Nobody:

Absolutely not one person:

Me: HEY YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE YOU CAN MAKE IN AN AIR FRYER?

When I saw this meme, I was immediately struck for two reasons. It possessed the outsized humor that I, as a millennial, get a kick out of. But also, I just love my air fryer.

And I’m not alone. Contrary to what the meme suggests, I am not the only member of the Air Fryer Army; in recent years, it’s become the muse of many home cooks and recipe developers. These are the evangelists who, like me, seize any opportunity to ask, “You know what else you can make in an air fryer?” with the aim of sharing their creations, frizzled and gorgeously browned by nothing but hot air.

But plumbing the depths of the air fryer recipe catalog, I couldn’t help but notice: most recipes leaned into mimicking savory cooking techniques. Frying, roasting, charring, and confit. French fry this, French fry that. Where did that leave making baked goods, both savory and sweet? Was that asking for too much?

After speaking with fellow bakers and conducting a few tests of my own, those frets were put to rest. Making baked goods in the air fryer is not only a sensible stand-in for traditional oven baking, but a genius method that yields crispy, gooey, fluffy results in a class of their own.

Plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of air fryer Meredith Truax
Pastry chef Zoë Kanan says the air fryer is her new favorite way to make chocolate chip cookies.

Best types of recipes to make in an air fryer

Let’s address the elephant in the room: The air fryer is not actually a fryer, but a mini convection oven with a few adjustments. Whereas an oven's convection fans are in the back, the air fryer’s high-powered fan sits on top and rapidly circulates hot air throughout its compact chamber. This allows the air fryer to cook (and bake!) in a fraction of the time needed to achieve the same outcome elsewhere.

Understanding that an air fryer is basically a small convection oven means that, ultimately, a wide range of recipes can be baked in it. “Don't be afraid to bake baked goods in the air fryer, you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results,” says Tanya Harris of the food blog My Forking Life, where she shares a handful of air fryer recipes. In her collection, a few standouts include baked apples and biscuits — even batches of granola. “The air fryer is great at making things crispy and crunchy,” she says. 

Tanya deploys one surprising move: using her air fryer to bake smaller loaves of white sandwich bread and dinner rolls. In doing so, she says, “The top gets a beautiful golden brown and it takes less time to bake than the oven.” (How much less? Both breads only take around 15 minutes!)

As Zoë Kanan lauded in her previous blog, an air fryer cookie hits the spot for a crispy exterior and gooey interior. Other simple baked goods swing just as big. Sabine Venier is the blogger behind Also The Crumbs Please and a lifelong baker who caught the air frying bug years ago and has run with it since, actively trying out a wide variety of cooking and baking uses. With baking, she’s had “great success with cakes [more on this later], cobblers, pizza, pies, and doughnuts, but particularly love[s] brownies and cheesecake.”

In a similar vein, my friend James Park nudged me toward a dessert that reigns supreme in his air fryer: the Basque-Style Cheesecake. He likes to make a cheesecake infused with cooked ube, resulting in an ultraviolet pastel color and melty, extra-creamy texture. I made some for myself (one with ube, another with butternut squash and miso) and as promised, they possessed that soft, pudding-like interior and earthy caramelized flavors.

With that in mind, the air fryer is compatible with desserts that require a hot water bath (bain-marie), such as Japanese-style cheesecakes or flan, but it's important to add the right amount, no more or less. Kat Lieu, baker and creator of Subtle Asian Baking says "about 1/2-inch of water in an air fryer-safe dish or the air fryer drawer for any recipe involving water during the cooking process" does the trick. 

You might be sensing a theme here. The air fryer is particularly well-suited for making breads and pastries that are best with a contrast between exterior and interior textures: a fully baked exterior and, when applicable, a plush, soft-bellied interior (think chocolate chip cookies, Basque-style cheesecake, breads, and brownies).

Basque-Style Cheesecake (Tarta de Queso) Rick Holbrook
Basque-Style Cheesecake can be made in the air fryer to achieve its irresistibly creamy texture.

Types of recipes to beware

Consistent, evenly baked treats can be harder to come by in the air fryer. Exhibit A: a classic oil or butter-based cake. When too much wet batter goes into the air fryer, it develops a fantastic brown exterior, giving off the appearance of the dessert’s doneness. In reality, however, it’s fully raw on the inside. That, or the inside runs the risk of being dense-soggy. But if you keep baking until the inside is done, the top easily goes from golden to charred.

You could try reducing a cake recipe for a more even bake — but I've found it isn’t worth the effort. Between downsizing ingredients, covering the pan to prevent the top from burning, and keeping a close eye on bake time, you’ll end up working hard for the air fryer — not the other way around, as it should be. Still, if you’re looking to ride the express train to small-sized cakes, try cake recipes specifically developed for air fryer baking. These recipes take out the guesswork of making adjustments because they typically come scaled to fit inside a 6" cake pan.

