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Thrill your tastebuds and stimulate your senses with these beautiful, unique, and truly mouthwatering Indian desserts, showing you a richer and sweeter side to one of the world’s most renowned and celebrated cuisines.
Indian food needs no introduction when it comes to culinary masterpieces, and as these 20 Indian sweets show, the innovation and magic of Indian cooking go beyond its iconic fiery, spicy, and savory dishes. Prepare to be dazzled by their appearance and mesmerized by their flavor combinations.
1 – Gulab Jamun
Beautiful to behold, this rich golden-brown ball, shimmering in a silken syrup, is full of surprises. You bite into it expecting crunch but instead, are treated to a deceptively soft mouthful, exploding with sweetness. No wonder the gulab jamun is possibly the most well-known Indian sweet the world over and found on most Indian menus around the globe.
Gulab jamun is a decadently rich ball of fried dough made from milk solids and flour or semolina that is then soaked in sweet syrup, spiced with cardamom, saffron, rose water, and other ingredients depending on preference.
This sweet is as delicious as it is fun. As the fried dough balls become spongy soft when soaked in syrup, you simply can’t stop with one! This dish is often garnished with chopped nuts, and warm gulab jamuns are commonly accompanied by a dollop of vanilla ice cream. From restaurants to receptions, the gulab jamun is certainly a cause for celebration.
2 – Kaju Katli
This diamond-shaped sweet, with a sparkling silvery finish, and a soft, yet dense bite is the popular kaju katli, essentially a cashew fudge. Popularly made during festivals like Diwali, kaju katli, although humble, certainly has bragging rights where taste is concerned.
Kaju means “cashew” and katli translates to “slice”. Made from cashew nuts, ghee, and sugar, these diamond-shaped mouthfuls of goodness are soft and buttery.
Flavors including cardamom and saffron are often added for some more melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, and kaju katli, like a lot of Indian sweets, are often coated with a thin layer of edible silver foil called vark.
3 – Carrot Halwa
Gajar ka halwa, or carrot halwa, is seen by many Indians as the king of halwas. The dish, with its bright red color and texture that glistens against the light, is made even more alluring with cashews and raisins.
In essence, carrot halwa is a dish of delicious pudding strands that has stolen the hearts of a billion Indians and more. Popular in North India and made during the winter, carrot halwa is made with carrots, milk, ghee, sugar, and garnished with cashews, raisins, and saffron strands.
Red carrots are best for gajar ka halwa as they give it a vibrant burst of color and flavor while the ghee makes it soft, rich, and oh-so-gooey. Condensed milk and evaporated milk can often be used instead of regular milk if you want to make the dish even more rich and satisfying.
4 – Laddoo
I associate laddoo with childhood and nothing is more fun than stuffing this sweet orb of deliciousness whole in your mouth to see if you can eat it in one bite!
This ubiquitous orange-gold ball is a staple of many occasions and mithai (sweet) boxes, and nothing says Indian sweet quite like the laddoo does. Like a lot of Indian sweets, the laddoo is packed with ghee and sugar, and is made with gram flour and cardamom, with nuts and raisins often sprinkled in.
The laddoo is made in most Indian homes for celebrations, ceremonies, and festivals. There are variations of the laddoo throughout the subcontinent and they are all equally delicious.
5 – Jangri
When it comes to food that is as equally beautiful as it is delicious jangri is right up there. The South Indian cousin to the jalebi, the jangri is a bright orange-colored, flower-shaped sweet that is common throughout South India.
It is fried in oil and soaked in syrup, and looks like a piece of art, as it is drawn in the shape of a flower. Made from ground white urad dal or black gram lentils and rice, the jangri gets its color from food coloring.
Using a piping cloth or cone, the batter is “drawn” directly onto hot oil, and once fried, dropped into a light sugar syrup.
Jangri is makes your mouth sing with its sweetness and texture. Every bite is a little crunchy, a little soft, and a whole lot of deliciousness!
6 – Jalebi
Very similar looking to the jangri, the jalebi is made with flour and yogurt, among other ingredients, before also finding its way into a syrup bath. This is a common household sweet, often made in North India.
The jalebi is sweet, soft yet crunchy, and is a very popular street food. While the jalebi’s origin story meanders from Turkey to Persia to Tunisia, like a lot of oral history and conjecture, the jalebi’s beginnings leaves room for interpretation. However, there is mention of jalebi in an early Sanskrit work dating to 1600 AD, and its continuing popularity is certainly a testament to its deliciousness.
7 – Badusha
This Indian doughnut is a soft, flaky sweet treat, with a delectable, sweet glaze, that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The Badusha is very similar to the North Indian Balushahi.
Badusha has a flaky texture and is hand-rolled dough in the shape of discs that are fried in ghee and then dipped in sugar syrup.
