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Sweet Science: How to Make Jalebi
Deep-fried, crunchy, concentric circles of batter, soaked in a flavorful, moist sugar syrup. It’s the mix of textures and flavors, that make jalebi so appealing. And even though it takes just a few steps to make them, it’s easier said than done. It’s all about controlling the consistencies of batter and sugar syrup.
So let’s dissect this sweet. First, we’ll study the batter, before zooming in on the other crucial component: the sugar syrup.
- 1. Flour – Something to bind it all together
- 2. Water – To make a batter
- 3. Baking powder – Something to lift it up
- 4. Spices
- Resting a jalebi batter changes the consistency
How to make & fry jalebi
Making jalebi is deceptively simple and takes just four steps:
- Make a batter
- Let it rest
- Fry the batter – just a few seconds!
- Soak it in a sugar syrup – again, just a little while
The most challenging part is to get the batter just right. A little too thick, or too thin, and it won’t work the way it should. To determine what you need, it’s best to have a look at the 3rd step first: frying. That’s where it all needs to come together.
What happens when frying jalebi
In order to make those characteristic concentric circles, or cart wheel shape, you deposit a jalebi batter straight into hot oil. The hot oil immediately cooks the outside of the jalebi strand. The starches in the flour set and ensure the batter holds its shape.
Simultaneously, the baking soda and baking powder become activated, as soon as the batter hits the oil. Plenty of gas bubbles are formed in the dough, making it light and airy.
The thickness of a good jalebi strand is less than one cm. As a result, it cookes very very fast. A new seconds on either side is enough for the heat to penetrate throughout and cook the entire thing.
A freshly fried jalebi is crunchy, not oily.
Just about all flours you might use for jalebi contain starch. Starch is a large carbohydrate that transforms during cooking. It helps set jalebi, but it’s also what helps set a bechamel sauce or cookies!
Making the beautiful cartwheel shapes
You only have a short while to deposit the batter into the hot oil. As such, it’s easiest to squeeze the batter from a bottle, piping bag, or something similar with a small hole. This way you can control how fast the batter leaves the container while shaping it.
To help you make the concentric shapes, keep in mind two crucial factors:
- The consistency of the batter – If the batter is too liquid, it won’t keep its shape while pouring. However, if it’s too thick it can be impossible to deposit it through a small hole.
- The depth of your layer of oil – If you fry in a deep layer of oil, the batter may sink quite a bit when deposited. As a result, it can move, or even flip, making it really hard to create concentric shapes. As such, you want enough oil to fully cover the jalebi, but not much more to ensure it can’t flip and wobble.
Making a good jalebi batter
The most important feature of a good jalebi batter is that you can deposit it in thin strand, straight into the hot oil. It needs to be thick enough to hold its shape for just long enough, but thin enough to cook quickly.
There are probably as many recipes for jalebi batters, as there are jalebi makers. But, to make a good jalebi batter you will find 4 recurring components:
- Flour – mostly from wheat, or legumes
- Water – or other liquid
- Baking powder
To make the batter, you simple mix the ingredients together, and leave it to rest. So, let’s have a look at the role of these ingredients first, before looking at the final batter.
1. Flour – Something to bind it all together
The majority of a jalebi batter is made up of some sort of flour. Wheat flour, or maida as it would be called in South Asia, is most commonly used. It may also contain some legume flours, such as chickpea flour or flour made from urad dal. Some recipes contain a starch, such as corn starch.
Flour form the base of the jalebi. It ties it all together and creates the overall structure. The flour cooks and sets when you fry the jalebi. All the other ingredients serve to help this core, or elevate it to a next level.
2. Water – To make a batter
Flour would be nowhere if you didn’t also add some water. The water is what transforms the powdery flour into a thick, pourable, batter. You control the consistency of the batter with the water. Add more water to thin the batter, add less to make it thicker.
Some recipes may contain yogurt or curd to add some depth of flavor and acidity.
