Why would you want to bake cake in your air fryer, as opposed to just using your regular oven? Four reasons:
- Baking cake in an air fryer can be quicker. The fryer preheats in just a couple of minutes, compared to your oven’s 25 to 30 minutes.
- It saves energy. Without the long preheat, you’re using less gas or electricity.
- The air fryer stays cool while baking — and so does your kitchen.
- You love discovering new ways to use your air fryer!
Here’s the catch: As my fellow blogger Justine Lee says in her article on everything you ever wanted to know about baking in an air fryer, cakes and air fryers don’t exactly fit together seamlessly. The fryer is great at producing foods that are golden and crispy outside and moist inside — perfect for, say, making a big chocolate chip cookie with crunchy edges and a chewy center. Or Basque-Style Cheesecake, with its blackened crust protecting its soft, custardy interior.
But cake? Unless you’re talking lava cakes, you don’t want a crispy crust and an under-baked center. Still, given the right recipe and some simple tweaks, you can make very good cakes in your air fryer. And after baking over a dozen cakes in my Gourmia fryer, I’m ready to share my best air fryer cake practices.
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1) When choosing a recipe, keep it simple
Since you may very well experience some failures before you nail the right combination of recipe, pan, time, and temperature for your particular air fryer, start with a basic recipe. I highly recommend our original Cake Pan Cake, a single-layer chocolate cake using everyday ingredients. Once you’ve figured out how to use your fryer to bake this easy cake, you can apply what you’ve learned to other recipes.
Can you make angel food or chiffon cake in your air fryer? How about pudding cake, a fruit-filled buckle, or even cake-style cobbler? The answer is — potentially, eventually. But first please learn the ins and outs of your particular air fryer by starting with the basic recipes I cover below.
2) Select the right pan
Many air fryers aren’t large enough to hold anything bigger than an 8” round pan. And honestly, the smaller the pan the greater your chance of success. Why? Because the fryer’s chief challenge is baking cake all the way through the center without burning its crust. Smaller cakes bake more quickly and evenly than larger ones.
My favorite pan for air fryer cakes is a half-size Bundt pan (about 3-cup working capacity). With its center tube funneling hot air not just around the edges of the cake but through its center, it’s a better match for the air fryer’s convection baking than the standard round cake pan. As for capacity, it holds a typical recipe calling for an 8” square, 8” round, or 9” round pan; or half of a sheet cake recipe (9” x 13” pan).
My second favorite pan? The 6” round, which holds half the batter of an 8” square/round or 9” round, or one-quarter that of a sheet cake.
What if you really, really want to bake a full-size 8” or 9” round layer? You can absolutely do it; you just have to take certain measures to prevent the top from burning while the center of the cake bakes. More on that later.
3) Determine time and temperature
Your fryer may have a bake cycle — if so, start there. You’ll notice the default temperature is probably lower than what you’d usually use to bake cake: The fryer is simply a very small convection oven, and convection ovens bake most effectively at a slightly lower temperature. My Gourmia’s bake cycle temperature is 325°F, which works well. If your fryer doesn’t have a bake cycle, set the temperature to 325°F.
The baking time will probably be a bit longer than what your recipe calls for if you use a full-size (e.g., 8” round) pan; smaller pans will require less time.
Remember, your chief challenge is getting the center of your cake fully baked before the crust gets too dark, so baking lower and slower is the safe way to go. For help determining exactly when your cake is ready to come out of the fryer, see How to tell when cake is done.
4) Prevent the cake’s top crust from burning
When making a full-size cake, you’ll need to shield its top from burning as it bakes through; that’s simply a fact of air-fryer cake life. And you have a couple of choices here.
First, you can simply drape aluminum foil atop the cake once it’s nearly as brown as you like; the foil will slow down any further browning while the center of the cake bakes through. While this option is simple, it’s not my first choice; the convection fan tends to blow foil around, leaving your cake only partially covered or (worse) dipping down into the batter.
