Today we are making a popular breakfast item all over China – You Tiao (油条), or we call it You Zha Gui (油炸鬼) in Cantonese. They are long, golden-brown deep-fried breadsticks also known as Chinese donut sticks. Believe it or not, I have been craving this breakfast ever since I left China. Over the years, I attempted and modified this recipe many, many times and finally, I decided to share it with you.
INGREDIENTS (enough to make 6 pieces you tiao)
- 250 grams of all purpose flour
- 6 g baking powder (1/2 tbsp)
- 2.5 g baking soda (1/2 tsp)
- 3 g salt (1/2 tsp)
- 10 grams of vegetable oil
- 165 grams of water
- 1-2 tsp of oil to apply on the hands and working surface
- extra flour to prevent stickiness
- 4-6 cups of oil to deep fry the donuts
This recipe only involves 6 basic ingredients – super simple but tricky at the same time. You have to pay attention to lots of little details, and I will give you all my techniques in order for you to achieve that light, airy, chewy, and crispy texture.
1. Choose your leavening agent
There are many leavening agents that you can choose from for this recipe. Some people use yeast, which requires bread flour to allow the air bubbles to puff, but then the overall texture will be tougher because bread flour is high in gluten. Some people use baking ammonia, which is good, but it is not an easy ingredient that everybody can access. What we are using today is baking powder and baking soda.
2. Test your leavening agent
These two ingredients are pantry essentials, but a lot of people don’t know that baking powder and baking soda can lose their potency if they’ve been sitting around for a while. If you can’t remember when you bought them, the first thing you need to do is to check if they are still active; I have failed this recipe because of that.
For the baking powder, you just simply add 1/2 tsp of it into a bowl of room temperature water (1/4 cup will do). If it bubbles immediately, your baking powder is good! If it doesn’t, you need to buy a new box.
To check whether baking soda is still active, you just add 1/2 tsp of it into 3 tbsp of vinegar. If the mixture bubbles, your baking soda is good to go!
Now that we know our leavens are still active, we can get started.
3. Make the dough
In a big mixing bowl, add the following ingredients: 250 grams of all-purpose flour, 6 g of baking powder, 3 g of baking soda, 3 g of salt. Stir to incorporate everything.
Next, we will use some oil to tenderize the dough. We are not going to knead the dough too much to avoid gluten formation. So, don’t add the oil directly into the flour, otherwise, there will be a big chunk of dough that is soaked with the oil and it won’t get evenly distributed because we are not going to knead it too much. Instead, you should add the oil to the water and give it a nice stir. Then pour it into the flour.
Use a silicone spatula to mix the flour and water into a rough dough. Then go in with your hand and fold it 3-5 times until you don’t see any dry flour bits. That’s it. Don’t knead it too much otherwise, the dough stick will come out tough. Cover it with plastic wrap. Leave it to rest for 20 minutes.
20 minutes later, apply 1 tsp of vegetable oil all over your hands and the working surface to prevent stickiness.
Transfer the dough onto the working surface, and start pressing it to shape it into an almost rectangle. Fold the left side to about 1/3. Flip the right side over just like how you fold a blanket.
Continue to press and enlarge the rectangle. If the cutting board is getting sticky, feel free to apply a little more oil. Repeat the folding process for 3 times intotal. The reason we are doing this is that, we want to make the dough smooth without over kneading it.
Wrap it with plastic wrap. We will let the dough sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours. The gluten needs to be well-rested so the dough can be elastic and stretch easily. If you plan to cook them in the morning, you can make the dough the night before and keep it in the fridge overnight. When you take it out of the fridge, give it 30 minutes to allow it to come back to room temperature before frying.
Lightly dust the working surface and your hands with some flour. Transfer the dough onto the working surface and stretch it into a long rectangle shape; Do it gently, and don’t put too much pressure. If you feel a lot of resistance and the dough is hard to be elongated, you can let it rest for another 5 minutes on the cutting board and then try again. the size should be about 20 inches by 3 inches. Cover it and let it rest on the cutting board for now. We will start heating the oil.
4. Deep Fry The Dough Stick
I am using peanut oil because it has a high smoke point. Use the biggest cookware that you have in your kitchen so the length of your dough stick can be longer. This recipe uses a lot of oil, which is why in China nobody makes Youtiao at home. It is so much easier just to buy it on the street, but I live in the USA now and I have been craving it so much. I assume most of you don’t have street vendors selling Youtiao around where you live, so you will need that much oil to recreate this classic breakfast.
Deep frying youtiao needs a high temperature to ensure the inflating ( around 400°F). If the temperature is too low, there won’t be enough heat to activate the leavens and your donut sticks will not come out as fluffy. If the temperature is extremely high, the bread stick’s surface will form up too fast before it gets a chance to expand, so you really need a thermometer to be successful on this recipe.
It takes about 3-5 minutes for the oil to reach the right temperature, so I am going to keep working on the dough in the meantime. The measurement I gave is enough to make 6 pieces of Youtiao, so you want to divide it into 12 little slabs, each one is about 1.5 inches wide.
Dust more flour on the cutting board. Lift each piece and flour the cut surface to prevent stickiness. This is important. I will explain why in a second.
Wet your chopstick to make a water line right through the center on every other piece. Then we will stack 2 pieces together. Try to match the ones that are almost equal size. Use your chopsticks to press at the middle.
Let’s take a look. We want the center to stick together tightly so they don’t separate during deep-frying. We also want these four petals to be free; that is why I brushed a little bit of flour on the cut surfaces before to prevent them from sticking together. If these petals do stick together, your Youtiao will not inflate. I don’t know the science behind it, but I can show you my examples. The left one, the petals were sticking together, and the right ones were not. You can see a huge difference in size. As for the texture inside, the left one is dense and tough, while the right one is light and airy.
Another purpose of combining two halves together is that It allows you to flip and rotate the breadstick in the oil. If you only have one slab, it is impossible to flip it over.
Now the oil is at 400°F; I will switch the heat to medium-low. Take one piece of Youtiao. Gently stretch the length so it becomes 2-2.5 times longer which perfectly fits my 12-inch wok. If your cookware is small, you might need to cut the dough in half. Let the middle touch the oil first, then carefully drop the rest in so you don’t get oil splatter everywhere. Do not rush to throw in the second piece of You Tiao because you need to use a pair of chopsticks to move and rotate the first one as fast as possible before the surface turns into a brown color. Otherwise, it won’t inflate as big.
Once the Youtiao has turned into light golden color, that means the outside is set. It will not get any bigger; you can stop rotating it. Just let it sit in the oil until golden brown. Flip it every 10 seconds 3-4 times to reinforce the crust so your breadstick will come out really crispy on the outside.
Since you don’t need to babysit it, you can stretch the second piece at this moment and put it in the oil. Do the same thing; rotate it as fast as you can before it turns into light golden color. At the same time, keep an eye on the first one and flip it every 10 seconds.Once the first one is done, take it out. Continue to fry the rest.
Another tip for you is that since we are using so much oil, it is better to make a lot at one time and freeze the cooked Youtiao in a Ziplock bag. Reheat them in the toaster oven or regular oven until just warmed through.
In China, everybody considers Youtiao as unhealthy because it is deep-fried and high in calories, but we love eating it anyway. It is addictive. The outside is crusty and slightly chewy. The inside is hollow and has these honeycomb shape bubbles – which makes it so light and fluffy. You can snack on it by itself or dip it with sweetened condensed milk. We also like to use it as a topping for congees or hot pepper soup. I will link the recipes in the description. My favorite way is to enjoy it with soy milk.