Another tricky (but slightly less so) category of recipes is anything that expands massively in height or size as it bakes, including croissants and yeast bread. These recipes, as Sabine speculates, are only conducive for taller air fryer baskets where the dough has more room to rise. But when life hands us small air fryers, we can air fry easier, quicker everyday breads, like Peasant Bread. During my trials, I found the 6” size and incredibly forgiving nature of this recipe resulted in an air-fried loaf with a soft, hearty crumb shrouded in a mega-crunchy crust.

The only tweak I suggest that you make — for this and all applicable recipes — is to use a metal cake pan instead of a glass bowl or pan. Glass bakeware can be thick toward the bottom and conducts heat slowly, whereas the air fryer dispenses heat quickly from the top, which means the air fryer can never make glass-encased bread golden brown all over. Metal pans will help deliver more even, properly baked results. 

Air fryer doughnuts next to traditional fried doughnuts to show how they lack in height PJ Hamel
The age-old question: Can you make doughnuts in an air fryer? When PJ Hamel tried it, she found the air-fried doughnuts (left) didn't live up to their oil-fried counterparts (right).

General tips to successfully bake in your air fryer

Everyone’s appliances will have different presets and functionalities. But since most of these features essentially do the same thing — with slight variances in time and temperature — we can apply a few guidelines toward baking with any make or model.

Recommended by sources like Ben Mims in Air Fry Every Day and echoed by my fellow bakers, a general rule of thumb for air fryer (and convection oven) baking is to lower the temperature by 25°F and bake for 20 to 25 percent less time than the temperature and time a regular baking recipe calls for.

When it comes to baked goods filled with melty cheese, macerated fruit, or gooey jam, two steps are essential. Make sure the free-flowing layer is completely sealed inside the dough, and place the unbaked good inside the air fryer basket lined with parchment. Otherwise, you’re left to clean up a messily scorched air fryer. Another tip: Pretend as if you’re deep-frying and work in batches for individual items to avoid crowding.

Pressing start on air fryer Meredith Truax
Your best bet is to bake at slightly lower temperatures when using an air fryer. 

Oven baking almost always requires preheating. Is the air fryer an exception to this rule? “Air fryers are smaller and quicker to heat up, so I’ve always assumed you don’t need to preheat prior to baking,” Kat posited, and before this quest, I thought the same. But, preheating, it seems, really depends on what and how you intend to bake in the air fryer.

Cookies get well-baked no matter what. But other baked goods need a hot environment for optimal results, particularly those that rely on heat for rising, browning, and flakiness. And preheating is absolutely essential when the recipe relies heavily on a chemical leavener for a light, airy texture (as in quickbreads and Baking Powder Biscuits). “Whether you bake with baking powder, baking soda, or yeast, the dough [or batter] needs this heat shock in order to rise properly,” Sabine explains.

Tanya also suggests preheating for cakes, but doesn’t find it necessary for her smaller bread bakes — thanks to one little step. She places her shaped bread into the basket of the idle air fryer, closes the drawer, and allows the dough to rise inside the cold appliance, like a makeshift proofing drawer of sorts. “Once it’s done rising and I’m ready to bake, I turn it on.”

This hack worked wonders when I made dinner rolls and flopped on my air-fried peasant bread, which leads me to believe it can only be replicated with smaller yeasted bread recipes of a certain disposition: less-hydrated, non-crusty rolls. I’d say crustier pan loaves need preheating and at 5 minutes or less, the step is hardly ever a time constraint.

Chopped nuts on a piece of parchment in an air fryer PJ Hamel
Don't stop at just baking. PJ Hamel found that an air fryer is a great way to toast nuts in her post 5 practical ways to toast nuts.

In previous blog posts, King Arthur’s PJ Hamel has conducted a few air fryer tests of her own, so I was curious to know where she stood on preheating. “I never bother with it,” she tells me. “Instead, I check fairly frequently toward the end of the estimated baking time to see how things are progressing.” It’s worth noting PJ has yet to try air fryer yeast bread (aside from yeast-raised doughnuts) and tends to avoid cakes due to complications with their overall wetness.

Seeing as it’s so subjective, you should take into account what type of recipe you're baking along with every structural and textural implication, and go from there. Need a clue? PJ offers an excellent piece of beginner’s advice. “Use the recipes that come with your air fryer [booklet]. Once you see how the manufacturer's recipes come out, start branching out with similar recipes, [pan] size, and technique of your own.”

When all is said and done, the air fryer is the easiest way to quickly bake a single cookie, scone, biscuit, or any small amount of a full-sized treat divided into batches. 9 p.m. cravings, meet your maker.

If you want to experiment with baking in an air fryer yourself, PJ recommends this Gourmia model. (Heads up: At King Arthur, we only recommend the products that we, as bakers, truly love. When you buy through external links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)

Cover photo by Meredith Truax.

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Justine Lee
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About Justine Lee

Justine Lee is a food writer, recipe developer, and culinary consultant based in New York City. In her free time, she is actively on a hunt for a good almond croissant. 

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