So what’s the deal with air fryer doughnuts? They’ve been all over social media lately: an Instagram Story showing you how to turn a can of biscuit dough into light, fluffy, delicious doughnuts — in just 5 minutes! A YouTube video promising “the BEST air fryer donuts.” And one of your 712 Facebook friends who can’t stop posting pictures of the glazed, besprinkled beauties “from my air fryer!”
Air fryers have become one of the hottest new kitchen appliances of the past couple of years. While not quite at the fever pitch of the Instant Pot, the popularity of air fryers has quickly earned them a spot in many a home kitchen — including mine.
Doughnuts that cook in just 5 minutes without the angst of a pot of bubbling hot oil? Sounds too good to be true.
So when this recent air fryer doughnut craze emerged, I was quick to consider jumping on the bandwagon. I’d been using my recently purchased air fryer to assist with dinner prep: roasting vegetables and grilling meats and fish, all of which it does superbly and very quickly.
But I hadn’t yet tried anything sweet. Doughnuts that cook in just 5 minutes without the angst of a pot of bubbling hot oil? Sounds too good to be true. But sure, let’s give ’em a try.
My first decision: no canned biscuit dough. While the vast majority of social media posts recommend this shortcut, considering the long list of ingredients in canned biscuit dough I just can’t do it. And even if I could — in my experience, traditional doughnuts simply don't start with biscuit dough.
So I decide to test air fryer doughnuts using a couple of tried-and-true King Arthur recipes: Yeast-Raised Doughnuts and cake-style Mashed Potato Doughnuts. For each recipe, I’ll fry half the doughnuts in hot, bubbling oil, and cook the other half in my air fryer.
For deep-fried doughnuts, I simply fill an electric skillet with 1” of vegetable oil, heat it to about 365°F, and fry the doughnuts 1 to 2 minutes per side, until they're golden brown.
For air fryer doughnuts, I spray the doughnuts with coconut oil before cooking at 350°F in the air fryer. It takes some experimenting, but ultimately I determine that yeast-raised doughnuts need about 4 minutes and cake-style doughnuts about 7 minutes.
Why the difference in time? Cake-style doughnuts start with a higher-hydration dough than yeast doughnuts, meaning it takes longer for the air fryer to heat/cook the denser cake doughnuts' interior fully, compared to yeast doughnuts.
The yeast doughnuts will be dipped in a simple translucent sugar glaze to finish; the cake-style doughnuts will be shaken in a bag of cinnamon sugar.
Think Krispy Kreme. Think Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Kreme. Think light, airy puffs of yeast dough fried to golden brown perfection, their crust the thinnest, most fragile barrier between you and what’s inside — be it cream filling, jelly, or simply more tender doughnut.
Fried in hot oil, the doughnuts are typical “donut shoppe” fare, only homemade. The bubbling hot oil activates the yeast like there’s no tomorrow (which there isn’t for the poor yeast). The result: REALLY puffy doughnuts with a mild overlay of deep-fried flavor.
Cooked in the air fryer, the doughnuts are surprisingly good, texture-wise: light, spongy, and just slightly chewy, comparing quite favorably with deep-fried doughnuts.
But there the similarity ends. The air fryer doughnuts are slightly smaller than their deep-fried counterparts (probably because the yeast isn’t subjected to nearly the kick in the pants it gets from hot oil). They aren’t nearly as attractive color-wise (they’re a very light, somewhat mottled tan); and they’re lacking that deep-fried flavor and aroma we associate with doughnuts. Instead, I’d describe them as a soft dinner roll dipped in a sugar glaze.
Conclusion: Air-fried yeast-raised doughnuts, though they aren’t really comparable to their deep-fried counterparts, are perfectly palatable. Enjoy them for what they essentially are: baked rings of yeast dough dipped in glaze.
Speaking of, one of the best parts of this whole test was discovering a delicious new glaze; my thanks to Dina from Simply Home Cooked for the inspiration! Whisk together 1 cup (113g) confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon (20g) light corn syrup, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons (28g) milk or plant-based milk. Dip hot doughnuts (both sides) in the glaze, letting any excess drain off before placing the doughnuts on a rack to dry.
If you’re a fan of the traditional “sinker,” that crusty, substantial doughnut meant to be dunked in a cup of coffee without crumbling, then you’ll love these old-fashioned Mashed Potato Doughnuts. Shaken in a bag of cinnamon sugar hot out of the deep fat, their signature ultra-crispy crust and soft, moist interior make them totally irresistible.
Fried in hot oil, the doughnuts expand substantially and quickly: so precipitously, in fact, that they exhibit a crust laced with light cracks, testament to the expansion capacity of chemical leaveners (baking powder and baking soda) exposed to high heat. Their crust — a 1/8” layer of deep-brown crispiness — crackles noticeably with each delicious bite.
Cooked in the air fryer, the doughnuts are pretty disastrous. They don’t rise well, nor do they color much. Their texture is that of a very dry cookie: think animal crackers, but harder. Cinnamon sugar does exactly nothing to improve them. I thought about sharing my air-fried mashed potato doughnuts with my morning dog-walking group but instead donated them to the squirrels and chipmunks in my backyard.
Conclusion: Don’t expect even a reasonable facsimile of the original if you make cake-style doughnuts in an air fryer.
If you want cake-style doughnuts but don’t want to bother with frying, make baked doughnuts. While they lack the crispy crust resulting from deep frying, they’re moist, dense, and deeply flavorful. And you can leave your deep fryer in the cupboard.
The final verdict
So, can you make doughnuts in an air fryer?
That depends on the result you’re looking for. If you want to replicate a classic, nostalgic fried doughnut, then the answer is no. If you want a tasty yeasted treat that doesn’t require a deep fryer, go ahead with yeast-raised doughnuts. And if you want cake doughnuts without deep frying, skip the air fryer and head for your regular oven: baked doughnuts (like air fryer yeasted doughnuts) are a surprisingly delicious substitute for the real thing.
By now you're probably craving doughnuts, right? Our articles on Yeast-Raised Doughnuts and Mashed Potato Doughnuts offer tons of tips and tricks to get you headed in the right direction on your doughnut journey.
Cover photo by Liz Neily.