Gulab Jamun with Caramelized Bananas — and an Indian Buffet Love Story

by Julie Ruble on September 26, 2010 · 105 comments

I have heavy scent memories of an Indian restaurant Mike and I used to frequent called Jaipur. They must have burned incense every night for years. Maybe the scent is something the owner remembered but couldn’t place — something from when his synapses weren’t yet refined enough for memory. His mother burning it in the kitchen in a now-faraway home on the subcontinent, and he, just a baby then, lying swaddled in a room down the hall, his blankets collecting particles of sandalwood in each fold.

It’s sweet to imagine what the little restaurant means to him. It means something sweet to me, too. The orange and pink and gold, the weight of the incense, the guttural cry of otherworldly Indian music accompanied by sitar tones — all of it connected to a pseudo-memory for me. A memory of dust, colors, street food, and lights — an India I’ve never visited except in East Asian art classes, narrow Indian restaurants, the marigold-filled scenes of Monsoon Wedding, and the memories and photographs of friends.

Jaipur was also special to me and Mike because it was “our restaurant.” I remember weekend after weekend of trekking across town in my now-long-gone Altima, arriving at the buffet after dark. I remember rationing each plate so that I could have seconds of some of my favorites — palak paneer and red lentils — and sopping up every drop with warm naan.

I remember the shy waiter who knew our order before we sat down, and the chef who stopped us before we could serve ourselves from the buffet if he had a fresher, newer batch of bread. I remember smooth, sweet mango lassis, holding hands across the table . . . and spooning up warm, fragrant Gulab Jamun into tiny bowls alongside fruit-studded rice pudding.

It’s literally been years since I’ve been back to Jaipur now, and these neon and curry memories are even more poignant with Mike living across the state from me. When I saw that Project Food Blog Challenge #2 was to make a classic dish from another culture that’s out of your comfort zone, I knew I had to do some justice to Jaipur and our times there.

Gulab jamun, named for their rose flavoring and a fruit they resemble, are cake-like, juicy dumplings loaded with a sweet rose, cardamom, and saffron syrup. They’re common at Indian weddings and were often the highlight of our dinner at Jaipur. I savored mine in two bites, while Mike devoured each dumpling in one gulp.

While these rosy, sticky dumplings are a joyful memory for me, making them wasn’t something I considered before reading Project Food Blog’s Challenge #2. They’re fried — and frying things is not something I love. My fry-phobia not about the health considerations (have you seen my blog lately?), but rather, the difficulty of maintaining an appropriate oil temperature, the mess, and the inevitable burnt/undercooked disasters. Remember the Tumbleweed Burger post, where my attempt to fry onions produced a sum total of one halfway acceptable onion (okay, even that one was pretty pitiful) that I used in pictures and then threw away?

I’m fighting for something I love, though, and I hope my steps away from my comfort zone are steps towards becoming the next food blog star.

It wasn’t enough to recreate my favorite, sultry Indian dessert — I wanted to bring something of my taste to the table. I paired the gulab jamun with caramelized bananas and pistachios, hoping to create a rich, floral, indulgent product that would be incredible served warm over vanilla bean ice cream.

My first version was a little too sweet, though (sugar syrup AND caramelized bananas). I reduced the sugar in the bananas and the gulab jamun syrup in the recipe below in hopes that it balances out. I’ll try it this way next time — no loss if it doesn’t work, because the bananas and dumplings are both delicious on their own as well!

What about you? What food stirs up important memories for you? Is it a type of cuisine, a certain dish?


Gulab Jamun with Caramelized Bananas



Recipe by: Gulab jamun by Show Me the Curry, and caramelized bananas adapted by Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 10-15 gulab jamun, depending on the size

Syrup Ingredients:
1.5 cups sugar
2 cups water
a few drops rose essence (or about 4x the amount of rosewater)
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) ground cardamom
a few strands saffron (optional)

Ball Ingredients:
1/2 cup instant dry milk powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon ghee, clarified butter, or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
oil for frying (at least 1.5 inches deep)
pistachios for garnish

Caramelized Banana Ingredients:
1 banana, slightly green, not quite ripe, sliced crosswise into 1/4″ slices
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
dash of cinnamon

Directions:
First, make the syrup. Combine all syrup ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Begin heating the oil for deep-frying on low-medium heat. You want it to reach 230 degrees according to some websites, but I had more luck frying from 250-270. You want a slow, patient fry on these.

