Chinese congee simply doesn't taste the same without cakwe (Chinese crullers/you tiao/油条), and you can make them easily and successfully with my recipe.
The biggest drawback to living so far away from home is getting a hold of food I use to take for granted. Take this cakwe - Chinese crullers for instance, there are at least 2 shops within a hundred-meter radius just around my home in Indonesia selling them from early morning till late at night.
No one back home would think it is a necessity to even figure out how to make this. If you say you are frying up a batch of cakwe in your home, people will think that you must have too much time to spare.
Not so when you live halfway across the globe, suddenly there is a desperate need to scour and try every single recipe that you can grab, and tweak and experiment until you get the perfect result! And behold, I finally end up with this cakwe recipe that I am quite proud of :)
What is cakwe/you tiao/Chinese crullers and how to prepare this at home?
Cakwe/Chinese crullers are so common and popular in so many Asian countries. Because of this, it has so many different names: Chinese donuts/doughnuts, Chinese fried dough, Chinese fried bread sticks, and so on. We call them cakwe in Indonesia, which is basically Chinese Hokkien for fried cake!
From the name, you can probably guess that this is basically some sort of dough, shaped into sticks, and deep fried. And you will be 100% correct! :)
What will I need to make cakwe/you tiao at home?
You will only need some very basic and very common pantry ingredients to prepare Chinese crullers:
- all-purpose flour (or bread flour)
- baking soda
- baking powder
Most cakwe recipe will call for bread flour, but you can get away with using all-purpose flour. If you are familiar with bread making, then you can tell that bread flour will give you a chewier and firmer result, while using all-purpose flour will make the bread softer and tenderer. What I am trying to say is, even if the only flour you are stocking at home is all-purpose, you will still get a good result! In fact, this batch is made with all-purpose flour, and not bread flour.
How do you shape cakwe/you tiao/Chinese crullers?
Prepare the dough
Before we can shape our cakwe, we need to prepare the dough by kneading all the ingredients together. The dough should not be sticky at all, and you want to knead until soft. Please start with 3 tablespoons of water and only increase the amount only if the dough is too dry.
Rest the dough
Shape the dough into roughly a rectangular shape, and wrap it with saran plastic and rest in the fridge for 4 hours. You must let the dough rest to relax the gluten. For the best result, I usually rest the dough overnight. Once you are ready to shape your crullers and fry them, you must remove the dough from the fridge and let it return to room temperature before continuing with the rest of the steps.
Shape the dough
Cakwe/Chinese crullers have a very distinct shape. And though it looks complicated, the steps are actually quite easy once we break it down:
- Roll the dough into a rectangle. I usually roll it to 12” long, 6” wide, with a thickness of 1⁄8”.
- Cut into 14 strips, each 6” long.
- Stack 2 strips on top of one another. So we get a total of 7 stacks.
- Glue each stack by pressing the center of the two strips. You can use the dull part of a butter knife or a chopstick. You can refer to the photo below to clarify this particular step. :)
How do you fry cakwe/you tiao/Chinese crullers?
Chinese crullers are deep-fried dough, so we will need to prepare a pot of oil for deep frying. Traditionally, we deep fry crullers in a wok of at least 13” diameter. You can also use a frying pan too, but make sure the depth is at least 2” so you can fill the frying pan with at least 1” of oil. Here are the steps:
- Fill your wok or frying pan with at least 1” of oil, it is better if you can fill it with 2” of oil.
- Heat the oil on medium heat. The oil is ready once it reaches 200 Celsius (400 Fahrenheit).
- Gently hold the two ends of each stack of shaped crullers and pull it slightly to fit the length of your wok/pan. For example, if you use a 10” diameter frying pan, try to pull the dough to 9” long. Then carefully, drop the dough into the hot oil.
- Use a pair of cooking chopsticks, or a pair of stainless steel tongs, roll the dough continuously for about 30 seconds or until the crullers become golden brown.
Tips: You can fry two crullers at a time if you start to get the hang of it. But for beginners, stick to frying one piece at a time. :)
- Remove the fried crullers and set over a wire rack to reduce excess oil.
What do you eat with cakwe/you tiao/Chinese crullers?
There are so many ways to enjoy cakwe/Chinese crullers.
In Taiwan, a traditional breakfast is pretty much a combination of Chinese crullers and hot soy milk.
Thinly sliced Chinese crullers are a popular topping for Chinese congee, such as pork congee or fish congee. If you have eaten some congee/porridge from a Chinese dim sum before, you may already know about this.
There is a popular dim sum item called cheong fun that has you tiao/Chinese crullers as its filling. In that case, the crullers are used as an ingredient.
In Indonesia, we also enjoy our bubur ayam (Indonesian chicken congee) with plenty of cakwe/crullers topping.
Served with bak kut teh, a popular Chinese herbal soup in Malaysia and Singapore.
Served with Malaysian/Singaporean rojak buah, which is different from Indonesian rujak buah. I won’t stop you, though, if you want to add some cakwe to your rujak buah. :)
Also, people buy these simply to snack on. In Indonesia, there are cakwe sellers that hang around the street corner around the clock so people can drop in and buy several to eat with their afternoon tea or coffee, or as a light snack for supper before going to bed.
Cakwe - Chinese Crullers
- 200 gram bread flour (or all purpose flour)
- 1 large egg (~ 55 gram)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon milk (~ 25 gram)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 3-5 tablespoon water
- Mix all ingredients together (start with 3 tablespoon of water) in a mixing bowl, knead into a soft and smooth dough, adding more water only if necessary.
- Shape the dough into a roughly rectangular shape, cover it with a saran plastic wrap, and let it rest inside the fridge for 4 hours (overnight is best).
- Return the dough to room temperature. Flour your work surface, then turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Roll into a rectangle of 1/8" thickness (~ 1/2 cm) by 6" (~ 15cm) wide and 12" (~30cm) long , then cut into 14 strips.
- One portion of the cruller consists of 2 strips stack on top of one another, so we will end up with 7 portions.
- To glue together 2 stacks of dough into 1 cruller, use one chopstick (or the dull part of a butter knife), press the two pieces right through the center along its length.
- Heat enough oil for deep frying in a wok/frying pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot (200 Celsius/400 Fahrenheit), gently hold the two ends of each stack of crullers and pull it slightly to fit the length of your wok/frying pan. fry the crullers until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Drain over a wire rack to remove excess oil.
- Serve as is with soy milk, or cut into pieces and serve with congee.