What began as a halwai’s ingenuity to expand his sweet offering in a little bylane of Amritsar is today one of the favourite Diwali sweets to indulge and gift says Chef Vikas Seth (Culinary Director, Garam Masala)
By Madhulika Dash; Photographs Courtesy: Garam Masala
Nine months ago, while designing a menu for a special table, when culinary wizard Chef Vikas Seth decided to knock off the classic gulab jamun for a never-heard-before rasgulliya, it took his team by surprise. Appearance wise, it looked like a mini-me of the former and would have been perceived so until you break open the soft marble in half. Nestled between the pockets of sweet mawa is gulkand – a kind of tradition rose jam – which not only gives rasgulliya the latter part of its name, but also much of its mouthfeel. The dessert was a roaring success. A few months back when Chef Seth sat looking at what newness he could give the Garam Masala menu in form of dessert, rasgulliya was an instant choice.
Recalls Chef Seth, “my first memory with rasgulliya was in the early 80s when a few sweetmeat sellers in our lane in Amritsar decided to create these marble sized gulab jamun as a seasonal special for Diwali. Prized lesser than a gulab jamun, these cute balls were made fresh on order – and was lapped up by the unassuming patrons like us, who found it as the perfect ruse to overindulge. I was no different. My attraction to these little globes of sweet deliciousness stemmed from the fact that I could eat about a dozen easily.”
Interestingly, continues the Amritsar born lad, “I mistook that no sweetmeat maker’s ingenuity, which I realised with the very first bite. Rasgulliya were not just smaller versions of the gulab jamuns, they were softer, less sweet and came with a stuffing of home-made gulkand.
Not the rich ones that you get in the pan shop, but a sublime version that were made at home which had this amazing marmalade kind of consistency. The clever inclusion of the traditional rose jam not only made the rasgulliya taste much better than its older brethren but also gave it that rich mouthfeel that lingers for quite some time making each bite more enjoyable. Or at least it was how it turned me into its ardent fan,” confesses Chef Seth, who even today prefers those little globes rather than the original though it is a “unfair comparison.”
The reason for my choice, continues the rasgulliya expert, “is not just that amazing mouthfeel of having the sweet or my fond memories with rasgulliya and Diwali, but also the layers of culinary challenges that are involved in mastering this beloved dessert, one of which is making everything, including the gulkand, fresh. And that needs a clear understanding of how it was made initially.”
It took Chef Seth several visits to the old lane to taste the rasgulliya and watch the process of frying to get to what makes the great marble of joyful goodness. In Garam Masala, we make our own mawa so there is a consistency in the kind of soft dough we need to make balls that can pocket the jam well without spilling it out. The gulkand in Amritsar is made with the suche gulab, an indigenous pink variety known for its sweetness; here we use a similar tasting variety that has medium size petals and similar fragrance.”
Chef Seth’s recipe of the gulkand however is the traditional one made in Amritsar where sugar and honey is added to the dehydrated petals in order to enhance the natural sweetness of the rose instead of overpowering them – which is the case with the commercial gulkhand. The mixture then is hand grounded to get the consistency right with the balls filled seconds before they make it into the vat of hot oil. “The idea is to just cook the gulliyas enough to get that colour and harvest the sweetness of the good quality mawa – anything more and then sweet can turn bitter. Once the ball is strained off any excess ghee or oil, they are thrown into a cauldron of warm clear sugar syrup to gain the softness and sweetness gradually.”
To get the same taste and aroma, Chef Seth not only uses earthen bowls not only to soak the rasgulliya but to serve them as well. “It is my attempt at creating the same experience which turned this 80s innovation into a Diwali must-have.”