Second, you can use something a bit weightier to shield your cake’s top. A heat-safe frying pan lid will often do the trick, as will a heat diffuser (burner cover), if you can find one that sits atop your pan but is also small enough to fit the confines of the fryer bucket.
5) Add a topping
Instead of the options above, try an edible topping baked straight into the cake. Not only does adding a topping midway through the bake keep your cake’s top crust from getting too brown, but it also means you don’t have to think about frosting later: Your cake is ready to enjoy right out of the fryer.
Some cake recipes already include this option, e.g. Lazy Daisy Cake, with its crown of caramelized butter, sugar, and coconut. You may have to do an initial experiment to determine exactly when to add the topping (to ensure both thorough baking of the cake and browning of the topping), but once you’ve nailed it, you’re good going forward.
For cakes without a designated topping, try adding streusel once the top of the cake has set (about midway through the bake). This all-purpose Streusel Topping is perfect for an 8” round cake. To lean into chocolate, try the topping from our Rye Chocolate Coffeecake.
Over the course of numerous experiments, I’ve retrofitted several of my favorite cake recipes to bake in the air fryer: one “neutral” vanilla (perfect for flavoring) and one chocolate. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend beginning with either of these recipes.
My go-to vanilla air fryer cake: Chef Zeb’s Hot Milk Cake
This is my favorite vanilla/yellow cake, and it's perfect for customizing with different flavors and toppings (see below). Moist, tender, and delicious, it’s the foundation of our 2019 Recipe of the Year, Classic Birthday Cake. Since the original recipe makes a 9” x 13” cake, I downsize it by 50%, cutting all the ingredient amounts in half in order to use smaller pans that will fit in the air fryer.
To make it into a lemon Bundt cake: I make the batter, pour it into my lightly greased half-size (3-cup) Bundt pan, and place the pan into the fryer bucket. I select the bake setting (325°F with a 2-minute preheat) and set it for 40 minutes. After 25 minutes, the cake is golden brown on top but not yet set in the center, so I place a heat diffuser on top for the remaining 15 minutes of baking.
Once I’ve turned the baked cake out onto a cooling rack, I brush it all over with a mixture of 3 tablespoons (43g) lemon juice and 1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar, warmed in the microwave just long enough to dissolve the sugar.
To make it into a crumb coffeecake: I make the batter, pour it into a lightly greased 8” round pan lined with parchment, and select the bake setting (325°F), keying in 42 minutes. After 25 minutes I pull the bucket out, sprinkle Streusel Topping on the golden brown cake, then push the bucket back in and let the cake finish baking.
My go-to chocolate air fryer cake: Original Cake Pan Cake
This cake was named our 225th Anniversary Recipe of the Centuries back in 2015 — it’s that good! I like to make the full recipe into a couple of small (6”) rounds to top or frost individually, or fashion into a cute couple-sized layer cake. The full recipe also fits well in my half-size Bundt pan.
To make it in 6” layers: Each of two 6” round layers bakes for 30 minutes at 325°F, with a heat diffuser shielding the top for the final 10 minutes of baking. If I’m not going to frost and stack the layers, I sprinkle each warm cake with a generous 2 tablespoons of my favorite “instant frosting”: chocolate chips and granulated sugar pulsed in a mini food processor until crumbly. I like to keep a jar of this mixture in the freezer for easy access. To make in bulk, pulse 2 cups (340g) chocolate chips with 1/2 cup (99g) granulated sugar.
To make it into a half-size Bundt cake: I bake the cake for 35 minutes at 325°F, shielding with a heat diffuser after 15 minutes of baking. Once turned out of the pan, the cake can be sprinkled with my instant frosting or cooled and glazed with Chocolate Ganache.
So, at the end of the day, is baking cake in your air fryer a piece of cake? Not exactly. But it can be easy as pie once you get the hang of it: converting your recipes to a smaller pan; baking at a lower temperature; and using foil, a cover, or a yummy topping to ensure the cake’s top crust doesn’t burn.
Want to try baking cookies in your air fryer? See: The air fryer is my new favorite way to make chocolate chip cookies.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook.