Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条)

A comforting breakfast staple loved by many, Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao) is light, airy and pleasantly chewy. Follow my recipe to make it at home without fail. 

Last summer I took two young food critics from our Red House to China and this trip turned out to be the most memorable event of their life in 2017. During the one-month-stay with my family, they were spoiled with all sorts of wonderful food that they never tasted before. After the holiday, Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条) became one of the specialities that they miss and crave most. After several “trial and error” testing sessions, I’ve finally found the perfect version. Light, airy, chewy, “Just like what we had in Beijing.” My young critics approved.

“What do Chinese families have for breakfast?” This is a question that I’ve been asked many times and I often find it difficult to answer. There are just too many varieties! However, if I had to choose one particular dish, Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条) would be the one synonymous with breakfast across the country.  Queuing up at a street stand to buy warm doughnut sticks is an early morning routine for many Chinese, just like how French people love fresh croissant from their favourite bakery.

Making doughnut stick is not a popular home cooking practice in China because: 1. It’s time consuming. You need to allow the dough to rest during several different stages. 2. It requires lots of attention to detail, otherwise it can easily go wrong. 3. It’s available everywhere so there is no need to make it yourself!

But for me, it’s truly a labour of love. When I had the first bite of my home-made doughnut stick, I knew that it was worth all the effort! Last Sunday, I served it with red bean rice congee, cucumber salad, fried eggs, fermented bean curd (aka Chinese cheese) and some preserved Chinese mustard. The sight and smell of this morning treat immediately evoked nostalgic memories of my childhood.

As a child, I always loved watching the street vendor frying up Chinese doughnut stick. It’s fascinating to see thin strips of dough magically expand to chunky sticks in just a few seconds. The well cooked doughnut stick is light, airy and slightly chewy. To achieve the desired texture, I suggest you follow every step of the recipe without alternation. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Make sure the dough is soft and smooth. But do not over knead it.
  • Allow enough time to rest the dough during the different stages: 1. Rest for 20 minutes before you knead it the second time. 2. Then keep refrigerated overnight. 3. After taking it out of the fridge, let it come back to room temperature (when soft enough to stretch).

  • Control the oil temperature when deep frying. It’s best to use a kitchen thermometer (it’s an inexpensive, handy tool worthing having). Otherwise, use a small piece of dough to test first. When the temperature is high enough, the dough should come up to the surface very quickly (in 3 seconds or so).

Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条)
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Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Make 10 doughnut sticks

Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条)

A comforting breakfast staple loved by many, Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao) is light, airy and pleasantly chewy. Follow my recipe to make it at home without fail.

Note: The dough requires overnight resting.


    For the dough
  • 360g / 2.5 cups plain flour (all-purpose, see note 1)
  • 240ml / 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
    You also need:
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil (for coating the dough)
  • 500ml cooking oil (for deep frying, see note 2)


  1. In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients for the dough. Knead with your hands (or a stand mixer with a fitted dough hook) until well combined. Leave to rest for 20 minutes. Then knead again to form a soft and smooth dough.
  2. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Flatten each portion into a rectangle shape (about 10×20 cm / 4×8 inch). Coat all around with a thin layer of oil, then wrap with cling film. Keep in the fridge overnight.
  3. Next morning, transfer the dough pieces (still wrapped) to a warm place for 1 hour or so until they come back to room temperature (very soft to the touch).
  4. Heat up the oil for deep frying over a medium heat.
  5. Meanwhile, place the two pieces of dough on a chopping board then cut each piece into 10 equal strips. Lay one strip on top of another. Press the centre with a chopstick lengthways to stick the two strips together. Repeat the procedure with the rest of the dough.
  6. The oil is ready when it reaches 180°C / 356°F (see note 3).
  7. Pinch both ends of the dough with thumb and index finger. Then gently stretch it to double the length. Carefully lower it into the oil.
  8. After the doughnut stick comes up to the surface, roll it frequently with a pair of chopsticks. When evenly golden brown, transfer into a heatproof colander (with a plate underneath to collect excessive oil). Repeat the procedure (see note 4).


