InstantPot Bread - Bake versus Air Fry

I have an 8 quart InstantPot with the Air Fryer lid. The manual recommends the "Bake" setting for breads at 365 F for 30 minutes, but I thought why try Air Frying it?
Here's how the experiment went:

Dough

I used the simple bread dough I always use. You can probably get away with using whatever bread dough you normally make, but here's the recipe I use in case you're stuck for one:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 cups water + 1 tablespoon quick rise yeast + 1 tablespoon sugar
    • I let this sit for a bit to let the yeast wake up and start bubbling, or at least not still look like dry grains
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
After mixing it into a dough, I let it sit and rise for about an hour or so till it has approximately doubled in volume.
Once this has happened, I scrape it out and gently knead it into a manageable shape, then cut it into eight to sixteen buns, depending on how large you want them to be.
Normally I put them in the freezer and only pop them in the InstantPot when I want bread.

Arrange for Baking

Straight from the freezer I take out buns and put them in the InstantPot air fryer basket (slide 1).

I used to just lay them flat on the basket, but found that dough would get into the slots on the bottom of the basket. And if it does, the baking process can cause it to expand enough that it won't come out nicely but will instead tear off a chunk from the bread when you try to pull off the baked bun.
(If this happens to you, try flipping the basket over and popping them buns loose from the bottom; or cutting off the baked dough that is protruding out of the air fryer basket slots.)

To mitigate this, I now arrange them leaning against the side of the air fryer basket. This reduces the surface area that actually touches the floor of the basket and that might slip into the slots.

Immediately after the InstantPot cooking cycle was done, I took the buns out and cut them open immediately for the pictures.

Experiment 1: Bake from frozen - 365 F, 30 minutes

(results in Slide 2)

The interior was quite nice, and fluffier than the air fried version. Not as fluffy as the loaves of sliced bread you can buy from the supermarket though.
But the exterior was a biscuit-like shell around 2mm thick and really hard to cut through nicely. My knife ended up chopping right through when I applied a firm sawing action and as you can see that squished some of the interior.

Experiment 2: Air Fry from frozen - 400 F, 10 minutes

(results in slide 3)
I much preferred this result -- and as a bonus, it took less time!
The exterior wasn't as hard and definitely not as thick as the baked version.
The interior felt a bit denser though and chewier, closer to a bagel. Since I don't mind this at all, I will certainly stick to the faster air frying method.

The side of the bun that was on the bottom of the air fryer basket turned out darker and slightly harder. (slide 4) You can see on the left side that the bun is darker. However the shell was not significantly thicker or harder there, and certainly not like the bun baked for 30 minutes.
The "nipple" you see is where some of the dough had sunk through the slotted bottom of the air fryer, but fortunately I was able to pop the bun cleanly out.

At this point I considered a third experiment where I would use the Bake setting for less time, but as the Air Fryer turned out perfectly decent buns in a comparatively very short time, I didn't really see much point.

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