Scaling Baking Recipes

I get quite a few question about the recipes here on the blog. Does this or that recipe scale? This is one of the great advantages of being a baker as opposed to a cook: our formulas can be scaled up or down pretty much infinitely. A baguette recipe that works for 3 loaves will work just as well for 300. Cakes, cookies, frostings, icings, they pretty much all work that way. Yes there’s the odd, oh, pancake recipe that doesn’t scale well, but 99% of the time you can scale the proportions you find in baking books forever with no problems.

Oh which subject, reader Chana recently supplied me with a scaling conversion “factor” that will help you scale up a baking recipe to virtually any quantity you want with decent accuracy. It’s very simple math. You simply divide the number of, say, cookies you want by the number your existing recipes makes. So let’s say you have a recipe for 12 but you want 50. You divide 50 by 12. The result is 4.2. So now all you need to do is multiply the ingredient quantities you have by 4.2. So if for example the recipe calls for 9 ounces of butter, you multiply by 4.2 to get 37.8 ounces.

Neat. This system works especially well for recipes in metric units. And of course only a moron doesn’t list baking recipes in metric units, the system simply makes too much sense for bakers and pastry makers. So don’t be a jerk and…

Oh…wait.

39 thoughts on “Scaling Baking Recipes”

  1. HAHA. I love my digital scale and am thrilled whether it is metric or not re: weights. Just happy when someone puts a recipe online with both measurements and weights. I can convert them but SO nice when I don’t have to do that before making the item. My measuring cups pretty much stay in their little drawer but occasionally I feel sorry for them and use them (mostly when I don’t have the weight but note it for the next time!). I am getting ready to make some sugar cookies. The recipe is a bit large for my needs so I’m going to halve it. Have to say that’s when the scale rocks! I have one cookie recipe I won’t double other than making it twice, then combining the two batches. I think that is due to the high ratio of chocolate chunks to the very small amount of dough. But if you make two separate batches and mix in the chunks and then put the two batches together it works fine.

  2. This is the meaning of “scale” that I am used to. It is very confusing when Americans use “scale” instead of “weigh”, as in “I’m scaling this flour”. Makes me think they’re using more than the recipe says.

    1. That’s interesting. I guess I’ve heard the word “scale” substituted for “weigh” but not very often. I wonder if it’s a regional thing…

      – Joe

      1. I’m in Northern California, and I’ve never heard “scale” used for “weigh.” It would be interesting if people from other regions would weigh in on this question.

        1. I’ve only ever read the term “to scale” instead of “to weigh,” and usually on blogs. I’ve never heard anyone use it when they’re speaking. Maybe it’s part of the current vogue of turning nouns into verbs. You know, like I would like to dialogue with you about the cake you recently gifted me. 🙂

      2. I worked in a small-production bakery here in Ontario Canada, and we always scaled dough for loaves of bread. I don’t think anyone called it weighing the dough.

        On the other hand, you’d weigh the ingredients to make the dough.

    2. Bronwyn, the complete Oxford English Dictionary gives the first meaning of the verb “to scale” as “to weigh in scales, find the weight of”. That usage is often applied in baking as “to weigh out (dough) in proper quantities for making up into loaves”. In this case, the expression is usually “to scale off”. In Measure for Measure (IIIi26), Shakespeare used the verb “to scale” in the sense of “to weigh in scales”, so the verb is most certainly not a regional American usage. You should note that American English retains many words and expression that are considered archaic in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. W in the British Antipodes (I’m Australian, you’re a New Zealander) should delight in the expansion of our vocabularies rather than deploring Americanisms.

  3. We make pikelets a lot here in NZ -My Mum always said you can’t double her recipe and she was right – if I want double the quantity I have to make seaparate batches.
    Also most of our recipes are in metric but any imperial measurement recipes I just convert on line and then scale up or down using a % and I’m no Math whizz. Digital scales are wonderful.
    I sometimes wonder what my lovely Mum would think if she could see me baking with an iPad or smartphone on the bench in amongst the ingredients and utensils 🙂

    1. I scale pikelets all the time. I’m guessing that maybe your Mum’s recipe has baking soda in it and not baking powder – and all the bubbles have been and popped by the time you get to the end of the mixture.
      I use any multiple of 1 egg, ? cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, milk to mix, tablespoon of melted butter added in. I think the biggest I’ve made is about 4 eggs worth.
      Pikelets are what we call sweet thick pancakes Joe. Drop scones in England I think.

      1. Hi Bronwyn- thanks for the reply – the recipe is one my Mum converted into tablespoons and cups as she didn’t own scales when she was first married straight after WW11 , it does have baking powder and not baking soda but not melted butter – I know it seems bizarre but it just doesn’t double well- but the good thing is they are so easy to mix up it’s no trouble to do two lots. Cheers from Auckland New Zealand.

  4. Joe,

    Can you give an explanation of why some recipes don’t scale well? In particular, I use a CI cupcake recipe that explicitly states, this recipe does not double well (apparently doubled batch has a compromised rise). I believe them because their recipe testing is so vigorous, but I’d love to understand why that would be so. (It’s this recipe, FYI: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/detail.asp?docid=24868)

    Thanks!

