Yew Char Kway the Easy Way

July 7, 2011

About once a week, I sit down to a yew char kway (you tiao in Mandarin) blowout, with tau huay or sweet bean curd and gallons of green tea or black coffee to try and wash the grease and guilt away. Out,damned fat deposits! Out I say! *sigh*

These fried dough strips were created to symbolise the twin betrayals of a Chinese infidel, court official Qin Hui and his wife, against General Yue Fei, during the Song Dynasty, resulting in the execution of the innocent general.

A pastry maker who was inspired by the unfortunate event, created this pastry and delighted in ‘drowning’ the dough effigies of the devious couple in boiling oil. Hence, the Cantonese name “yau, ja gwai”, which means “oil fried devil”. Traditionally it consists of two strips joined together to make one pastry - one strip represents the husband and one, the wife. Other aliases include cakwe (Indonesia), pathongko (Thailand), e kya kway (Myanmar) and chopstick cake (Australia).

If you've ever seen yew char kway being made by a professional, you will know it requires as much skill as any artisanal grade baguette or sourdough loaf. The recipe is simplicity itself, but the art lies in the manipulation of the dough, the right flick of the wrist when lowering the dough into the pan and the temperature of the oil to produce a thin shell that shatters when you bite it,  with tunnels (not just holes) of emptiness inside each stick, and myriad blisters down the length of its skin.

Try making it and you will see it's harder than it looks. I was pleased with the flavour of my dough sticks. It had a nice, savoury bite from the baking soda and salt, with just a teasing sweetness from the modest amount of sugar. When hot from the pan, it was glass brittle but lost its crunch so quickly, it almost gave me whiplash. The yew char kway meisters must be knowing kitchen voodoo or maybe I just need to roll the dough out more thinly...

This recipe came out of a challenge to create a recipe for yew char kway that was easy enough for  kitchen newbies.. It still had to taste as good as traditionally made ones and I gotta say, I'm pretty happy with the results.

my favourite movie snack. scroll to the bottom to find out what the red sauce is.

These were made by my 17 year old, who is camera shy and has threathened to slap me with an abuse of free labour suit if I stubbornly insisted on plastering his face on my blog. Guess not everyone is after their 15 minutes in the spotlight?

Prep 15 mins      Rising  45 mins      Cook 10 mins      Makes 12


400 g (4 cups) plain or all purpose flour
2/3 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/3 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
280 ml (1 1/3  cups) water (very slightly warm or just a bit over body temperature)


Combine all ingredients together (avoiding direct contact between the salt and the yeast) in a large mixing bowl and knead until you have a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.

Form dough into a neat ball, oiling your hands lightly if necessary, to prevent sticking, and cover bowl with a clean cloth or sheet of plastic. Leave to rise for 30 – 45 minutes or until doubled in volume.

Turn dough out onto a clean dry surface lightly dusted with flour. Pat down and roll out to a neat rectangle about 5 mm (1/5 of an inch) thick. Cover with cloth and wait for about 5 minutes for dough to rest. Cut into 12 even strips about 15 cm (6 in) by 3 cm (about 1 in).

Heat about 2 cups oil in a deep pan, until moderately hot. Using the blunt side of a knife blade, press down the centre of each dough strip as if you’re cutting it, but do not cut through the dough. There should be a deep impression but the dough strip should still be in one piece.

Gently lift dough strip and lower into the hot oil. Repeat with the other dough strips, making the impression with the knife only immediately before frying each strip of dough so the impression remains and shows clearly after frying.

Turn the strips and push them into the oil so they cook right through and brown evenly.  Don’t fry too many at once as the temperature of the oil will drop,  the dough will absorb more oil and become greasy.

Remove from the pan when golden brown and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Serve immediately with black tea, Chinese tea, sweet soy milk, bean curd or coffee.



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