How the Air Fryer Made Me Reimagine Desserts Altogether

Combine unconventional, low-cal ingredients with this equipment for one of the best comforting desserts.

cauliflower cinnamon bites
Kristen Adaway/Thrillist
Kristen Adaway/Thrillist

You can cook just about anything in an Air Fryer -- brussel sprouts, chicken tenders, garlic knots, sweet potato fries, bagels and even pizza. But if you’re looking for a low-cal alternative to an underrated classic breakfast/dessert, air fried cauliflower cinnamon gnocchi is what you should try next. Yes, cauliflower tossed in cinnamon sugar... just hear me out. 

Almost everyone I know has an AirFryer or has used one before and the praise is always consistent. And I can see why. You don’t need to be a chef to plug it in, set a temperature and a time and dump your (likely frozen) food in, which is great if you’re new to cooking. 

With both of my roommates and I being home all day now, boredom eventually sets in and with it comes the desire to make our meals more exciting and “innovative.” For me however, my gluten sensitivity makes it difficult to enjoy a lot of my favorite bread-based snacks and meals (I can only tolerate thin crust pizza and as much as I love donuts, but they don’t love me back).  I never considered replacing yeasty, doughy cinnamon rolls with cauliflower, but in 2020, there’s a first time for everything. 

My discovery of this swap originally came from my roommate’s adventure of making them one night and it piqued my interest and my palate. I’m all for Air Fryer hacks that momentarily make me feel like I have my life together and also stop my stomach from growling. 

I had my roommate walk me through how she found the idea and gathered the ingredients she used in preparation for my remake. I learned that she loosely followed Megan Borys Ratigan’s recipe from her blog, Donut Worry, Be Healthy. Using it as a launching pad, I set out on my own journey to make them while adding in my own personal touches. 

The best thing about these treats is that you don’t need a ton of ingredients and supplies to make them. You probably already have some of the ingredients in your fridge and cabinets. You’ll need powdered sugar, cashew or almond milk, cinnamon sugar, coconut oil or avocado oil, and of course, cauliflower gnocchi. 

Now, if you’re like me and had no idea cauliflower gnocchi even existed, then you’re not alone. As I did more research on this recipe and looked at how others made theirs, the frozen Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi seemed to be the most popular kind to use. Unfortunately, the closest Trader Joe’s is still extremely far from me so I went with the Green Giant brand instead. 

If you’re feeling ambitious, you could also use fresh cauliflower heads and chop them into florets instead of the frozen kind but due to time and convenience, the frozen ones worked better for me. 

Depending on how long you keep the frozen bag of cauliflower gnocchi in the freezer, you may have to microwave them for a little bit first to get the freezer burn off so they cook properly in the Air Fryer. 

I poured the whole bag into a medium sized bowl and was pleasantly surprised at how much they resembled potato gnocchi. Before putting them in the Air Fryer, I lightly sprayed each gnocchi with avocado oil instead of coconut oil to offset some of the sweetness of the cinnamon sugar I was going to drown them in later (I hope my dentist isn’t reading this). 

What makes an Air Fryer such a hot commodity is that you don’t need to use a gallon of oil for foods to cook, so don’t be too generous with the amount of oil you spray on your soon-to-be-sort-of-cinnamon-rolls. 

After you finish glossing your gnocchi, pour them into the Air Fryer after it’s quickly preheated to 400 °F degrees. Because I can’t do anything without being extra, I decided halfway through the six minute cook time to add brown sugar to the bowl of cinnamon sugar, just to see how it would taste. You can never have too much brown sugar. 

At the end of the five minutes, which concluded with a ridiculously loud buzzer to let me know time was up, I carefully pulled the tray out, poured them into an empty bowl and sprayed each gnocchi with avocado oil again so the sugar would stick. Don’t turn your Air Fryer off yet, by the way!

There’s probably a better, more efficient way to coat the gnocchi with the sugar mix instead of what I did, which was just pour them all in the big bowl of cinnamon and brown sugar and toss them around using a spoon. But even though it took a little longer, my sloppy method got the job done and I successfully masked the strong smell of cauliflower with the sweet aroma of cinnamon and molasses. 

After I made sure to cover the entire surface area of each gnocchi with sugar, I popped them back into the Air Fryer for another 10 minutes. I wanted the texture of my mini snacks to be a bit crispier, so if you prefer yours a bit softer and chewier, you don’t have to cook them for that long. While they were in for the last round of air frying, I went to work on making a glaze to top them with. 

This process was pretty simple too. All I did was mix powdered sugar, almond milk, and a dash of cinnamon sugar in a small bowl until it was at the consistency I wanted. 

The old fashioned washing machine-like buzzer sounded again and this time when I pulled out the tray, I gazed down at what looked like delicious cinnamon pretzel bites straight from Auntie Anne’s. I poured them all in a clean bowl and and generously drizzled the glaze over them, Krispy Kreme style.

As for the taste, while they do closely resemble mini cinnamon rolls or pretzel bites, at the end of the day, you’re still eating cauliflower so keep that in mind before you toss one in your mouth. But even though the flavor doesn’t exactly match that of a cinnamon pretzel bite or cinnamon roll, they’re not bad and are worth putting your Air Fryer to use. Just make sure that if you’re not the biggest fan of the taste of cauliflower to use a heavy hand when tossing them in your cinnamon sugar concoction. 

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Kristen Adaway is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter