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jalebi

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.

How to make & fry jalebi

Making jalebi is deceptively simple and takes just four steps:

  1. Make a batter
  2. Let it rest
  3. Fry the batter – just a few seconds!
  4. 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.

several jalebi sweets
Jalebi

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. Flour – mostly from wheat, or legumes
  2. Water – or other liquid
  3. Baking powder
  4. Spices

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.

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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.

freshly fried jalebi

4. Spices

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.

Troubleshooting Jalebi

My jalebi strands aren’t perfectly smooth, they’re rough.


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.

My jalebi batter won’t come out of the squeeze bottle/piping bag!


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.

jalebi

Jalebi

Yield: 13 jalebi
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours

This recipe is inspired by a recipe from the cookbook Parwana (by Durkhanai Ayubi). It uses a relatively short resting time but turns out delicious.

Ingredients

Jalebi batter - before resting

  • 225g white wheat flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
  • 50g plain yogurt
  • 220g water

Jalebi batter - addition after resting

  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of citric acid (optional)

Other

  • Oil for deep frying

Sugar syrup

  • 350g granulated sugar
  • 400g water
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon seeds*

Instructions

Make the batter

  1. Make the jalebi batter by mixing the flour, baking powder, turmeric, yogurt and water in a bowl until a smooth consistency.
  2. Leave to rest for 2-4 hours.

Make the sugar syrup

  1. Add the sugar, water, and cardamom seeds to a pot. Gently bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve all the sugar.
  2. Once all the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and continue cooking until a thermometer reads 105°C (221°F).
  3. Let the syrup cool down and sit until use. The cardamom flavor will become stronger during this time.

Fry & Soak the jalebi

  1. Once the batter has rested, take a wide-bottomed pot with high sides and add a 2 cm (0,75 inch) layer of oil. It should be deep enough for the jalebi to not stick to the bottom, but thin enough to help the cartwheel keep its shape.
  2. Start heating the oil to 180°C (355°F).
  3. In the meantime, gently fold in the additional baking soda and citric acid to the batter.
  4. Check the consistency of the batter. Can you easily pour it in thin strands (check with a spatula)? If not, either add a little water to loosen it up or add a little extra flour to thicken.
  5. Place the batter in a squeeze bottle, piping bag, or a similar tool. Aim for about a 0,5cm hole at the bottom, any bigger and it will come out too quickly. It is better to err on the small side here and make it a little larger if you find it doesn't flow well enough.
  6. When the oil is hot. Start by carefully squeezing the batter into the hot oil, making concentric movements as you're doing so to create the cartwheel shape.
  7. Fry for a couple of seconds.
  8. Turn over on the other side, fry a few more seconds until it's cooked.
  9. Take from the oil and immediately place in the sugar syrup for about 20-30s. Don't leave it in too long or it will turn very soft and soggy.
  10. Place the jalebi on a plate.
  11. Continue frying and soaking the remainder of the jalebi.

Jalebi are best eaten warm, when they're still crispy and juicy.

Notes

*Do not replace with cardamon powder. The powder makes it harder to properly boil the syrup and adds less flavor.

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