Truth be told, I’m not a tofu fan. Still, figuring out how to make crispy baked tofu without much fuss intrigued me. And yes, it can be done. With a crunchy baked finish on the outside and a soft pillow inside, tofu becomes appetizing even to those of us who have shunned it in the past. As a healthy “vehicle delivery service” for sauce, topping for salad, or a component of a stir-fry, this crispy baked tofu is definitely worth a try.
Before getting to how I came up with this method for achieving edible tofu that doesn’t dissolve into whatever dish you put it in, I readily admit that I have not yet reached crispy baked tofu perfection. Still, I think the method works and I’d rather put it out there for comment than leave it aside until I have the time and money to bake as many batches as Kenji Lopez-Alt did when he searched for the perfect crispy, oven-baked Buffalo chicken wings.
Before embarking on my crispy baked tofu adventure, I consulted with others who have gone down this path before me. The Minimalist Baker, David Lebovitz, the Kitchn, and Whole Foods all have versions that looked reasonable. While none were exactly what I wanted, each one inspired me, as did the Serious Eats post on crispy oven-baked chicken wings noted above.
The 3 steps are easy: drain, dry, and bake.
Tips for Making Crispy Baked Tofu
- Cut first, then drain – Most recipes dry the tofu first while it is still in a big block, then cut it into cubes or rectangles. If you reverse the order and slice the tofu into 3 slices before pressing and draining it, you can press out the water out more quickly and efficiently.
- Dry after draining – Most recipes I found simply drain the tofu before baking. Drying the tofu with cornstarch after draining it, as David Lebovitz describes, is simple, yet effective for creating a crust that crisps up the outside of the baked tofu. He says that the coated tofu can be eaten at room temperature or stored in the refrigerator. (David credits Joe Yonan, the food editor of the Washington Post for this idea.) The Kitchn also includes a cornstarch toss, but as an optional step only worthwhile if the tofu is eaten straight from the oven. I double dried my tofu, using baking powder first then cornstarch. When I get the chance, I’ll play around with this drying step to see whether using just baking powder or cornstarch works just as well as using both, and I’ll see if lengthening the baking powder air drying time matters. Air drying on a rack with baking powder comes from the Serious Eats chicken wings post; there Kenji Lopez-Alt suggests drying the the wings overnight. I didn’t have that kind of time on this round of tofu baking, though the prospect of experimenting with that step intrigues me. I didn’t sift the cornstarch and that was a mistake – it got too gloppy as you can see below. But now I know better and so do you.
- Use high heat for baking – There is a split opinion on what temperature at which to bake the tofu, between 350 degrees F (David Lebovitz/Joe Yonan and the Kitchn) vs. 400+ degrees (the Minimalist Baker and Whole Foods.) I like the higher temperature. My tofu baked in about 30 minutes at the higher temperature.
Crispy Baked Tofu
- 1 block extra firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon high heat oil - optional - E.g. grapeseed
- Slice the block of tofu into 3 even slices, each about 1/2-inch thick.
- Microwave them for 2 minutes, turning over halfway through.
- Drain off any excess moisture, then put the slices on between paper towels with a cookies sheet or pan below. On top, add a cutting board or similar flat surface, then weight it down with cans. Let the tofu slices drain for 30 minutes, changing the paper towels (which will be well soaked with moisture from the tofu) about halfway through that time.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Cut each slice into cubes or rectangles. Toss them with the baking powder, line them up on a rack on the cookie sheet and let them air dry in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Put the cubes or rectangles of tofu in a bowl and sift about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch over them. Put them back on the rack on the cookie sheet. If desired, lightly brush them with oil, so that they don't look as powdery as mine did. Bake them for about 30 minutes until puffed up and slightly browned, turning them over halfway through. If you like your tofu darker, put them under the broiler for just a minute or so.
The prep time is really about 10 minutes if you don't count the 30 minutes to drain and 30 mins to dry, when you can be doing something else.
The Kitchn notes that the cornstarch step doesn't really help if the tofu is chilled after baking. I can attest that this method works best if you eat the tofu straight from the oven. However, I didn't try chilling and then re-heating the baked cubes or rectangles that had been tossed in baking powder and then cornstarch.