3. Baking powder – Something to lift it up
Baking powder and/or baking soda makes jalebi light and airy. Baking powder and baking soda contain a chemical that reacts when you fry the batter in hot oil. During this reaction, carbon dioxide gas bubbles are formed. These gas bubbles puff up the batter! As a result, jalebi isn’t dense after frying. Instead, it’s light and full of air bubbles.
If you’re using baking soda, you should add at least one acidic ingredient to the batter. The baking soda needs acid to react and form those carbon dioxide bubbles!
Want to know how baking powder & baking soda work? And understand how they compare? We’ve analyzed them extensively in: How Baking Powder and Baking Soda Work.
Last but not least, you can spices to the batter, to add a bit of color or flavor. Both saffron, as well as turmeric, are commonly used. They don’t impact the texture and consistency of the jalebi, so they’re optional.
Did you know that the color of turmeric depends on the acidity of its surroundings? As a matter of fact, your yellow turmeric may turn red during deep frying because of a change in the acidity!
Resting a jalebi batter changes the consistency
A challenge in getting to this ideal consistency is that most recipes for jalebi call for resting the jalebi batter anywhere between 30 minutes and 24 hours. Especially long resting times have a huge impact on the consistency!
What happens depends on the flours you used for your batter. Wheat flour based jalebis get thinner over time and become stringier. Other flours may absorb more moisture over time. As a result, these may become a little thicker.
To overcome the changes of consistency. Don’t focus on perfecting the batter when making it. Instead, adjust the batter just before you decide to fry it. If it’s too thick, add a little extra water. If it’s too thin, add a little extra of the flour you’re using and carefully whisk it in (be careful not to create lumps).
So why are batters rested? Well, batters that contain yogurts, or curds, may ‘ferment’ a little (if they contain live microorganisms). This changes the flavor profile of the jalebi, giving them a distinct taste.
Soaking jalebi in sugar syrup adds flavor & sweetness
Soak something in a flavorful sugar syrup, and what would have previously been bland and savory, is now sweet and full of flavor. It’s a commonly used trick for sweets from all over the world, it’s definitely not unique to jalebi.
Making a sugar syrup to soak in
The sugar syrup used to soak jalebi is quite a simple version of a sugar syrup. Simply dissolve sugar in water and bring it to the boil. By boiling it to a specified temperature, you control the concentration of sugar in the sugar. The hotter it gets, the thicker and more concentrated it becomes.
Want to learn more about the effect of temperature on the concentration of a sugar syrup?
For a soaking syrup you don’t want it too thick, since it should easily penetrate into the jalebi. However, making it too thin can make the jalebi watery.
The sugar syrup is also a perfect vehicle for adding other flavors. Cook some cardamom seeds, or other spices in the syrup to add a hit of flavor. It’s best to not use powdered spices here. They can cause the syrup to go cloudy and become a little harder to boil.l
Why soak jalebi in sugar syrup?
So why soak jalebi in sugar syrup?
The main reason for soaking is to add both sweetness and flavor. Often a sugar syrup doesn’t just consist of sugar and water. Instead, it may also contain spices, to add an extra layer of flavor.
Remember that freshly fried jalebi are crunchy and airy? As a result, they easily absorb this syrup. The jalebi itself does not contain a lot of moisture, so moisture is pulled in easily.
But why not add the sweetness & flavor to the dough?
Jalebi are deep fried in hot oil. This deep frying step is crucial to set the batter, but also to create a crunchy texture. Without deep frying, you’d probably end up with a softer, more pancake/bread like texture. So deep frying is crucial for texture.
However, sugar and deep frying aren’t that compatible. Since deep frying happens at temperatures of about 180°C (355°F), sugar will burn quickly. Sugar can’t withstand these temperatures well.
The same is true for some spices. They’d either get lost in the batter, or may get burned during frying. By adding them in the sugar syrup, they shine more.
Chances are you’ve used too much baking powder and/or baking soda. These powders will react and form gas bubbles. However, if you add too much, more gas bubbles will be formed than fit within the jalebi structure. They will start to ‘explode’ on the outsides, creating those inconsistent sides.
Your batter has gotten too thick. Best to take it out of whatever system you add using and dilute it with a little extra water.