It is very, very sweet, while the sugar syrup gives the dish its alluring glaze. It is often garnished with nuts, dried fruits, and even coconut flakes. It is a common dessert in many South Indian weddings, and it is often served warm but is just as delicious eaten cold from the fridge.
8 – Kheer
A bowl of shimmering, sweet milk, speckled with rice, nuts, and saffron and laced delicately with sugar, this humble kheer is a symbol of celebration in most Indian families. It is prepared to celebrate everything from New Year to Diwali, or even for a simple family get together.
Similar to the South Indian payasam, kheer is a simple and humble rice pudding that can be eaten with a spoon or straight from a cup. It is often the first thing that is served at weddings and festivals to start proceedings off on a sweet note.
Made with milk, sugar, rice, and either semolina or tapioca pearls, this is the quintessential Indian sweet that is a mark of joy, celebration, and any kind of good news. It can be had warm or cold and is garnished with nuts, raisins, saffron, and even vanilla essence.
9 – Ras Malai
A devilishly rich clotted cream dumpling, soaked in a decadent rabdi bath of thickened, flavored milk, the ras malai is soft, juicy, and rife with creamy goodness.
Originating from the East of India in West Bengal, the ras malai is possibly the most beloved of Bengali sweets, second only to the rasgulla. Ras means “juice” and malai refers to “cream”, which is a more than fitting name for this decadent Indian version of cheesecake, which is renowned for its juicy and creamy texture.
Ras malai is made with richly flavored clotted cream that is cooked with syrup and then soaked and served in thickened, flavored milk.
Ras malai has a sinfully soft texture that absorbs the delicious rabdi and makes for one gloriously juicy bite that is bursting with flavor. The dish was invented by well-known confectioner and businessman KC Das.
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10 – Mysore Pak
Mysore Pak is one of the most popular South Indian sweets. Made with ghee, gram flour, and this popular sweet my sound simple, but in fact, has royal origins.
Mysore Pak was created in 1935 in the palace of King Krishnaraja Woderyar in Mysore by his chef Kaksura Madappa, while he was experimenting with sweets for the king.
While it is indisputably delicious, the Mysore Pak is rich and known for the heavy use of ghee. While it is sometimes called Indian “cake”, this sweet is soft and has a crumbly texture, with a light golden-brown color. Commonly served at many festivals and celebrations, the Mysore Pak is an iconic South Indian sweet.
11 – Milk Peda
Light, delicate, and flavorful, the milk peda is a simple yet scrumptious dessert found in most sweet boxes or commonly whipped up at home.
Milk peda is Indian fudge made from milk, commonly off-white or cream color. It is spherical in shape with an assortment of toppings, including almonds and pistachios.
Its deliciousness lies in its simplicity. Milk peda is soft and light, with a slightly crumbly texture. Every bite is rife with flavor, sweetness, and a taste of home, as nearly every household has its own version of the milk peda.
12 – Kulfi
The original Indian ice cream, this cold dessert is often served either on a stick or in a mud pot. Thick and creamy, kulfi is denser and creamier than ice cream and is believed to have originated during the Mughal rule in the 16th century.
While milk was used in the original recipe, which required constant churning, modern-day kulfis are often made with condensed milk or evaporated milk, giving it a luxurious creaminess.
Because it is so rich and dense, it melts slowly, making it the perfect dessert for the Indian heat. It is a popular street dessert and comes in an assortment of irresistible flavors like cream, rose, pistachio, and saffron.
13 – Basundi
Basundi is a traditional milk dessert, commonly found in Western parts of India. It is so rich and wholesome in fact, I, along with many other Indians, can go through the day drinking cups of this dessert and nothing else!
Basundi is made by boiling and then simmering milk for a long time, then infusing it with spices, nuts, sugar, and saffron.
The milk needs to boil for a lengthy amount of time, ideally to a thick consistency. In fact, some Indians who prepare this dish will even allow a thick of cream to form on top before they simmer it.
Similar to custard, but with a thinner consistency, basundi can be enjoyed both warm and cold. To make it even more indulgent, you can make it with sweetened considered milk, for a truly thick and gooey dessert.
14 – Kesari
If you ever have a hankering for dessert at breakfast, kesari is the dish you need in your life. Made from semolina or granulated wheat, kesari is cooked with ghee, sugar, dry fruits, nuts, and saffron to make a bright, orange dessert.
It can be made flavored with fruits like pineapple and apple and is a traditional South Indian breakfast dish. It can be enjoyed warm or cold, and pairs well with vanilla ice cream. It is also a perfect afternoon snack when you need an energy boost.
