The air fryer, the Sweet Tooth and the Tooth Fairy

The air fryer, the Sweet Tooth and the Tooth Fairy
Tony Jackman’s chocolate fondants cooked in an air fryer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

If you believe that food can be fried in air, you may as well believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy or that the Easter Bunny went down a rabbit hole and came up with chocolates to hide in the garden for the kids to find. But we can make chocolate treats in the air fryer, and many more sweet things besides.

The fact that an air fryer is called an air fryer is the most frustrating and annoying thing about these appliances. Quite simply, they’re not. Nothing can be fried in air. It is a scientific impossibility. Calling an air fryer an air fryer is the perfect contemporary example of marketing trouncing common sense and plain old-fashioned accuracy.

But the name has stuck and will remain in the parlance indefinitely, so there’s no point in arguing about it. Consequently, we need to understand that, often, when we say “air fry”, what we really mean is “bake”, “grill” or even “roast”. In the case of cakes, muffins and so on, we mean bake.

While we’re on our air fryer learning curve, there are many things we need to understand about these strange creatures that have inhabited our kitchen countertops. When it comes to baking, there are yet more things that we need to know. Here, then, are my…

10 baking tips for the air fryer

  1. Expect a golden brown, crunchy exterior. The hot air that blows around in an air fryer sees to this; you’re virtually guaranteed that dreamy crunchy finish you hope for in a cake or loaf of bread;
  2. Ransack your cupboards for bakeware. Some of what you already own will fit your air fryer basket. Others won’t. Supplement what you can use from what you already own with new bakeware. These can be metal or silicone, though ovenproof glassware works too, and disposable foil goods are a good solution as well. They can even be reused if they haven’t been damaged. Whatever you use, it needs to fit the basket comfortably, with space for air to flow around the tin, and you must also be able to lift it out easily.
  3. Err on the side of shallower pans rather than deeper ones. The element is generally not very high above what will be the surface of the top of the item that is baking. You don’t want it to burn by being too close to the element.
  4. How do you adjust the temperature if you have a favourite recipe for baking a cake in a conventional oven? The general rule of thumb is to bring the temperature down by 10℃. So, your cake that requires to be baked at 180℃ can come down to 170℃ and so on.
  5. How do you know how long to bake the cake for? You’ve set your temperature to, say, 200℃. On average, an air fryer will take about 80% of the time of the same recipe in a conventional oven; so you need to reduce the cooking time by 20%. This is not infallible, as quantities and consistency of the batter also affect the outcome, but in general, allow eight minutes in every 10. So, if your cake needs 50 minutes of baking in a conventional oven, set the air fryer to bake for 40 minutes. Having said that, we’re all getting to know our air fryers, so trial and error will inevitably have to play their role until we are certain about cooking times and temperatures.
  6. Aluminium foil is the air fryer’s friend. The heat inside is intense, and the hot air is blowing around, fast. If you’re baking a cake that risks becoming overly browned on top, you can cover it with foil, but it must be tucked in firmly or somehow secured, otherwise it will lift off and attach to the element above.
  7. Use the rack that comes with your machine.Bake cakes and tarts by placing the container on the rack that comes with the machine; i.e. that shelf that fits the bottom with a small gap between it and the actual base. This allows hot air to circulate below the pan, which will facilitate the bottom of the cake being cooked.
  8. Know your heat source. Note that, unlike a conventional oven where the heat generally comes from below, in an air fryer the heat comes from above. Understanding a simple fact such as this informs your decisions when cooking in these machines. Think of the element as a grill: hence, you can brown or glaze the top of the item being cooked below it. If baking chicken breasts, for instance, you can pause the machine, brush a glaze onto it and put it back in again for the glaze to do its work. Or egg-wash bread rolls or muffins for a lovely sheen.
  9. Turn it over. Some baked goods, such as biscuits, can be turned over part of the way through the cooking time, for even cooking.
  10. If it fits, use it. Finally, let’s demystify what will work in your air fryer and what will not. Quite simply, if it fits, it’s okay, and if not, leave it for the oven. You could even separate your baking items in the cupboard into two sections: what fits in your air fryer and what doesn’t. These may be tin pans (the 20cm round springform tin may fit while the 22cm one might not). I also checked my glass (ovenproof) pie dishes, some of which fit. If they fit, they’re okay to use. (Find our recipes for scones and for chocolate fondants here.) DM/TGIFood

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