Reducing Recipes: Cooking & Baking Smaller Quantities

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Posted by gilly

If there is one thing that newlywed life has shown me, it is that many of life’s great recipes are geared towards the larger serving crowd.

This is not always an issue – a healthy recipe to serve four (4) works out well for two (2), as it is often advantageous (and time-saving) to have leftovers – for tiffins, dinners, base ingredients in other recipes, or to freeze for future use.

However, when sweet and/or rich recipes are made to serve 6, 8, or 10 or more individuals, I proceed cautiously. I do not deny my husband and I indulgences now and again, but it pays to be smart about it. If a reasonably sized treat can be consumed in one sitting, then one simply does not over-indulge: leftovers (and thus the temptation) are not a factor.

So how do we go about reducing recipes down?

Equipment required

  • The original recipe – in all it’s delicious glory

  • A calculator

  • A piece of note paper

  • A pencil or pen

Adjusting servings – determining the scaling factor
Firstly, we need to identify the scaling factor. The scaling factor is a ratio between what the recipe calls for, and what we ultimately want to serve.

If a recipe originally serves eight (8) and you want to scale down to serve two (2):

Original serving / desired serving = scaling factor
8/2 = 4

In this example, the scaling factor is 4. Of course, the math isn’t always this nice. Say you want three (3) servings instead:

8/3 = 2.66666666…

There are several things you could do here. You could simply round to the nearest decimal value (2.67), being mindful of the division and possibility of partial measurements. Alternatively, you may want to consider adjusting the serving sizes: You could reduce that number down to 2.5 and have slightly smaller servings. Lastly, you may wish to adjust the presentation.

Adjusting presentation
Adjusting the presentation simply means that instead of regular full serving of gooey macaroni and cheese or 3 meat pizza, you consider making it a small side dish along side of something healthier. Besides the obvious health benefits , it gives us ‘nicer’ numbers to work with.

In the case of muffins or cupcakes, you may wish to half or quarter of the recipe to start (a scaling factor of 2 or 4) – and then make half-sized miniature versions! I find this allows me to indulge in 2-3 half-sized miniature servings, whereas I would not likely stop at one and a half (1.5) regular sized muffins – I’d likely just eat the entire two (2)!

When possible, adjust presentations to use small (and preferably even) scaling factors like two (2) or four (4). You may have to get a bit creative, but the adjustment of ingredient quantities tends to be simpler

Adjusting ingredients
Now that the scaling factor and presentation has been determined, we can go through the ingredient list one by one and re-write it - dividing each quantity by the scaling factor. As a tip, convert fractions into decimal values prior to dividing.

For example - a scaling factor of 2.5:

1) Convert to decimal - 1 ½ cups flour = 1.5 cups of flour
2) Divide by scaling factor - 1.5 cups of flour / 2.5 = 0.6 cups of flour… so, a bit shy of 2/3 cup

Another technique is to reduce cups down to tablespoons (1 cup = 16 tablespoons) or even teaspoons if necessary (1 cup = 48 teaspoons). This is where ingredients by weight are handy. If you have a nice digital scale, you are off to the races

I know what you are thinking… what about things like eggs? How do I use a third of an egg? You can certainly crack the egg open, beat it, and estimate out a third of it – or you can try to find smaller eggs. Reducing recipes calls for your best judgment, your best estimates, and plenty of resourcefulness!

Once you have your ingredients re-written, paper-clip them over top of the original recipe. I find this keeps me from accidentally forgetting to use my scaled down ingredients, and throwing in a tablespoon of vanilla, when I really meant ¼!

Adjusting cook-ware/bake-ware
You may need to adjust your pans accordingly as well – if you’ve decided to go with miniature versions, you may require additional pans. If you are making a casserole or baked dish, you may want to opt for multiple smaller pans. Note – if you are using numerous dishes in place of one, be careful not to overfill them!

Adjusting cook temperatures and time
As we've seen, the scaling factor is quite handy for reducing ingredients – but unfortunately, it doesn’t usually apply for reducing cook times and temperatures. For the most part, the cooking temperature will probably be the same (or slightly lower). The cooking time is much trickier. Typically, my first try at a reduction recipe effectively means 'baby-sitting' the dish – constantly checking browning, doneness, and eveness - and adjusting cook times and temperatures accordingly. Be sure to jot down your results, observations and recommendations with your re-written recipe - next time, you'll have a leg up!