While oil heats, mix dry ingredients: milk powder, all-purpose flour, and baking soda. Add clarified butter (or ghee or vegetable oil) and then, slowly, the yogurt, mixing well to make a dough. Allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes (don’t worry if it looks wet at first — after resting it will be right). With oiled hands, form into 10-15 small balls (they will nearly double in size throughout the cooking and soaking process, so do make them smaller than you think you should).

Test the oil: drop in a small piece of dough. If it sits at the bottom of the pan for a moment before coming to the surface, the oil is ready. Drop in 3-4 balls at a time and, after they float up, rotate them continuously for an even color. Be patient — when the balls are a dark golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon and let them drain on paper towels.

When all balls are draining, bring the syrup up to a boil again. Drop in the balls, turn off the heat, and cover the syrup. Allow balls to soak at least 45 minutes to overnight.

When about ready to serve, caramelize bananas. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add half of the butter and let it sizzle for a few seconds before adding bananas. These should brown for about 30 seconds without being disturbed. Then turn them over and add brown sugar, cinnamon, and last half of butter. Shake the pan to keep the bananas moving and cook about a minute more, until sugar is melted and bananas are caramelized, but still solid. Remove from heat. Serve gulab jamun with caramelized bananas and pistachios to garnish. You can also serve warm gulab jamun and caramelized bananas over vanilla ice cream.

Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of challenges to find the next food blog star. To see my contestant profile, please click here. Voting for Challenge #2 begins on September 27 — will you consider voting for me? I’ll post a reminder and instructions on how to do so on that date. I am so grateful for your support!


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{ 102 comments… read them below or add one }

Casey Angelova September 26, 2010 at 1:49 am

This looks amazing. I love anything with rose flavoring. I think you’ve done Jaipur justice!! Good luck with round 2!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thanks so much, Casey!

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LaraQ September 26, 2010 at 1:49 am

Gulab jamun are one of my favorite indian sweets. Your’s look wonderfully appealing.

I’ve only made them once and, through beginner’s luck, ended up with a perfect batch. I can’t say that about the rasgulla I made. :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Thanks, Lara! I was surprised these turned out right the first time around considering my frying track record — very pleased :)

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sophia September 26, 2010 at 4:20 am

Wow that is IMPRESSIVE! Like little jewels…I love it! I’m a fry-phobic too…I always fret over the oil temp, bc I know it is a finicky thing.

Yours turned out looking like rubies. STUNNING.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Aw, thank you, Sophia!

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SohdaLex September 26, 2010 at 8:29 am

Wow, this post has made me want to go out on an epic search for Indian food! Looks and sounds so good ;)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm

You should follow your instincts!! :D Thanks!

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Nay September 26, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thanks for taking me to your happy place! This is one of my favorite Indian deserts. I have a coworker who has made these for me. I love love love Indian food. The town I work in just opened an Indian spot called Naan Of The Above…. I have eaten there so much they call me their faithful customer.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I love it! A new Indian restaurant just moved to Charlotte that I love. Still have a Jaipur loyalty, but this new one is great too. Such amazing flavors.

Thanks!

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newlywed September 26, 2010 at 11:37 am

That looks incredible. The photos are great! Good luck!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Thank you!!

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Joanne September 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I love food that is laced with memories. I feel like this dish for us is what the incense was to the owner of Jaipur. Something so ingrained and yet so transient.

The pictures are beautiful and I love the sound of this dessert. Good luck in PFB! I just posted my entry and I shall certainly be giving you one of my votes!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

What a lovely thought! Thanks so much, Joanne! Can’t wait to go see your entry!

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Megan September 26, 2010 at 3:40 pm

What a beautiful dish and beautiful memories. And way to go getting past that fear of frying! Good luck in the next round!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Thanks Megan :)

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onlinepastrychef September 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I do enjoy gulab jamun, and I thought about making some, especially when doing my rose water research for my post.

Yours look wonderful, and the styling is magazine-worthy. Well done! :D

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Thanks, friend!

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angel van September 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Is Jaipur in Charlotte? If so, what would you recommend? My friends and I would really like to venture into Indian cuisine. I have a very limited knowledge and friends have no knowledge of it at all. But have been wanting to try a good Indian restaurant in Charlotte if there are any.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 26, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Hi Angel! It is in Charlotte (South Blvd.) and they have a weekend dinner buffet that is PERFECT for Indian cuisine beginners, since you get to try here and there. If you want to try what I think lately is the best Indian in Charlotte though, try Spice 9 up by Concord Mills — get some paneer kulcha (like cheese-stuffed naan) and some Subz Ke Koftey (delicious vegetarian dish). They also have a buffet–I think it’s for lunch on weekends, but you can call and make sure. SO good. Hope you love it!

