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Air Fryer vs. Regular Chocolate Cake – What’s The Difference?
Want to bake a cake, but have a broken oven, or is it full of other bakes? Eyeing that air fryer in the cupboard and wondering whether you could just bake it in there? Isn’t an air fryer kind of like a small oven? So shouldn’t that work?
Turns out, it probably will. That is, as long as your cake tin fits in your air fryer, and if you don’t mind it looking a little different when it comes out. Tastewise, there’s barely any difference between your air fryer and conventional oven!
- Disadvantage 1: Limited in size
- Disadvantage 2: Can't see what's happening
- Disadvantage 3: Less accurate temperature control
- Advantage 1: The cake bakes faster
- Advantage 2: Shorter pre-heating time
- Advantage 3: Bake anywhere you want
- Advantage 4: Lower energy consumption
- Air fryer cakes are more crispy
- Air fryer cakes are darker in color
- Air fryer cakes have a different top
- Which cake styles work best in an air fryer?
Can you bake a cake in an air fryer?
The short answer: yes, you can bake a cake in an air fryer. Even though most air fryers are marketed as a replacement for deep fryers, they are, in reality, just very efficient, small ovens. Just like a conventional oven, they use air to heat up food. The main difference is the efficiency with which they do so. Air fryers are designed in such a way that hot air can be moved through efficiently, using a well-positioned fan. It’s why a lot of foods that you’d normally make in a regular oven, turn out great in an air fryer.
As such, many, but not all cakes can be baked in an air fryer. However, there are some major limitations, especially with regards to sizing.
Disadvantage 1: Limited in size
The first, and probably most limiting disadvantage of baking a cake in an air fryer is the limitation in size. Most air fryers are considerably smaller in size than conventional ovens. As such, you can probably only fit a small cake tin. In the air fryer we tested, we could just fit a round tin with a 15 cm (5,9 inch) diameter.
Keep the air flowing!
One of the most important reasons air fryers work so efficiently is their internal airflow. They’ve been designed for hot air to flow through and around the product very efficiently. It’s why air fryers have wire baskets or grills with holes, air can flow through these structures. When you bake a cake, you block a significant portion of that flow with your cake tin. It’s crucial to ensure that the air can at least flow alongside the tin. So, make sure that the air can flow around the tin as easily as possible. Do not place the tin right against the sides of the air fryer, and make sure that no parchment paper sticks out on the sides.
Disadvantage 2: Can’t see what’s happening
Most air fryers don’t have a glass window. Instead, they literally are a black box and you can’t see what’s going on inside. There’s no way to just peak inside to see how your cake is doing, without opening up the whole air fryer.
There’s a good reason for this, and again, it’s to ensure optimum flow of air. Adding a window would jeopardize the flow. However, opening up an air fryer causes even more disruption. Since air fryers tend to be on the smaller side, a significant portion of hot air will escape during opening. It causes an air fryer to cool down more than a conventional oven would when you open its door.
Disadvantage 3: Less accurate temperature control
Thirdly, most air fryers don’t have as constant and precise a temperature as a conventional oven does. When tracking the temperature in our air fryer, we noticed way bigger swings in temperature compared to a conventional oven.
Again, that’s due to the design of an air fryer. It’s smaller in size and has less mass to hold onto heat causing the temperature to fall rapidly when opening the air fryer. Fluctuations of 20°C (40°F) were quite normal, especially right after putting in the cake.
Whether your cake suffers from these fluctuations depends a lot on your cake. Some cakes are very delicate and need quite precise temperatures. Others can handle these temperature changes quite well. It does make the baking process somewhat less predictable, and you’ll have to check on your cake more to determine whether it’s ready.
Advantage 1: The cake bakes faster
Even when set at the exact same temperature, your cake will likely bake more quickly in an air fryer than it will in a conventional oven. Due to the efficient flow of air, it heats up your tin more quickly. This isn’t unique for cakes, potatoes for instance, also bake (a lot) faster in an air fryer. So, when baking a cake in an air fryer, you might want to turn down the temperature compared to the one you’d use in a conventional oven.
Advantage 2: Shorter pre-heating time
Since an air fryer is smaller and moves air more quickly, it heats up more quickly as well. We even found that pre-heating barely had any effect on the air fryer since opening it up to add the cake would cool it down quite a bit anyhow. A pre-heat of a few minutes is likely already sufficient for your cake.
Advantage 3: Bake anywhere you want
Whereas most of us can’t unplug our ovens and carry it along, you can take along your air fryer! As long as there an electrical outlet, you could theoretically bake your cake anywhere you want!
Advantage 4: Lower energy consumption
Air fryers use less energy to get to their target temperature. So, if you’d bake the same cake in an air fryer vs. a conventional oven, it will most likely take less energy to bake. However, if you need to bake several cakes and would end up baking a lot of cakes one after the other in an air fryer, your conventional oven will be more energy efficient since you can bake several cakes in one go.
An air fryer cake differs from a conventional one
Process-wise, it’s quite simple to bake a cake in an air fryer. Nevertheless, the final cake will turn out a little different than one baked in a conventional oven. Again, it’s all because of the flow of air.
Air fryer cakes are more crispy
We found that in all tested cakes, the cakes baked in the air fryer were a little more crispy on the outside. However, after just one day of storage in a closed container this difference disappeared. Both cakes would be just as moist and soft.
The crispier outside is likely due to the more efficient baking process. The outside heats up more quickly and dries out, turning it slightly crispy.
Air fryer cakes are darker in color
Air fryer cakes also turned out slightly darker in color. For our chocolate cake the differences were negligible since it’s a dark cake already, but for lighter cakes, such as an orange cake, the difference was clear. You can solve for this by simply turning down the temperature of the air fryer. Higher heat makes cakes turn darker in color more quickly. Even though the set temperature was the same, the outside will have been able to heat up more quickly because of the efficient flow of hot air alongside the cake.
Air fryer cakes have a different top
The most interesting difference though between the two styles of cakes was the difference in how the cakes had risen. All the cakes we tested contained some sort of leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda. As a result, the cakes puffed up during baking. However, how they puffed up differed quite a bit, causing the final cakes to look quite different.
We haven’t (yet) found a consistent pattern in the looks of cakes from the air fryer vs. a conventional oven. It does seem to depend on the recipe how the cakes turn out in the two different types of oven.
Which cake styles work best in an air fryer?
When baking a cake in a conventional oven, you can generally choose between two settings:
- convection: a fan blows air through the oven
- conventional: the oven is heated from above and below (in the case of gas ovens, only below)
An air fryer is a super charged convection oven. As such, if a recipe very explicitely calls for a conventional oven, because it needs the more stagnant air to bake properly, it likely won’t work well in an air fryer. Likewise, cakes that bake fine in either type, will probably work well in an air fryer, though might still need a slight temperature adjustment. The recipe below works well in both an air fryer as well as an oven, as does our eggless orange cake (though make half a batch to ensure it fits you air fryer).
Mior Zakuan Azmi M, Taip FS, Mustapa Kamal SM, Chin NL. Effects of temperature and time on the physical characteristics of moist cakes baked in air fryer. J Food Sci Technol. 2019 Oct;56(10):4616-4624. doi: 10.1007/s13197-019-03926-z. Epub 2019 Jul 10. PMID: 31686693; PMCID: PMC6801284. link