    1. Hey Robin!

      Interesting. Could you copy me if possible? I’m not a subscriber so I can’t access the content.

      Nothing against those guys, of course!

      – Joe

      1. I tried to send it as email through the website. If it doesn’t show up, let me know.

        thanks!

        1. Published March 1, 2005.

          MAKES 12 CUPCAKES

          This recipe does not double very well. Cupcakes made from a doubled batch and baked side by side in the oven yield a slightly compromised rise. It’s best to make two separate batches and bake each separately. Store leftover cupcakes (frosted or unfrosted) in the refirgerator, but let them come to room temperature before serving.

          INGREDIENTS
          8tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
          2ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
          1/2cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1 1/2 ounces)
          3/4cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
          1/2teaspoon baking soda
          3/4teaspoon baking powder
          2 large eggs
          3/4cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
          1teaspoon vanilla extract
          1/2cup sour cream (4 ounces)
          1/2teaspoon table salt

          INSTRUCTIONS
          1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.
          2. Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.
          3. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.
          4. Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick.
          5. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.
          6. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes. (To frost: Mound about 2 tablespoons icing on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread icing to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.)

    2. Some cake recipes also don’t scale well–you need to reduce the amount of leavening when you are baking a double cake recipe in a larger pan, for example. Otherwise, it rises too much/quickly and collapses. Rose Levy Berenbaum has a very thorough explanation in The Cake Bible, I believe.

      1. Hi Mary!

        Yes, however I believe this has more to do with pan physics than with the chemistry, which should be scalable. When cakes are baked in very large, flat pans the centers don’t get any support, so they’re prone to collapse. A lower amount of leavening creates an even rise, even though the layers end up with somewhat less volume.

        Thanks for pointing that out!

        – Joe

  5. I read somewhere on the web –so it must be true– that when using baker’s percentages for bread, you don’t have to increase the amount of yeast, otherwise you have too much yeast for the dough batch. But I’ve also seen recipes using percentages (Peter Reinhart, as I think about it) where the yeast is included in the percentages. Is this one of those things that is debated in baking circles?

    1. Hey Ted!

      I don’t think there’s any reason you can’t use yeast as a percentage. Yeast-based formulas are pretty much bullet-proof when it comes to scaling. That said, you can include less since of course yeast reproduces over time. Half the required amount of yeast will cause a slower rise, but that’s about the only consequence. Some people don’t like quick rises, since a faster rise can mean less flavor, so they may scale back as batches increase in size. But it’s not necessary.

      – Joe

  6. Metric’s fine and all but it really is annoying how many other sites have started using it basically to show how “scientific” they are. It’s amazing to me how many people will argue it is more accurate. For obvious reasons both systems are exactly the same in accuracy.

    It’s simpler to scale things up and down in and that’s it. The other ridiculous argument is that it is more accurate to weigh ingredients than to use volume measurements. Obviously true but amazing that so many people then seem to think that means scales only come in metric units…

    That said how many recipes does a home baker actually have to scale up or down in the first place?

    My gripe with sites that use it is that you then have no intuitive understanding of the recipe from glancing at it because most of us do not use metric enough to not have to stop and convert or at least think about it.

    If people are hung up on accuracy or wanting to pretend to be professionals then the really accurate way to do baking recipes would be as bakers do using baker’s percentage which has nothing to do with the system of measurement. And, yes for professionals who are constantly scaling recipes up or down then I’d most likely use metric.

    1. Well said, Jim. And an excellent point about accuracy, since accuracy is all about the operator and not the system. And you’re completely correct that metric units deny those of us brought up with imperial measurements a lot of insights into how a formula may or may not work. That’s a big reason I don’t use metric units on the site, though I do have a conversion table for those who are interested. Another point, I’ve never worked with metric units in a professional situation. The claim that all or or most professionals use the metric system is simply false.

      Great comment!

      – Joe

  7. How do I scale DOWN a cupcake recipe? If 1 batch makes 24, for example, how do I get it to make 8?

    1. Hey Melissa!

      Baking recipes can be scaled up or down infinitely, at least in theory. Just use 1/3 of everything that you recipe calls for. If that’s a problem with eggs, just go by weight. Your average large egg weighs 1.75 ounces!

      Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  8. Hello Joe,

    Does this work for Gluten-Free baking as well? What about Vegan baking. I am struggling to scale three recipes that I have and I haven’t had much luck. I am seeking someone to help me out with this project.

    1. Hi Misty!

      What recipe are you trying to scale? Send it to me and maybe I can help! Cheers,

      – Joe

    2. Exactly the question that has led me to this blog. Any advice for doing large batches of gfree cakes in which I use some xanthum gum?

  9. Yes it is rather challenging with different systems for volume and weight.
    And them have the us system and the uk system.
    In many cases nobody even specify.

    It makes a difference for the outcome of the bake. So please,
    if you want to use uk or us , please add the metric values as well.

    Otherwise I am very fond of your site.
    Inger

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