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Dan Clapson September 26, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Awesome photos! Really liked your post, and am now craving sweets…

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:34 am

Thank you Dan!

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Julie M. September 26, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Julie, you’ve really stepped out of the box on this one and you did a fantastic job! It looks simply elegant and absolutely delicious. I’m confident your entry will move on; you certainly have my vote!

I need to try Jaipur, it’s on my end of town so I have no excuse not to!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:30 am

It’s delish! Thanks so much, Julie :)

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angel van September 26, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Thanks so much Julie! I will definitely have to check them out. My friends are just as adventurous as I am. So I can’t wait to try it. I think the Jaipur may be closer for us then Spice 9. But hey we will get to them all in time.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:31 am

Hope you love it!!

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Betty @ scrambled hen fruit September 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm

This looks delicious! I seldom get dessert when I eat Indian food because I’m usually too full- I may have to rethink this after seeing your post. :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:31 am

I know what you mean, Betty! But I shove it down somehow ;) Thank you!

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Jessica September 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Love the pictures! You have my vote! :-)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:32 am

Thanks so much, Jessica! Loved your post as well!

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nesrine September 27, 2010 at 9:16 am

lOVELY POST,VOTED FOR YOU.
I made indian dessert too, but more simple thing:)
well done :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Thank you!! :)

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AJ September 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for the vote!! I loved your post!! Your experience was described really well! This dessert looks delicious!!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thanks, AJ!

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Kate @ Savour Fare September 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

This is beautiful, and I love the story. You’ve got my vote!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thanks so much, Kate!

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healthy mamma September 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Well it certainly looks like you nailed it, oil phoebea or not. ;-) I love Indian food, this is one I havn’t heard of but now want to try.
Good luck on PFB you have my vote. ;-)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thanks so much!!

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themilkmanswife September 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Everything about this post is wonderful – the food, the colors, the imagery. I feel like I’m sitting in that restaurant with you! You completely nailed this challenge and you have a vote from me. :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Thanks so much!! :)

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Joan Nova September 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Lovely entry. I voted – good luck!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Thank you, Joan!!

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Lindsey @ Hot Polka Dot September 27, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Everything looks so beautiful! I love your presentation and that milk glass dish is lovely. Makes my mouth water! Good luck and you have my vote! :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Thank you, Lindsey! I love that dish so much — it’s actually my Sunday school teacher’s late mother’s heirloom dish. She let me borrow it and I thought it should be used for something special!

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Lindsey @ Hot Polka Dot September 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Wow that’s so nice of her! You definitely did it justice. :)

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BlondieandBrownie September 27, 2010 at 11:37 pm

I’m so impressed. Really beautiful dish and presentation. You have our vote!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 27, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Thank you so much!

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Jun Belen September 28, 2010 at 1:12 am

I’m definitely trying this recipe out!! I love gulab jamun and have never had it with bananas!! Lovely post! Best of luck in PFB!

Jun

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 1:12 am

Thank you, Jun!

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Trish September 28, 2010 at 2:17 am

This dish look so beautiful, almost too beautiful to eat. I love Indian food and I adore caramelized bananas… bookmarking your post now. You have my vote. shh…just don’t tell my fellow dietitians ;)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 7:05 am

Thanks so much, Trish ;) My lips are sealed!

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thejoyofcaking September 28, 2010 at 9:15 am

Beautiful dish, and photos! You got my vote.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 9:57 am

Thanks so much!

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Heather @ He Cooks She Cooks September 28, 2010 at 10:53 am

This looks so good! Some of my favorite flavors combined in one beautiful dish. I voted.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 11:00 am

Thanks, Heather!!

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Kelly September 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Looks gorgeous! The final presentation is just swoon worthy and to answer your question I would say that almost every food stirs up memories in different ways, positive and negative.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Thank you, Kelly! I think you’re right — even new dishes can have flavors that make us recall other food and other times!

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Kelly September 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Oh and I forgot to add, these look so scrumptious you definitely have my vote.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Thanks so much, Kelly!!

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Crystal's Cozy Kitchen September 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Those look delicious! I cast a vote for you again – good luck!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Thank you, Crystal!!

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Nutritious Foodie September 28, 2010 at 1:33 pm

HOLY YUM! These look amazing :)

You have got my VOTE!

I would love it if you check out my entry for this challenge http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/703

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Thank you so much! Off to see your entry now!

