Myths, Mistakes, & Messing Up Youtiaos
After the past three months of potato-ing about (no thanks to a string of injuries - two months on crutches, a broken arm, and a bad quadruple wisdom teeth extraction), I feel like it’s high time I started pushing myself a little harder. So maybe it’s the shouty, testosterone-filled podcasts I’ve been listening to, or maybe it’s from reading Angela Duckworth’s Grit, but I’ve set myself on a self-prescribed recovery program to get my sh*t together before my health and youth wanes. I mean, I know your mid-20s is considered a ripe young age to be at, but it honestly scares me that I’ve lived for a quarter of a century and have yet to achieve anything for the world! Eek!
So, here’s step one of Jun’s recovery program - embrace my past failures. It’s an advice that’s touted by many of the podcasts I’ve listened to, and in Grit too. The logic here is that by critically reflecting on our past mistakes, we’d be able to glean some wisdom off them, which theoretically would contribute to on’es betterment. In my case, whether theory matches reality still remains to be seen, but I suppose this is a good start.
And so, in no particular order, here are a few of my biggest failures in recent memory, stylised as an apology list. (6 years of apologetic British education and culture wasn’t for nothing).
Sorry mom and dad, for still not being quite the independent child you hoped for. I have failed you, but I promise I’m working on it.
Sorry my superstar siblings. I wasn’t much of a model kor-kor (big brother) when we were kids, and probably still am not. But I will do better and do you proud.
Sorry, navy Leuchtturm journal on my side table, for abandoning you in June after 3 good months of solid bullet journalling and habit tracking. We had a good run.
Sorry, previously-friends-now-acquaintances. I know I’m not the best at keeping in touch, but know that I do occasionally think about you and the good times we had together.
Sorry, 3 succulents I over-watered in June. You deaths have not been in vain, for I now have four plants in my room that I’ve successfully kept alive for the past 2 months!
Finally, I’m sorry, youtiaos (油条) I over-kneaded and over-fried. I made you all dense and doughy when you could’ve been perfectly fluffy Chinese éclairs.
Yep, that last one’s pretty embarrassing. But y’know, in the spirit of embracing mistakes, I shall shamelessly admit to messing up one of the simplest dishes in Chinese cuisine.
For those unfamiliar with youtiao, they’re essentially China’s version of churros. Only instead of being crystal-coated with cinnamon sugar and more often than not served with a cornstarch-thickened chocolate sauce, youtiaos are traditionally dipped into fresh soy milk or coffee, and also come as a side dish in congee or Malaysian bak kut teh (a tea-based bone broth soup).
In Hong Kong and Malaysia, youtiaos are more commonly known by its Cantonese moniker - yao zha guai (油炸鬼) - which literally translates to ‘oil fried ghost’. According to Chinese folklore, the moniker refers to Qin Hui, a chancellor of the Song Dynasty who’s largely considered a traitor in Chinese culture. Driven by selfish personal gain and the chance at greater political power, he orchestrated the execution of one of the great paragons of patriotism in Chinese history - Yue Fei, a renowned army general of the very same Song Dynasty Qin Hui served.
With Yue Fei’s execution, the people grew enraged and made these elongated, human-shaped doughs to symbolise Yue Fei, and then deep-fried and ate it as an act of hatred and rebellion.
As grim as youtiao’s mythical backstory is, there’s no doubt that these dough-sticks have become a breakfast staple in China and Chinese communities all around the world. One of the reasons for its ubiquity comes from how easy they are to make. There’s no need to proof or pre-cook the dough like you would doughnuts or éclairs, and there’s no need for fancy equipment or piping nozzles to make them. All you need is a mixer (or a lot of elbow grease) and a pot of oil, and you can have youtiaos for breakfast in no time at all.
As straightforward as they are to make, I somehow still managed to mess them up. I suspect I either over-kneaded the dough or more embarrassingly, mistook baking soda for baking powder. But until I try making these again, I can’t say for sure.
Regardless, here’s the recipe I used. It’s nowhere near perfect, as my youtiaos turned out to be way too dense and doughy. But I did however, include a few suggestions at the very end of the recipe. It’s more for future-me to refer to and iterate on, but if you’re craving for some home-made youtiaos, do take the suggestions into account. I think it’ll make for a better end result! (Or maybe just refer to this recipe by The Woks of Life).
Also interestingly, the words ‘recipe in progress’ abbreviates to R.I.P.. So, to these youtiaos, to my June succulents, to my neglected Leuchtturm journal, and to my past mistakes, may you all rest in peace, for I am a better person now thanks to you.
Recipe in progress: Youtiao (油条)
Makes 1 dozen youtiaos
250g all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon (~6g) baking powder
75ml milk, plus more if need
1½ tablespoon vegetable oil
~500ml oil for frying
Place all the ingredients in a mixer with the dough hook attachment, and let it mix and knead for 8-10 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth. If you find that the dough doesn’t come together within the first 5 minutes, add some milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. It should be sticky to touch, but there shouldn’t be any bits sticking to the sides of the bowl.
After the kneading process, let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Then, shape the dough into a 2cm thick rectangular block (about thrice as long as it is wide). Place the dough on a flat tray, wrap it with cling wrap, and keep refrigerated for 2 hours, or up to overnight.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and cut the dough width-wise into roughly 3cm wide pieces. To form the youtiao pieces, stack 2 pieces of dough together, and press them together in the middle with a chopstick.
Ready a pot or wok of oil, and heat it up to 190°C. Stretch the dough pieces to about double its initial length, and fry them in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Keep tossing and rolling the dough in the oil as it fries so it cooks evenly. When the youtiao is puffy and golden, remove it from the oil onto a wire rack to let it cool down.
Youtiaos are best enjoyed for breakfast, dipped into a hot bowl of soy milk or coffee, but you can also have them with chocolate, jam, cinnamon sugar or any other doughtnut-ty flavours really!
Be super careful when kneading! I over-kneaded mine (almost 15 minutes of kneading at medium speed), which i suspect made the dough super firm and dense.
Add more baking powder (½ a teaspoon more maybe) might help to lighten and fluff up the youtiao a little more during the frying process.
To get the youtiao to stick together better, try using a bit of eggwash before pressing them with a chopstick.
As a point of experiment, it might be interesting to do a yeasted dough in the style of a youtiao, and compare the flavour and textural differences!