1. The ideal flour water ratio may vary slightly depending on the brand of the flour and how you measure it (Measuring flour with a cup is less accurate). The finished dough should be very soft but not stick.

2. Depending on the size and shape of the cookware, you may adjust the quantity of oil required.

3. It’s best to use a kitchen thermometer. Otherwise, use a small piece of dough to test first. When the temperature is high enough, the dough should come up to the surface very quickly (in 3 seconds or so).

4. You may fry 2-3 doughnut sticks at the same time provided your cookware is wide enough so that they don’t stick to each other.

Thank you for taking time to read my post. If Chinese doughnut sticks are part of your food nostalgia too, I hope my recipe is exactly what you are looking for. For those who are new to this delectable dish, I hope my recipe has inspired you.

Happy cooking!

An enthusiastic cook with a Chinese palate and a global mindset.

Other Chinese breakfast ideas:

Spring onion pancake, Cong You Bing (葱油饼)

Marbled tea eggs – two versions (茶叶蛋)

17 thoughts

  1. hello wei, that looks amazing!
    Just wondering, can we make it and fry it at the same day? (because it’s written down to keep it overnight, and what’s the purpose of it?)
    And also, can I change milk into water?

    Thank you in advance!
    Hve a great day~

    1. Hi Jimmy! You may make the dough and fry it on the same day. I suggest you leave the dough to rest for at least 4 hours though. Otherwise the dough stick won’t expand properly when deep frying. And you are free to replace milk with water. Hope this is helpful.

  2. Followed the recipe and instructions but it did not rise. Are you sure it is half teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate?

    1. Hi Paul. Yes this recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Unlike using yeast as leavening agent , the dough won’t rise much. But when deep fried, the dough stick will expand a lot. Another note: make sure that the dough comes back to room temperature (very soft to stretch) before deep frying. Hope this is helpful.

  3. Thank you for sharing your recipe for Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao, 油条). I did see a cooking showing with a similar recipe where a egg was inserted during the frying. Do you know what receipt that is?

    1. Hi Steve! I think you are talking about a speciality from Henan province (河南). It’s called You Tiao Guan Ji Dan (油条灌鸡蛋) , literally meaning doughnut stick filled with egg . The doughnut stick is deep fried half way then hollowed with chopsticks from one end. A lightly beaten egg is poured into the hole. Then you put the doughnut stick back into the hot oil to fry until fully cooked. I’ve never cooked this way. but I might give it a try one day.

  4. Thank you for sharing your recipe. I always have this question on the back of my head. What do you do with the oil afterward? It seems like a waste of oil after one use. Can you re-use the oil to fried again? If so, what’s the procedure to save it and how many times can you re-use it?

    Thank you in advance.

    1. I totally understand your concern Jack. You can reuse the oil under certain conditions. If you google “reuse deep fry oil”, you will find a few good results on this topic which provide all the information you would need (from Epicurious, Serious Eats, Bon Appetit, etc.). Personally, I reuse the oil for a couple of times maximum if cooking Youtiao only.

  5. In Australia we have a TV cooking program MKR. ONE of the winners did you tiao. All ingredients the same except it uses water n no baking soda just one n a half teaspoon of baking powder. I just tried n do not know result yet. Hope it will turn out well without the baking soda. Thank u for sharing yr recipe with us. Gwen

  6. These look so good! I have tried a few recipes but I’m always on the hunt for more variety! I may make some and bring them to one of my professors. He studied in China for a long time so I think he would like the gift! Also go you have a recipe for what looks like red bean congee you took the photos with? I have a hard time finding a good recipe for that and my experiments are ok, but not there yet!

    1. Hi Sheena thanks for visiting my blog! I haven’t yet shared a red bean congee recipe. Here are a few tips: Use short grain rice as they tend to be more starchy. Soak the red beans overnight prior to cooking. Use a clay pot if available (it really makes a difference). Always simmer instead of boiling. If you prefer a stickier texture, you may also replace 1/4 of the regular rice with glutinous rice. Hope this is helpful. Happy cooking!

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