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Liren September 28, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I can completely understand being fry-phobic! I keep telling myself if I get a deep fryer, it will be much simpler and less frightening! You did a beautiful job on your galub jamun!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

A deep fryer would be wonderful, you’re right! Thanks so much, Liren — and thank you for your vote!!

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Leslie @ Chomp! September 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm

beautiful food and photos! :)
got my vote!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Thanks, Leslie!!

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Kulsum at JourneyKitchen September 29, 2010 at 2:43 am

Its not easy to get Gulab Jamun right for a first timer. It atleast took me 3-4 attempts to perfect the texture and taste of it. Yours looks great and I love te idea of caramelized bananas. I never thought in that direction and now I think I’ll take Gulab Jamun to next level when i make it. Thanks for the follow on twitter and introducing to ur beautiful site!

PS. Gulab Jamun topped with clotted cream and a mix of dry fruit is heavenly too. But its a meal by itself!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

That SOUNDS heavenly!! Yum! Thanks Kulsum :)

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notyet100 September 29, 2010 at 3:12 am

slurp thnks for the virtual treat,..

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

my pleasure :)

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Alesia, the home cook September 29, 2010 at 7:21 am

Love this post very much. Thumbs up for the effort in creating such a beautiful props for the yummy pictures.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 7:45 am

Thanks so much, Alesia!!

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Maybelles mom September 29, 2010 at 8:03 am

I have never actually made gulab Jamun. Good job on #pfb2010

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Thank you! They’re truly tasty!

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stephchows September 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

i love the back story to this, it’s so sweet!! voted for you!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Thanks SO much, Steph!!

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Stay-At-Home-Chef September 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

What a lovely post! I used to share your fry-phobia, but after my last fry disaster reduced me to tears I went out and ‘treated’ myself to a deep fryer :) Good luck in the competition!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Ooh, a deep fryer would be perfect!!

Thank you :)

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fooddreamer September 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I’ve voted so much I can’t remember who I’ve commented on or not, but I had already voted for you!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Thank you SO much! I really appreciate it!

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candicemccoy September 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I’ve never heard of this dish before- and I’m not a fan of Indian food, but these photos are beautiful! And I love the story that goes along with it too:) I voted!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thanks so much, Candice!!

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Amy September 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Okay, this is probably the first thing I’ve run across in PFB entries that I truly had NEVER heard of! Lovely story, too. Got my vote. :)

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@lickmyspoon September 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Gulab jamun is my favorite part of Indian buffets! I’m glad we share that. Yours looks beautiful. I’ve never had it with bananas before, looks like I have something new to try. Voting for you, good luck!

Lick My Spoon

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I love it too! Thanks so much for the vote!!

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Jeanne September 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I’m fry-phobic, too. Excellent work on this challenge, all the flavors sound fantastic. The photos are stunning! You definitely earned my vote.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Hurray, thanks so much!!

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Danielle@Runs With Spatulas September 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Love the story behind the post! Good luck with round 2!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Thanks so much, Danielle :)

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Butter September 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Hello again! This is a great entry, tasty, beautiful, quite thoughtful and full of memories, thanks for sharing! It has been so crazy that I still have to post pic of the delicious cream cheese brownies you inspired! Probably after this contest :)
And of course, I am voting for you!
-Butter
(from Running On Butter)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 6:55 pm

I cannot WAIT to see, Butter!! SO excited!

Thanks so much for your vote!

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Daily Spud September 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I love Indian cuisine but I don’t think I’ve ever had gulab jamun, something I need to rectify clearly! Good luck with PFB, I’m heading off to vote :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Oh yes, must fix that!!! ;) Thanks so much!

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Tokyo Terrace September 30, 2010 at 7:10 am

Great post! I love the Indian choice- I haven’t gotten in to Indian food yet, but I really love eating it. You’ve given me a little extra inspiration to give it a try. Good luck in the contest! You’ve got my vote!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks SO much!!! I appreciate it! I hope you try and enjoy it :)

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Savory Sweet Living September 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I never heard of this dish before, but I like anything fried and the little fried dough balls look delicious! I’m also glad you overcome your fry-phobia. You got my vote, good luck!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks so much for your vote!!

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Lawyer Loves Lunch September 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I’m Pakistan and eating gulab jamuns is pretty much a national hobby and yet, I’ve never made them. Props to your for mastering them! You’ve definitely got my vote :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking September 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Thanks so much for the vote, and for visiting! :)

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Tamanna November 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm

oh yummm!! these look divine, looove your presentation

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 10, 2010 at 11:48 am

Thanks, Tamanna!

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