Professional baker and James Beard nominee Zoë Kanan is known for her stunning pastries and breads, yet she only recently discovered the joy of baking at home. That includes learning to embrace the air fryer, and a surprisingly great use for the appliance: perfectly baked chocolate chip cookies.
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Like countless others during the pandemic, I picked up home baking. The difference with me, though, is that I’ve been a professional baker for over a decade. I’d been coping with an unrelenting fear of baking in my own kitchen, and my own oven, for years. I used to tell myself it was a “separation of church and state,” but the real truth is that I was scared I might only be good in my ideal environment: bulk-sourced ingredients, optimal tools, and high-powered ovens.
But then the pandemic hit New York and I was out of a job, stuck at home, and found myself looking around my tiny kitchen and sizing things up.
Surprisingly, in a matter of weeks I was finding my home baking groove: overcoming my fears! Feeling inspired! Comforting those around me with warm baked goods! And then: enter NYC summer. I live in an ancient building in the East Village that sags in the middle and boasts an “inner window” as a form of interior air circulation. Any use of my oven made the apartment (and anyone inside) miserably hot. My oven and I were forced to go dark.
A professional baker falls in love with the air fryer
It was around this time that I fell prey to a targeted online ad for an air fryer. Even though my baking was flourishing, I was falling into a rut with my cooking and was ready to embrace anything that would streamline the dinner process.
I’d been living in tiny apartments without a microwave for so long that it felt like part of my personality at this point, and an air fryer seemed microwave-adjacent but with more textural possibilities that appealed to my deep love for all things crispy and crunchy.
“It’ll be my little secret,” I thought, since my industry friends tend to be highly skeptical of most home kitchen appliances. But hadn’t they seen the frozen food wonderland of “Will It Air Fry?” that James Park was sharing on Instagram? Even cookbook author and food journalist Ben Mims published an entire book’s worth of air fryer meals.
It was while thumbing through Ben’s Air Fry Every Day that I came across his baking sections: “Savory Breads” and “Sweets.” In these chapters, he makes rolls, empanadas, cakes, crumbles, and beignets. This all blew my mind. Was an air fryer like an Easy-Bake Oven on steroids?
After dinner one night, a sweet craving struck and I peered into my freezer, hopeful for the last vestiges of an ice cream pint or a stray popsicle. What I found instead were several bags of prepped and portioned chocolate chip cookie dough waiting patiently for oven season to return. It was on this night that my love for air fryer cookies was born.
Why the air fryer is the perfect cookie-baking appliance
I quickly realized that air fryers are basically countertop convection ovens with a new look and PR push. They're tiny but mighty, which speaks to me as a personality trait in general. Food is placed in a slotted basket surrounded by heating elements and high-powered fans that circulate heat around a small chamber. It’s the intensity of this hot air that dries out and crisps the surface area of food so quickly, somewhat approximating the results of frying.
Different cookies require a variety of baking times and temperatures to yield their ideal texture. However, when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, there's one textural profile that is universally loved by most: crispy edges and fudgy center. This is often achieved by baking semi-flattened balls of cookie dough until they spread and puff, then removing them from the oven before the centers collapse. Once slightly cooled, the edges fully crisp and the centers gel into a soft cookie fudge. What I discovered when baking cookies in my air fryer is that I can achieve this cookie texture profile pushed to the max.
Air fryer cookies bake into a wonder-to-behold crispy cookie shell that looks deceivingly baked, but once bitten yields a molten, gooey, magic middle. This is achieved because the close proximity of air circulation and intense dryness of an air fryer’s heat cooks and crisps the entire exterior of the cookie. A standard oven can’t achieve this same effect because the chamber is larger and the heating elements farther away, meaning just the cookie's edges will crisp while the tops and middles stay soft.
Air fryer cookies are baked à la minute. No pressure to make a whole batch and no clean-up. Quick and easy warm cookies on demand for present company only. I recommend using the air fryer to bake any cookie you prefer chewy or gooey in the middle. Brownie cookies, sugar cookies, chocolate chip, and their endless variations are all great. Crispy cookies like shortbread or biscotti don’t do as well — they tend to burn before baking through.
How to make cookies in the air fryer
My method is to line the bottom basket with a piece of foil that doesn’t ride up any sides, so the interior fan can't blow it around. I don’t bother with preheating here because I don’t find it necessary.
If the cookie dough is freshly made (room temperature), bake three or four scoops at 320°F for 9 to 10 minutes, or until spread and just golden on top. If the cookie dough is already chilled or frozen, bake at a lower temperature (270°F) for 11 to 13 minutes.
Once baked, the cookies will beg you to lift them from their chamber and into your mouth; but a short 5-minute cooling process is key here. The middle of the cookie is molten and needs to drop several degrees to allow the exterior to crisp enough to contain its innards and achieve peak air fryer-cookie heaven.
These cookies aren’t meant for a crowd; they’re personal. They’re meant for you and a lucky someone to enjoy an indulgent moment together when only a warm, perfectly baked cookie will do.
Curious to learn more about baking in your air fryer? Check out this previous post, Can you make doughnuts in an air fryer?