15 – Maladu
Maladu, for me, is a dish I associate with my grandmother. This was her go-to sweet and she made it on every occasion, for every guest, as a celebration, pick-me-up, or for a bit of comfort. Growing up, I never realized it was considered a “healthy dessert” until later in life, and now I feel less guilty about all the years of indulgence!
Maladu is made from roasted gram flour, ghee, and sugar. It is so simple and so delicious, and its chunks of chopped cashews help add a creaminess to the texture.
It is rolled into tight balls, and every crumbly bite leaves you covered in delicious maladu crumbs. Maladu lasts in the fridge for days and these delicate, cream-colored balls a simply one of the country’s must-try desserts.
16 – Cham Cham
This mouth-watering Bengali delicacy is essentially what dreams are made of! Wondrously light and fluffy, cham cham, chom chom, or chum chum is made with curdled milk mixture that is rolled into cylinders and cooked in syrup.
The dish is often made in soft colors like yellow, pink, or white, making cham cham both delicate and decadent at the same time.
Similar in texture to both the rasgulla and ras malai, cham chams have a spongy exterior, from which the syrup ooozes from once bitten into. Cham chams can also be stuffed with dried evaporated milk solids, called mawa, rolled in coconut flakes or powder, and topped with saffron and chopped nuts.
17 – Rasgulla
This is West Bengal’s most popular gift to the country, if not the world! Rasgulla are soft, snow-white balls, soaked in sugar syrup that taste like heaven.
The dish is made from a mixture of curdled milk and semolina dough, which is then soaked and served in a sweet, sticky syrup that tantelizes your tastebuds. Each ball is rich, indulgent, and limiting yourself to just one is a tall order.
KC Das, of Ras Malai-fame popularized this king of desserts by selling it in cans. Once people from various parts of India got a taste of luscious rasgulla there was no turning back, and rasgulla exploded onto the Indian culinary scene.
18 – Rabdi
Very similar to basundi, the rabdi or rabri is a thicker version of basundi, often accompanied by puris or malpuas. It is made by boiling and then simmering milk for a considerable amount of time, along with the milk solids that form, until it reduces and thickens.
Nuts, spices, and sugar are then added, while strands of saffron help add a delightful yellow hue to the dish. Once prepared, the dish can be served and enjoyed hot or cold.
Rabdi is often eaten with other sweets, such as malpuas. For sweets like ras malai and cham cham, rabdi is the perfect dessert to dip them in and take the flavor profile to another level of satisfaction.
19 – Puran Poli
Puran poli is a sweet flatbread made in parts of Western India, and especially popular in Maharashtra during important celebrations and festivals.
Made with flour, split Bengal gram flour, cardamom, and jaggery it is a delicate flatbread that is topped with a healthy serving of ghee. The flatbread is made with flour, then stuffed with sweet lentils, and cooked on a hot pan.
Puran poli is best served piping hot and is so soft that it melts in your mouth. The outer layer is soft and thin, enough that you have to pull it apart to eat it, where you will find a powdery, sweet lentil stuffing. Puran poli is very similar to the sweet Boli made in Kerala.
20 – Soan Papdi
Soan papdi is the quintessential Indian street snack, sold from the side of carts all day long. Soan papdi are small, square-shaped flaky sweets made from flour, ghee, sugar, and cardamom, often sprinkled with nuts.
Believed to have been derived from the Turkish Pismaniye, soan papdi is often referred to as Indian candy floss as it has a strand-like texture that makes it so soft and flaky.
Soan papdi is the sweet of the everyman, and while it has its origins in Uttar Pradesh, soan papdi carts to this day continue to wind their way through every part of India.
Indian Desserts Summary
A wonderous world of bright color, spellbinding decadence, and breathtaking flavor all lay in wait when you let your culinary curiosity wander through the sweeter side of Indian cuisine.
All the desserts we have looked at are a sight for sore eyes and pack harmonious and delightful flavors unrivaled by many other cuisines. And while these are undoubtedly some of the most popular Indian desserts and favorite Indian sweets of the country, this truly is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sweet treats of this vast and beautiful place.
Be it on a future visit to India, or if you want to bring a little Indian magic to your home kitchen, be sure to try as many of these sweet Indian dishes as you can. All will open your mind and palate to a rich, sweet, and truly indulgent side of Indian cuisine, away from the fire, heat, and spice it has become synonymous with.
These amazing Indian desserts are absolutely delicious and more than hold their own to the richer, spicier, and savory foods the country has become synonymous with.
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Author: Nandhini Parthib is an Indian content writer, with a deep passion for Indian cuisine and travel and an eagerness to spread the word about it through her writing.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
Thursday 3rd of November 2022
Does anyone know how coconut, oat or almond milk would work with these dishes? I am lactose intolerant. I know ones with ghee are out. Thank you!