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Halving recipes

I usually cook for two, and don't like saving food for later (especially because an 8 serving recipe means eating that four days in the week, and the freezer is tiny). But most recipes online and in many cookbooks are for 6-8 people.

So: any general tips or guidelines for shrinking recipes? Mains, cakes, bread, whatever? What sort of thing have you found can easily be cut in half, which ingredients generally need more complicated measures?

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  1. Baked goods are usually the trickiest to shrink. But for the rest, I rarely do a recipe that demands exact measuring so usually have no problem though salt and hot peppers can be an issue.

    4 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      As long as I don't need to halve an egg, I have never had a problem shrinking baked goods. I rarely make a full baked good recipe. For breads in loaf pans, no problem. Boules like the no-knead dutch oven bread, I make the full size recipe.

      You want to halve a recipe? Just do it. Sometimes cooking time needs adjusting - e.g. pot roast, other times not, such as baked chicken or fish. Just use your head.

      1. re: greygarious

        Halving an egg isn't that hard. Just beat, measure, and use half. But even if you want to halve a recipe for cookies or cake, it's not harmful to just use the whole egg and throw in some extra flour.

        1. re: Isolda

          I don't want a half an egg hanging around looking for a purpose, and am averse to throwing it out. In a small recipe to use extra egg and flour can make a considerable difference in texture, rise, and flavor.

          1. re: greygarious

            Yep, I know what you mean. I either simply use a small egg (most recipes are written for either medium or large eggs) instead of dividing the beaten egg into halves, but if I find it necessary to use only half an egg I simply beat it, measure half (as isolda suggested) and mix the left over with a bit of cream for a piece of french toast the next morning.

    2. mains are usually pretty easy to shrink. chicken dishes, cassroles, vegetable sides- all easy to make for 2. even a roast, if you can get a small one from your butcher.

      1. Depending upon the quantities, when I am making a main that involves a sauce, I may make the full quantity of the sauce even if I've halved the balance of the recipe. If the sauce involves relatively small quantities of a lot of ingredients, cutting them in half can be a pain plus there may be a minimum amount of liquid that you need to include so as to avoid evaporation, etc.

        1. escondido's comments offer sound advice. Cooking tasks or pretty forgiving, baking tasks not so. Try to develop a habit of weighing the ingredients for your baked goods rather than using the "dip, level, pour" approach. You'll find reducing ingredients by any amount much easier and far more accurate if you weigh them. When selecting the baking dish/pan, calculate the cubic inches for the vessel recommended in the recipe and select an alternative that is approximately the same depth but smaller in width/length that reduces the total volume of the recommended pan by the appropriate ratio.

          1. For casseroles or stews, it should be pretty easy to cut recipes in half. I cook for just the two of us, and I often do that, but I tend to choose recipes for four to modify. If there is a recipe that serves 6 or 8, you can always find an alternate online, possibly for fewer diners. I will sometimes write the halved amounts in pencil in the cookbook or on the printed recipe so I am sure to put in the correct amounts of all the ingredients.

            With baking, as someone has posted, halving a recipe can be tricky. And yet, I have on occasion done it. If I only needed 1/2 an egg I'd just separate one egg, and let either yolk or white go down the drain, although I like the idea of making French toast with a leftover 1/2 egg the next morning. You can also use Egg Beaters in this case, but I don't like them by themselves in a recipe. They turn things gummy unless they are combined with real egg.

            If you bake yeast bread, I wouldn't tinker with that kind of recipe. And you can always use the leftovers over the next few days. There are some recipes for two, and you can seek them out in books and online.

            1. For baking, the hardest thing is the size of the pan, not cutting the recipe in half. Dividing eggs is the hardest thing, but if I have to do that, I tend to just use the yolk instead of cutting the egg in half (depending on the recipe, obviously). I find braised dishes a little harder to cut in half, just because you usually the meat/liquid measurement is off; I tend to have to use a smaller pot and improvise a little.

              1. One strategy I use is to make a big recipe of general purpose meat sauce and then divide the recipe into three parts, to be used in three different meals that week. The first may be for an Italian dish, in which case I add italian herbs, garlic and olive oil, and maybe some zucchini. For the second I go Mexican and add some chorizo cooked with chilis, or if I have no time, just powdered ancho, cumin and cilantro. For the third I may add some green peppers, some ketchup spices or just squirt in some ketchup if the sauce isn't too tomatoey -- is that a word?. Add vinegar, Worcestershire, brown sugar (or splenda) and you've got Sloppy Joes. These three keep in the frig quite nicely, and I can make chicken on days in between so that we don't suffer from tomato sauce "fatigue."

                1. Thanks for the tips! I have clearly been trying to cut the wrong sorts of dishes while following the recipes too slavishly -- a mysteriously dry braised lamb comes to mind. Spices, I think, also don't do well with simple doubling or halving: the proportion seems to to be closer to 3/4 or 5/4.

                  Special thanks for the egg suggestion which I'm ashamed to admit had me stumped. On thinking it over, I find cakes the trickiest things to cut, but I will try just cutting by weight and according to the cake tin.