 5 Jalebi at a time. When done remove from oil and drain on paper towels. After a minute drop into the sugar syrup.
Keep the sugar syrup warm, not hot. Adding fried jalebi to hot syrup softens them. ; this will soften it. The Jalebi do not have to soak in the syrup for very long. A couple of minutes after dunking take them out and transfer to a rack with a tray underneath. The excess syrup will drip off. Then store in a container.
When cooking the sugar syrup, simmer till it reaches one-string consistency. To check one string consistency take a drop of sugar syrup between your thumb and index finger. Move the fingers slowly apart the sugar syrup should form a single string. The sugar syrup should be a bit viscous and sticky.
For the Jalebi Batter:
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp fine rice flour or cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 4 tbsp yogurt
- Yellow- Orange edible colour
- 1 cup water more or less as required
For the Sugar Syrup :
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 to 5 pods cardamom partially opened
- A few strands of saffron
- 1 tsp lime juice
For deep frying :
- Oil or ghee for deep frying
For the Sugar Syrup :
- Put together all the ingredients for the sugar syrup in a deep medium pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar then bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, till the sugar syrup reaches one-string consistency.
- To check one string consistency take a drop of sugar syrup between your thumb and index finger. Move the fingers slowly apart the sugar syrup should form a single string. If you’re not able to judge this, the sugar syrup should be a bit viscous and sticky.
For the Jalebi batter :
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the batter and just enough of the water to make a smooth, thick batter of dropping consistency, a bit thicker than pancake batter. It should be a bit viscous. Let it rest for about 20 minutes or so.
- Then lightly whisk a couple of times and transfer the batter to a piping bag or squeezy bottle. Warm the sugar syrup and keep it this way. The syrup should not be hot or you will end up with soft, soggy Jilebi.
- Heat the oil or ghee and bring the heat down to low-medium-ish. I prefer to use oil. Drop a bit of the batter in the oil. If it bubbles and rises up, it is hot enough. If the oil is too hot, the piped batter will not keep its shape but spread out. If the batter is too thick, thin it down with a little water. If the batter disperses in hot oil, it could be thin. Add a couple of teaspoons of flour as required, to thicken it.
- Pipe the batter in hot oil, making 3 or four concentric circles not too far apart moving from inside to outside. Finish off each Jalebi by moving back across the circle to the opposite edge. This creates a sort of line that will hold the concentric circles together. See images.
- This piping technique takes a little practice. You can try piping into the bowl of batter for practice while the oil heats up.
- Using tongs turn the Jalebi over so it cooks well on both sides till crisp. Drain on paper towels for a minute or so. Then immerse in the warm sugar for a couple of minutes. Do this in batches after each lot gets fried.
- Meanwhile heat oil or ghee in a pan or kadai. I used a combination of the two. Keep heat to medium-low.
- Fry till crisp from both sides. Remove from oil and immediately dip in warm sugar syrup, few seconds on each side is good enough. A couple of minutes after dunking take them out and transfer to a rack with a tray underneath. The excess syrup will drip off. They’re best eaten slightly warm. You may garnish them with chopped pistachios. Otherwise, they can be stored in an airtight container and be served at room temperature too.