Crispy baked tofu recipe – no oil? Absolutely and delicious! I’m sharing my best practices because we all deserve an easy and reliable crispy tofu recipe that is dip-worthy, curry-worthy, and ready for anything in between.
This easy tofu recipe is perfect for beginners. There are infinite to enhance the flavor of the tofu using the basic principles of this easy technique. That's why this is one of my foundational tofu recipes.
That’s one reason I decided it deserved a shout-out all of its own. I serve crispy tofu so often that’s it’s become a bit of an afterthought. But it never occurred to me, until some lovely person pointed it out, that it isn’t an afterthought to a lot of cooks. In particular, people following a plant-based diet who do not use added oil in their cooking.
This is also for those of us who rely on our ovens to do the job. As must as I dream about having an air fryer, I don't own one. But I usually have a baking tray or baking dish handy. That's all the specialized equipment you'll need for this one.
Types of tofu
Before we get started, can we have a word about tofu? It can be confusing with so many varieties. So let's cut through it.
The most important thing to remember is that tofu is categorized by its texture or consistency. That’s determined by the water content. The firmer the tofu, the less water. In general, from the highest moisture content to the least:
- Silken tofu
- Super firm
- Seasoned – special spices are added to create different flavors.
- Tofu a la minute – these are precooked and ready to drop into your dishes.
This is not an exhaustive list, and it can obviously get confusing with so many choices. My advice is to choose easily. For crispy tofu, sausage crumbles, sheet pan bacon, or tofu ricotta where you want firmness, go for a firm or extra firm. The only difference between the two will be the time you need to press it.
You can get excess moisture from super and extra firm tofu in minutes. Wrap the block in paper towels and press it with your hands. You can also place it between two flat surfaces and press it on the top.
How do you press tofu?
When you buy regular or firm tofu and open the package, you may notice excess moisture. The tofu will be spongy, and if you handle it too aggressively, it may start to fall apart.
Pressing tofu is just what it sounds like. It involves exerting pressure on it so that it will release its excess water. This takes around 20 minutes. Pressing is a best practice because pressed tofu gets crisper on the outside, firmer on the inside. It also holds added flavors better.
Do I need to have a tofu press?
Although they are nice to have, you don’t need an official tofu press. Just wrap the tofu in a paper towel and place it between 2 flat surfaces like a cutting board. Weigh the top down with a heavy object to help speed up the process.
Tip: For big blocks of tofu, try cutting the block into halves or quarters before pressing it. This is a good way to get the moisture out quicker and more evenly.
Once you have pressed your tofu, cut it into any size pieces that you like. Long strips to tinier, square tofu cubes. Don’t let your inner perfectionist toss out imperfect pieces or cubes. As long they are about the same thickness, it all bakes and tastes the same.
Keep the pieces relatively thin. Keep the cubes about ¼ - ½ of an inch thick. Thicker tofu may stay spongy in the middle, so if that bothers you, then thinner is better.
For this recipe, we're using a quick prep using 3 simple ingredients. Toss the tofu in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, and a ¼ to ½ of a teaspoon of maple syrup (if desired).
If you want to marinate the pieces before baking, simply mix up the marinade, toss the tofu pieces, and allow it to sit for 20 minutes or more. Toss with the corn starch right before baking.
Once you’ve got the first three ingredients distributed over the tofu, start adding cornstarch or arrowroot. Begin by adding 1 teaspoon of starch. I've found that the best way to get the cornstarch covering all the pieces is to use your hand. Rub each piece, break up any small granules of the powder.
Add more corn starch ¼ of a teaspoon at a time until it stops being absorbed into the tofu. That's your stop signal. If you discover that you've added too much, add a drop or two of lemon juice or water.
Corn starch versus arrowroot powder
Either corn starch or arrowroot will crisp of tofu in the oven. I’ve used both with equal success. Arrowroot is less processed than cornstarch; however, sometimes the texture can get a little slippery when added to dishes with a lot of sauce such as curry.
The baking process
Be sure you preheat the oven to 4250 F. (2200 C.). The hot oven helps to keep the tofu from sticking to the bottom of the baking tray and immediately activates the crisping process.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. This makes it easier to flip the pieces with less risk of losing the crispy coating. Place the tofu in a single layer. Don't force the flip. Bake the tofu for at least 15 minutes on the first side. Check to see if a piece easily releases from the bottom. If not, let it bake another 5 minutes.
Once you've baked the tofu, you may encounter a few pieces that still have cornstarch on them. They’ll look a bit dusty. There are a few ways to resolve this:
- Flip the pieces and keep them browning. The tiniest bit of steam rises between the baking sheet and the underside of the tofu pieces. That may emit enough moisture to help the cornstarch absorb.
- Spray the tofu with a tiny bit of water or flick a few drops over the tofu pieces. This might seem like a bit of a cheater’s way out, but it works from time to time.
- Cover the tofu pieces with foil and continue baking for 5 minutes. Again, this helps to create a small amount of steam to absorb excess starch.
- Be happy, embrace a little corn starch, and pop the tofu into your curry pot. Trust me, it won’t matter from there.
Tofu or soybean curd is often used as a meat substitute. It is an excellent source of plant-based protein, iron, and calcium. And other essential vitamins and minerals. Tofu is naturally cholesterol-free; however, it is higher in fat than other bean products, so you may want to consume it in moderation.
Extra-firm tofu is ideal for baking because it only needs a few minutes of pressing, is easy to dice into cubes, and holds its shape. Be advised that brands of tofu, and their firmness designations, can vary. So your regular tofu may be very firm and perfect for baking.
Organic tofu is made by coagulating soymilk to create bean curd that is pressed into blocks. In some countries, tofu is made from genetically modifies soy milk. Organic tofu is made from non-GMO condensed soy milk.