Note: While this recipe isn’t gluten-free as written, you can very simply swap out the cake mix used for any gltuen-free cake mix and it will work great!
Who’s ready for some incredibly simple churros?!
No, these aren’t authentic churros. Around here, we’re after three things:
- High protein
- Delicious taste
This recipe checks all 3 boxes, and more.
I did attempt to make actual churros in the air fryer, and it was probably the biggest failure I’ve had when testing recipes.
Authentic churros require making dough and piping them out to make the signature churro shape. Trying to make that high protein, then attempting to air fry them, led to the strangest spongey logs I’ve ever seen.
But that led us here. Instead of messing with dough, we’re going to make a super simple cake, cut it up, then toss it into the air fryer. Couldn’t be easier!
Air frying these with cinnamon sugar is what gives these their nice crispy exterior- and look how nice and soft the inside stayed!
This is my favorite baking “hack” of all time. Instead of eggs & oil, if you combine diet soda (or any soda) with cake mix, you get the same result!
It sounds crazy, I know. And I won’t pretend to know how it actually works, but it does. I’ve used this technique 100s of times and I can promise you that you’d never know the difference.
You can use any soda you want here. I like to stick with something lighter colored: seltzer, club soda, 7-UP, etc. You’ll get the same result with Coke or Pepsi as well, but it’ll mess with the color a bit.
Why sugar-free cake mix?
I’d love to say I had a good reason, but I don’t. Honestly, I just had it in my pantry from a previous recipe. Use any cake mix your heart desires here.
However, I will advise you to stick with a yellow cake mix if possible. Flavor-wise, it’s going to lead to the best result.
If you have another one at home and don’t want to shop, by all means, use a regular white cake mix or anything else you have. It will still work!
Will any protein powder work?
Outside of the cake mix & soda, we’re going to add a scoop of protein into the mix.
I chose to go with vanilla PEScience, which is a why/casein mix.
I know that many people use a whey protein powder, and that will PROBABLY work, but I didn’t test it.
Let me rephrase: it will 100% work and the recipe should turn out fine, but the final result may taste a bit dry. A whey/casein blend tends to be the friendliest when it comes to baking, and it makes for a great result! But since we are coating with cinnamon sugar at the end and that sugar is melting/crisping up on top, I’m not too worried about these getting dry.
If vegan protein powder is your style, you’re going to need to adjust the amount of liquid you use. Vegan protein, particularly pea protein, is super absorbent, so you’ll need extra diet soda. Similar to whey protein, I can’t guarantee the results will be quite the same, but it’s worth a shot if you can’t handle whey.
Not feeling the protein? Leave it out.
I often get questions about leaving protein powder out altogether.
If you don’t want to use protein powder, I’d argue that you shouldn’t be looking at a recipe for protein churro bites.
But I’d never say that to you. That would be rude.
Instead, I’ll say: of course you can leave it out!
Just mix the cake mix with diet soda and leave the protein powder out, and you’ll have a perfectly delicious cake! You’ll just need to use a bit less liquid, so eyeball it until you have a smooth pourable batter.
Here’s a little visual walkthrough to show you how easy this recipe truly is.
- Mix the cake ingredients together until you have a thin, pourable batter.
- Add to a pan- I used a 9×13 pan, which led to a thin cake. You can use a smaller pan for thicker bites!
- Let the cake cool after baking, then slice the cake into rows. The exact amount depends on how small you want your bites to be.
- Cut each row into small bites.
- Continue until the entire cake is sliced up. Then, toss each bite in cinnamon sugar.
- Add the bites to your air fryer, but don’t overlap them. You might have to do 2 batches.
- After 6 minutes, the sugar will have melted and these will be extremely hot.
- Carefully add the bites to a plate to allow them to cool & crisp up.
- Sprinkle with some extra cinnamon sugar.
There you have it!
One word of caution:
If you’re going to do 2 batches, be aware that the second batch is going to cook up faster.
I’m sure you can tell which one was the second batch here!
Not only is the air fryer heated up for the second batch, but the sugar that melted from the first batch makes the air fryer VERY hot. So, keep an eye on them!
Of course, if you like well-done, those will work just fine for ya.
More recipes like this
Cinnamon sugar fans, here are some other recipes on my blog you’ll love:
- Cinnamon Roll Protein Sugar Cookies
- Protein Snickerdoodle Puffs
- French Toast Pigs in a Blanket
- High-Protein Mug Crumb Coffee Cake
For Churro Bites
- 135g ( 3 Servings) Yellow Cake Mix
- 31g (1 Scoop) Vanilla Protein
- 1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
- 3/4 Cup Diet Soda or Seltzer
- 100g Granular Sugar Substitute
- 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix, protein powder, and cinnamon. Add the diet soda/seltzer a little bit at a time while mixing. We want a thin, pourable batter, so 3/4 cup was the perfect amount for me.
- Take a 9x13 pan (or smaller- see notes below) and spray with nonstick spray. Pour the batter into the pan and use a silicone spatula to spread it to the edges if necessary.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Don't get too eager!
- Once cooled, remove the cake onto a flat surface. Using a butter knife, cut the cake up into cubes. The exact amount will depend on how large of a pan you used and how large you want the bites to be. Since I used a 9x13 pan, my cake was on the longer side, so I cut it up into 9 rows, then sliced each row into 5 bites, for a total of 45 bites. But, it's up to you!
- In a bowl, mix up your cinnamon and sugar for the coating. Drop one of the bites into the mixture, make sure it is coated on each side, then add to your air fryer basket. The coating should stick just fine, but if not, you can spray your bites with some non-stick spray before coating.
- Continue until all the bites are coated. Line your air fryer basket with the bites, but don't stack them. If they do not fit, then you'll want to do 2 batches.
- Air fry at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.
- When they are done, they are going to be very hot and soft- don't worry, they're going to crisp up once they cool for a minute! Carefully remove the bites from the air fryer, then sprinkle some of the remaining cinnamon sugar on top.
- Enjoy! I left these out overnight in a sealed container and reheated them in the air fryer the following day for a great result.
- I used PEScience protein, which is a whey/casein blend. I assume a pure whey protein will work just fine here, but note that sometimes whey can get dry.
- I used a 9x13 pan, which led to these bites being very thin. If you want more of a cube shape for your bites, I'd go for an 8x8 pan.
- Make this gluten-free using any gluten-free cake mix!
- I do not count the sugar substitute coating as part of my carb count. If you're super sugar about carbs, you'll want to calculate your own nutrition.
- I estimated roughly 4 servings for the entire recipe, but this can make as many servings as you want!
- No air fryer? You can follow these same instructions in the regular oven! I would bump the oven temp up to about 400 degrees F for 6 minutes to crisp them up- but keep an eye on them to make sure they're the golden brown you want. You can always adjust the time as needed.
Nutrition InformationServing Size 1/4 of Recipe (Roughly 10 Bites)
Amount Per Serving Calories 140Total Fat 3gCarbohydrates 28gFiber 0.5gSugar 0.5gProtein 7.5g
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