Exceptions and other strategies
For items such as baking powder and baking soda – I tend to use just slightly more than what my scaled recipe calls for – as these tend to not to scale exactly. Spices are the same way, but I try to be conservative with them, and add as needed. It’s always easy to add a little more, but pretty well impossible to remove from.

Also, yeasted items do not always scale well - however, many of them freeze well, so you may be better off making the full version, dividing into portions and freezing it.

Before I conclude - please note that often times, it IS worth making a rich recipe in full. For cases like this, I try to save up a few recipes and do full batches for special occasions, like potlucks/family dinners – or when I know that I can give quantities away quickly – like cookies to guests. If leftover cake on the counter is inevitable - exercise moderation to the best of your abilities.

It’s not always easy to reduce recipes – but I think you’ll agree that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Hopefully it will help make you more mindful about portions, and help you better appreciate the delicious treats you prepare. Perhaps you’ll take a few extra moments to savour your treat, and reflect on the effort it took to prepare it...

...and perhaps that scaled-down portion will be much more satisfying.

If you have suggestions and tips you use to reduce recipes, we'd love to hear them! Until next time, I wish you health, happiness, and balance!

Other Helpful Links:
Farmer John - How to Scale Recipes
Allrecipes - Scaling Recipes

Gilly's Tiffin (Thursday):

  • Valentine’s leftovers - a small slice of roast with a mini-Yorkshire pudding, baby potato, green/yellow beans, and Portobello mushrooms

  • celery sticks, baby carrots, and a sliced apple with crunchy natural peanut butter

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Gilly from Humble Pie.


What a super post. Thanks for the great info, I am constantly making smaller amounts of recipes.

Sara said...
February 15, 2007 at 7:15:00 PM GMT+1  

Great info -- want to also share a fabulous cooking calculator that can take measurements divide them in half and convert to teaspoons or tablespoons. Heck, it can do just about everything!

It's called Kitchen Calc by and is worth every cent! I've orderd both, but really prefer the bigger one -- the button are easier to use.

Anonymous said...
February 15, 2007 at 9:43:00 PM GMT+1  

Great post! I think you were half joking but I just want to say, you are right on about finding smaller eggs. It changed my cooking life when I started getting medium instead of large!

Suelily said...
February 16, 2007 at 12:38:00 AM GMT+1  

Fantastic and educating post Gilly. My family has a wonderful denominator of 3 but I always cook for 100 so I need to increase the sizes LOL! Seriously though I learned a few things and really appreciate your thoughts.

Meeta K. Wolff said...
February 16, 2007 at 2:28:00 PM GMT+1  

Hi Sara! It's funny, but I truly think there more of us out there that reducing recipes than one might think!

Hi Stephanie! Thanks for the great link -- Calculators like those make the math that much simpler. I've been known to go to Google for converting measurements too!

Hi Suelily! Yes, I was being a bit tounge-in-cheek, but I too have started buying medium eggs (we actually don't have 'small' around here - I guess there isn't a market for them!), and they actually work out quite well for smaller baking tasks!

Hi Meeta! The great thing about these tips are that all of the same rules apply for scaling UP, except you multiply by the scaling factor rather than divide! I always secretly wish that recipes were published in small quantities because it is SO MUCH easier to scale ingredients UP than down!

Anonymous said...
February 16, 2007 at 3:45:00 PM GMT+1  

I have also noticed that spice and oil don't scale that well. When doubling a recipe (for a party for example), I almost never double the chilis or oil. Mostly 1.5 factor. I would think scaling down could be similar. Down by 3/4 not 1/2.

In the end, it's a personal call for these I think.

Anonymous said...
February 17, 2007 at 4:42:00 PM GMT+1  

Hi Diane,
I totally agree - and as I mentioned above, it's easier to go light and add more than to adjust for spice or oil-overload! Thanks for your thoughts - I think those numbers are great guidelines.

Anonymous said...
February 19, 2007 at 5:04:00 PM GMT+1  

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