A profile of India’s most loved desserts
India is a land known for its desserts and sweet dishes. We belong to a country where desserts after lunch and dinner are mandatory and make the meal complete. Whether it is a birthday, festival, or any other celebration, sweets and desserts occupy the topmost space in everyone’s mind. My enthusiasm for sweets inspired me to put together some of my favourites that can be made at home and consumed at any point of the day or year.
Jalebi is one among the many street foods in India that is not only easily available but also the most preferred by millions of people who savour the sweet dish during a meal or with a hot cup of tea. In many parts of the country, Jalebi is also popularly known as Imarti, which is believed to be a gift to India by the Mughals. A sweet dish that’s made out of urad dal flour batter is soaked in sugar syrup, which is later consumed warm and gooey or chilled and crispy. The best Jalebis are found in Delhi and Lucknow.
Gajar ka Halwa
Gajar ka halwa is a variant of pudding prepared with grated carrots, sugar, milk, nuts, and clarified butter, along with a generous amount of dried milk, also known as khoya. This halwa originated in Pakistan and Northern India, but today it’s consumed across India as a traditional sweet or an everyday treat, especially during winters. If need be, you can modify this dessert by either adding regional or seasonal ingredients, and it can be eaten warm or chilled, during, or after the meal.
The name of this classic dessert is derived from two terms: Gulab, meaning rose, and Jamun, denoting purple-coloured Jamun berry fruit. This dish is believed to have originated from an Arabic dessert known as luqmat al-qadi, which gained popularity during the Mughal era, in the presence of Indian cooks who adapted their cuisine using Persian ingredients and merging them with traditional Indian flavours. Gulab Jamun is typically made up of milk solids that are kneaded into a tight dough, shaped into balls, and then deep-fried in oil or ghee. These balls then get soaked in sugar syrup flavoured with rose water, saffron, and green cardamom.
Kheer, also known as Payasam in the Southern regions of India, is a popular traditional sweet dish made on a regular basis as well as for special occasions. This dessert is made in many variants, including boiling rice, tapioca, or wheat with sugar, milk, nuts, cardamom, and saffron. This dessert originated 2000 years ago in Orissa, in the Lord Jagannath Temple. Today, it is believed that a celebration or festivity is incomplete if Kheer is not served during or after the meal.
The origin of this popular Indian sweet is a matter of heated debate even now, with Odisha and West Bengal claiming to be the birthplace of it. This traditional sweet is typically served cold, at the end of a meal, and is prepared from chhena paneer and semolina dough, soaked in sugar syrup. When you bite through the Rasgulla, it’s tough to decide if the sugar syrup-soaked balls are better or the sweet flavoured syrup itself!
The favourite royal dessert of Mysore, Mysore Pak, first originated from the palace of Mysore which was brought to life by a cook named Kakasurra. This delightful sweet is loaded with ghee, in combination with gram flour, sugar, and cardamom. Today, owing to its royalty and richness, the dish is fondly known as the king of sweets in the Southern region of India and is commonly prepared for various celebrations and festivities.
A modak is nothing but a sweet dumpling prepared with fresh coconut, jaggery, cardamom, saffron, and rice flour for the covering. This dessert is most typically made during Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival celebrated widely in Western and Southern India. Depending on the region, this dish also gets referred to as kozhukattai or mothagam in Tamil, kudumu in Telugu, or kadubu in Kannada. Whether it is a steamed or fried modak, it is usually served with melted warm ghee.
Originating from the Bengal region in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, this delicious mithai is created with just two ingredients – milk and sugar. Some recipes of Sandesh call for the use of chhena or paneer (which is made by curdling the milk and separating the whey from it) instead of milk itself. Legends say that the dessert was inspired by the cheese-based dishes that early European traders brought along with them to the city of Kolkata.
A popular dish of Maharashtra, eaten in most households during festivals or other special occasions, Puran Poli is a stuffed flaky flatbread prepared with fillings of flour, split yellow gram (chana dal), sugar/jaggery, cardamom or nutmeg powder, and ghee. They are usually savoured with warm milk.
Goa and Bebinca go hand-in-hand! A traditional Goan pudding served mainly during Christmas, consisting of plain flour, coconut milk, sugar, ghee, and egg yolk, its speciality lies in its seven-layered arrangement. However, a traditional Bebinca has sixteen layers in total. It can be consumed fresh or refrigerated.
This Rajasthani disc-shaped mithai is made of flour, ghee, and milk, and soaked in sugar syrup, and then finally garnished with almonds, pistachios, and saffron. There are several variations of this popular sweet treat, such as the Malai Ghevar or the Mava Ghevar.
A royal dessert dish of Awadh made from bread soaked in milk or rabri topping, garnished with almonds, cashews, pistachios, saffron, and cardamom, is quite similar to the famous Hyderabadi dish “Double ka meetha,” however, in the latter, you have to bake the bread after adding rabri. This beauty makes a great choice to impress guests in your special occasion.
Boondi Ka Laddoo
Round, yellow-coloured ball-shaped, consumed mostly on special days like Diwali, Pujas or Raksha Bandhan, is made from chickpea flour, flavoured with cashews, saffron, raisins and a dash of cardamom. Some other variations of this sweet include Besan (gram flour) laddoo, Sesame laddoo, Coconut laddoo, and Semolina laddoo.
The variety of sweets to be added to this list is endless, and sometimes, the same dish is known by many different names, varying as per regions. So, if you’re fond of sweets and desserts, do try any of these and fulfil your cravings!