Youtiao, or Chinese Doughnuts, are a traditional Chinese favorite for breakfast. This ancient food is made from a pasta dough formed into long strips and deep fried.
I’ve attempted to make these scrumptious doughnuts many times, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing not knowing why my success was inconsistent.
So, I put my head down and made a conscious effort to work out what part of my process lacked skill. So, if each step has been perfected, the results would be perfect every time.
Here’s what you need to make the dough:
- 200 g all-purpose flour (ordinary gluten flour)
- 110 ml cold water
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil (about 45 ml)
- pinch of salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Read The Tips Before You Begin.
1. Do not rush to put the first doughnut in the hot oil; make sure the oil is at the correct temperature.
2. The oil temperature should not be too high, or it will burn the doughnut or blacken the oil with burnt residue. If the oil is too low the doughnuts will not inflate into the fluffy, puffy delights that you can’t wait to eat!
It is best not to use baking powder containing Alum as it is the main component of aluminum (which is bad for you). Use one with soda instead.
3. Fried doughnuts, although delicious, are not necessarily good for you, especially on their own in large quantities. I recommend serving them with some light milk, or fruit, etc.
4. Placing the dough in the refrigerator overnight after kneading allows it to relax completely. Do not leave it out at room temperature.
The most critical ingredient in Chinese doughnuts is the baking powder, which causes the dough to expand when cooked. In the old days in the north, alum and baking soda were used as the raising agent for Chinese doughnuts, but now days we have doubts about adding aluminum to our food (and rightly so!).
In the south, they used ammonium bicarbonate (yes, you remember right, bicarbonate Ammonium is the name of a fertilizer). Of course, no matter how little ammonium bicarbonate is used, it will be distributed in the human body and so is also to be avoided.
Modern large-scale fast food chains began to use aluminum-free potassium tartrate instead of alum, to eliminate everyone’s concerns.
Baking powder is a common ingredient used in the production of Western-style baked goods. This baking powder’s ingredients are rice flour, baking soda, and sodium pyrophosphate.
Rice flour and baking soda are naturally not a problem, and sodium pyrophosphate is one of the metabolites of the human body, so this baking powder is harmless.
How to Make Chinese Doughnuts:
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the peanut oil.
Pour in the cold water and mix well with chopsticks.
Mix the dough until it is smooth and elastic. This takes about 3 minutes. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover closely with plastic wrap and put aside to rest for an hour.
Take the dough from the bowl and flatten it with your hands to a thickness of about ½ inch. Fold in half.
Press the dough down with your fist. Turn the dough 45 degrees, fold in half again and press down. Continue turning (always in the same direction), folding and pressing ten times. Flip the dough over and repeat ten more times. Continue this process of kneading for a good 5 minutes.
All this stretching and stressing strengthens the dough, so that after about 5 minutes it will become difficult to knead signaling the time to stop.
Place the dough in a plastic bag or wrap in plastic wrap, smoothing out any air pockets. Put it into the refrigerator (at +4 degrees Celsius) overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand for 45 minutes at room temperature.
Brush a layer of peanut oil on a clean chopping board to prevent the dough sticking. Roll the dough into a log about 30 cm long.
Flatten the dough to a width of about 8-10 cm, cover with plastic wrap and leave while you prepare the pan for cooking.
To save on oil, the pan can be small, but not too small, or the doughnuts will be too short. A pan with a diameter of 24 cm is ideal but needs to be deep enough to fill it with about 3-4 cm of oil.
For safety reasons, it is best to use a double handled pot, to reduce the chance of knocking it and spilling the hot oil, the consequences of which are too scary to contemplate. It is also good to keep the oil level at a distance of at least 3cm from the top edge of the pan to reduce spillage.
After pouring oil into your pan, turn the hotplate to high.
The correct oil temperature is critical for success with Chinese doughnuts. According to my tests, the best temperature for these doughnuts should be between 220 degrees Celsius and smoke point temperature.
Smoke point occurs anywhere between 240-260 degrees Celsius. In other words, the optimum oil temperature for cooking Chinese doughnuts is slightly lower than the temperature at which the pan begins to smoke.
The most simple and reliable way to test the temperature is to throw in a small piece of dough, and if it starts to bubble and begins to expand within 5 seconds, the oil is ready. If it does not begin cooking within 5 seconds, you need to keep heating the oil. At this point, you can turn the stove down to maintain the oil temperature.
Now, back to the dough!
Cut two strips about 1.5-2 cm wide and lay one on top of the other. Press them together lengthwise with bamboo sticks or fine chopsticks.
Gently pinch the ends and slowly stretch until the piece of dough is a bit shorter than the width of the pan.
Place the doughnut gently into the hot oil and quickly roll with chopsticks so it expands evenly. Fry quickly until it has expanded and floats to the top. When the doughnut is nice and golden and is nicely inflated, remove it from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Delicious Chinese doughnuts, golden and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside – I can hear my stomach rumbling just typing this! Served with a bowl of just right steamy porridge, they make a scrumptious breakfast!
An Important Principle for Making Chinese Doughnuts
Because Chinese doughnuts are fried at a high temperature, the surface becomes hardened quickly, actually inhibiting full expansion, and the inside of the doughnut does not cook fully. Stacking two layers of dough and pressing them together with the bamboo stick, creates a tightly packed join, which cannot be penetrated by the oil. This allows the doughnut to continue to expand as it cooks.