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What Is a Chinese Donut?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Chinese donut is a ball of dough that has been deep fried and then rolled in white, granulated sugar while still warm. These donuts can usually be found at Chinese restaurants, especially all-you-can-eat buffets. They’re usually shaped like small, puffy cylinders. Some have fruit or cream fillings, while others are simply sugared dough. Though the restaurant-style Chinese donut is usually made with enriched white flour, homemade versions may start with rice or wheat flour. Fast versions may not start with flour at all, but use frozen, store-bought dough as the base.

Unlike some common Asian restaurant dishes, the Chinese donut actually has a place in traditional Chinese cuisine. Asian cooks have long coated and fried various food items in tempura, a batter made from rice flour and eggs. This same technique is used to make a variety of fried pastries, from the popular round donuts to pastries filled with meat or beans. Street vendors often sell varieties of the Chinese donut beside fruit-filled crepes and steamed buns.

The sugar used on a Chinese donut often varies from place to place, or from cook to cook. The traditional sugar is white, granulated sugar. A few restaurants, and many cooks, prefer powdered sugar. Still others create sugar glazes for the donuts. This sweetening phase is important because the dough itself is not typically sweet. It is supposed to be crispy on the outside, soft inside, and very bready. Its subtle flavor cuts the sweetness, generally keeping the sugar from becoming overwhelming.

Though a Chinese donut is often plain, some high-end restaurants may serve pastries filled with jellies, creams, or fruit compotes. Jellies and fruits may range from strawberries and Asian pears to raisins, currants, or blueberries. Traditional Chinese fruits, like lychee, may also make an appearance. The creams are usually vanilla or chocolate, though peanut butter is sometimes also available. The cooks use a large baking syringe to inject the center of the donut with these fillings after they have been fried.

Those interested in making Chinese donuts at home typically require little more than a simple biscuit recipe. The dough should be thick and easy to pinch off and form into a ball. Most of these recipes call for flour, milk, baking powder, and butter. Peanut oil is the frying oil of choice for Chinese donuts, but any frying oil is acceptable. The balls usually need to fry for up to three minutes on both sides, or until they’re puffy and golden brown. Those without a reliable biscuit recipe may use frozen biscuit dough, which may be a speedy option for those low on time.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Sep 01, 2013

@ddljohn-- You don't put sugar in the dough?

My sister-in-law is Chinese and she makes donuts for us sometimes. I've seen her make it. She actually boils water and sugar first and then adds the flour and eggs to it. I don't know if this is why hers come out soft, but you might want to try it.

By SarahGen — On Sep 01, 2013

@ddljohn-- I've never been able to get the dough right for Chinese donuts. Now I just use the frozen dough, it comes out perfect every time.

By ddljohn — On Sep 01, 2013

I tried making Chinese donuts at home, the kind that's served at all-you-can-eat restaurants. But it didn't come out right. My donuts looked good, they were puffy and had a nice color to them. But they were stiff and difficult to bite into.

I used a simple recipe that just called for flour, eggs and water. I added some vanilla extract for flavor and then dipped the donuts in sugar after they were fried.

What do I need to do to make them soft?

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