Small batch baking tips for when it's just the two of you. Whether you're single and dating, newlyweds, or empty nesters, small batch baking is for you!
I’ve been baking a very long time. I was baking long before I realized it was going to be my career, and I’ll keep baking long after the internet explodes and blogging ends.
I don’t have a ton of memories baking with my mom or grandma because I have a terrible memory, but I know that I was in the kitchen with them constantly growing up.
When I go back home, we spend 80% of our time in the kitchen…the other 20% of the time, we’re on the couch reading cookbooks and food magazines. My mom says that, as a baby, she would put me on the kitchen counter so I could watch her cook. I do the same thing for Camille. It’s her favorite thing ever, and I don’t blame her one bit—yesterday, while making pumpkin pancakes, she grabbed a fistful of coconut sugar and shoved it in her mouth. Good things happen in the kitchen.
I don’t necessarily categorize myself as someone who likes to bake because of the eating part, because I am perfectly happy baking things and not eating them. When I was a private chef, I would make towering chocolate cakes and not once would I swipe my finger through the frosting to taste.
I bake because I enjoy the process. Combining ingredients in my pantry and coming up with something new is something that makes me immensely happen. And, I love the moment when it comes out of the oven and it’s perfect.
Baking is the best definition of the word amazing—causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing. But most of all, I like to give everyone a reason to come together, pause, and enjoy something—a chocolate pound cake does that nicely, have you noticed?
We’re exploring 3 key things to keep in mind when small batch baking this holiday season:
- The quality of ingredients with which you bake.
- The method of approach for scaling down recipes.
- Best bakeware practices
First, let’s take a peek into my pantry and check out my ingredients.
I’m going to make a valiant effort to convince you that high-quality ingredients are worth it. When I say high-quality, I’m referring to things like: full-fat sour cream and other dairy products, vanilla extracts that smell so delicious you want to drink them straight, and chocolate that is so good you have to hide it from yourself in the pantry.
Speaking of chocolate, I always have a can of dark cocoa powder and unsweetened cocoa powder in my pantry.
Back in August, I had a chance to visit the Hershey’s Test Kitchen, and I learned that their dark cocoa powder has an alkalinity adjustment the makes it okay to substitute in all recipes that call for cocoa powder.
I use it in chocolate cakes, chocolate frosting, truffles, and lately, I’ve been making hot chocolate with it! It’s just 1 scoop of cocoa powder + 1 scoop of powdered sugar (or coconut sugar) + hot milk. A splash of vanilla or peppermint extract is nice, and equally welcome is instant espresso powder! So good!
Small batch baking: the art of scaling down
Now that your pantry is fully stocked, let’s get to the business of scaling down a recipe. If you need a small batch baking recipe, I’m your girl! However, if you want to miniaturize a recipe that I haven’t shared on my site or in either of my cookbooks, I have a few tips for you.
Let me pause really quickly and say that I’m about to divulge my secrets to small-batch baking. This is a big deal for me, and if someone could get me a glass of water before I do this, I would appreciate it.
Here’s my process:
- First, I take a full-size recipe that I adore. Make it in its entirety, enjoy a few bites (for research), and then leave the rest on the counter.
- Now, make the same recipe again, just in half. If the recipe calls for an odd number of eggs, here’s the way I decide whether we’re using the egg yolk or egg white: if it’s a cake, I always go for the egg white because the protein provides lift and fluff. If it’s a cookie recipe, and ‘dense, chewy cookie’ is the goal, I use the egg yolk. Sometimes, though, I halve a recipe with a portion of an egg, and then decide to use the whole egg anyway. It happens.
Side note: Whatcha gonna do with that leftover egg? I have a collection of recipes that use just an egg white and a collection of recipes that use just an egg yolk. You’re welcome!
When you’re dividing the amount of flour in half, know that 1 cup equals 16 tablespoons. So, half a cup is 8 tablespoons; a quarter-cup is 4 tablespoons and so on. I often call for ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons in my recipes. It’s just the way things broke down when I scaled everything down for that particular recipe.
3. Then, I taste my ‘halved’ baked good recipe, and then taste the full-size one on the counter for comparison. Are they close? Did the cake sink? Too much liquid. Did the cookies spread too much? Add more flour. Then, try try again!
To be honest, it’s never going to be a straight cut down the middle. Trouble shoot as best as you can (or email me and I’ll help you), make adjustments and try again. It took me six tries to get my Mama’s Southern Cornbread Dressing to taste exactly as delicious as the full-size batch.
You’re going to need a few specialty pans for mini baking, but you can also get quite far with just a muffin pan (see: mini bread puddings!) and a couple of oven-safe coffee mugs (see: bread pudding in mugs!).
I use a 6” round cake pan to make mini cakes. Chocolate cake is one of my favorite foods, and if I had a giant chocolate cake in my fridge, I would slice off slivers every 30 minutes throughout the day until it was gone. Mini cakes are a necessity in my life. They save me from myself. I have a heaping collection of mini cake recipes.
A mini cookie sheet, also known as a quarter sheet pan, is nice because we’re really only baking 8-10 cookies at a time. Cookies are the hardest recipes to scale down, but it clearly doesn’t stop me because I have a giant small batch cookie collection here on my site.
A small muffin pan is great for making mini pies, small batches of candy, and well, muffins!
Ramekins: I hoard them. I have several recipes to make small batches of creme brulee, pudding, mini cakes (hello, molten chocolate cakes, I love you and miss you; it’s been too long!), and more. Grab some ramekins and you’ll have two cute desserts in no time.
Let’s review your game plan for holiday baking: check your ingredients (the finer, the better), scale down your recipe like an expert, and use the mini baking pan suited to your recipe.
If you have any more questions, you can always email me or contact me in social media. I’m easy to find. If I don’t reply right away, know that I’m in the kitchen baking and I'll write back soon :)
So much small batch baking love to you,
You can use half of an egg by scrambling it with a fork in a glass measuring cup to see how much it is in total and then taking half of the measurement for a recipe and refrigerating the other half for another use. I learned this many years ago when I took a Food Preparation Class as a requirement for my Home Economics degree. Good luck!
Christina Lane says
I love this idea!
Tammy Spencer says
How about using the Baker's Percentage to scale recipes? The weight of Flour is considered 100% and all the other ingredients are expressed in weight% of Flour. Change the amount of flour by weight to find a ratio, then you scale everything as needed.
Here's a better explanation from King Arthur Flour: http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2016/04/27/bakers-percentage/
Hi Christina! Love your blog! :)
I was wondering, do you have tips for how to scale down the time required for baking cakes, cookies, pastries etc?
Christina Lane says
Hi Liv! Thanks for writing :)
Usually, the baking time is not that much less, especially for cookies. For small cakes, start with 20 minutes and go up. If you under-bake, they sink. 20-30 minutes should do it.
What kind of pastries are yo referring to? :)
Hi scaling down a receipe I find it very difficult..so if it’s for 8 servings (cake) and I want to make for two people I cut down the ingredients to one fourth but for a receipe which calls for salt ,baking soda and baking powder and lastly vanilla essence should I keep them to the mentioned size and not scale them down.Please suggest
Sutton Turner says
I like how you said to use an egg yolk if you're making a chewy cookie and an egg white if you want something light and fluffy. I wanted to make some of my mom's recipes just for me. Thanks for the tips on small batch baking.