Scale a Recipe

How to Scale a Recipe

You are hosting a dinner party for seven people, or you’re having an intimate dinner for two –As you are writing down the ingredients for your main course, you notice that the recipe serves four. What do you do now?  You scale the recipe to increase/decrease the servings you need for your dinner party.

What Is Scaling?

Scaling is when you adjust the amount of ingredients for a dish up or down depending on how many people for whom you need to cook. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of doubling or halving a recipe, but other times it can get pretty complicated. Have you ever tried to halve an egg?

Conversion Factor

The simplest way to scale a recipe is to determine what its conversion factor is. To do that, just divide the desired number of servings by the original number of servings. Sound complicated? Don’t worry. It isn’t and there’s no penalty if you use a calculator.   

You have a 4-servings recipe that you want to scale down to two servings for your intimate dinner party.

That’s 2 ÷ 4 or .5. Your conversion factor is .5. Simply multiply each ingredient by .5 to get the exact amount for the recipe.

Do the same to scale up. For 7 servings of your 4-serving recipe, divide 7 by 4 to get a conversion factor of 1.75. Multiple your ingredients by 1.75 to make the recipe for 7 servings.

These conversions will sometimes result in unusual amounts for your ingredients. To simplify those measurements use our cooking conversion chart.

Conversion Problems

You may not cook a lot, but with a little practice you’ll catch on to how to scale a recipe. There are few things you’ll need to learn first:

  • It’s a good idea to avoid increasing the size of a recipe by more than a factor of four, especially with baked goods like cakes. The chemistry of the ingredients starts to get a little weird at that size and creates unintended results.
  • While doubling a recipe is an easy conversion, it doesn’t always work for all ingredients, especially with alcohol, seasonings, baking powder, and baking soda. These ingredients are either strongly flavored or can have unintentional effects on your final product. A good rule for these ingredients is to use only 1.5x the amount when doubling a recipe.
  • Also, you should never double the cooking temperature or cooking time of an over-sized recipe. The results would be catastrophic. Instead, simply add about 25 degrees to the temperature to ensure even heating. Time is a trickier thing, as it depends upon altitude, your cookware, and your oven/range. Start by cooking according to the time for the original recipe. Check for doneness at the end of that time, and add additional increments of five minutes, if necessary.

Now back to that half of an egg. Don’t worry about it when scaling down a recipe that calls for one egg. Simply use the whole thing and forget about the precise amount of half of an egg. Recipes that require eggs don’t require that kind of precision.

Finally, sometimes your conversions will create difficult to work with amounts – like 28.6 ounces. Don’t sweat it. You can simply round off your numbers to get to more workable amounts. In this case, use 28 or 29 ounces. Both will work.

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