Granted, I never thought of halving a recipe for any dessert I make because in my book, I always prefer to have more sweets than less. However, you might not have quite the sweet tooth that I do. If you’re looking to halve a recipe, you might run into math and logistical hurdles, like how to halve an egg or figure out what size pan to use. You can, in fact, still make a good baked good at half the size. Here’s a mini primer on how to accurately cut cook recipes.
First: a mandatory PSA that you should definitely use cooking with a scale, especially if you’re a chronic recipe cutter. Scaling recipes by half, quarter or anything else is so easy, effortless and accurate when using weights; I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you now to just buy a scale. (Use it. Love it. Thank me later.)
Let’s start with the simplest, simplest liquid and dry measures (think water, milk, flour, sugar) as a reminder. Think back to elementary school math lessons, but if that sounds too old, here’s a handy chart.
Half the amount
A little more complicated
It was easy enough, but sometimes you come across slightly harder fractions (like ¾ cup) that don’t have a corresponding measuring cup in your set. In these cases, it helps to think in terms of equivalent tablespoons and teaspoons, which makes scaling easier.
Quantity in cups
Equivalent in spoons
Half the amount
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
2 tablespoons + 2 ½ teaspoons
1 ½ teaspoon
Some ingredients are like the youngest siblings in a family – they may need a little extra attention. Take eggs, for example: since the whites and yolks serve different functions in a recipe (whites add airiness and fluffiness, yolks add fat and richness), you can’t ignore one of them if you halve a recipe that calls for a whole egg. Your best bet is to lightly whisk the whole egg in a small bowl until incorporated, then measure out half the amount. Generally half a large egg is 2 tbsp (or if you have a scale, a much more accurate 25g). If you need to halve a larger but odd number of eggs (like 3, 5, 9, etc.), whisk the eggs in a measuring cup and measure half that way – and save the remaining eggs for a omelet the next day. .
Time, temperature and pan sizes
Cutting all your ingredients in half necessarily means there will be less dough or dough to work with. If you’re baking individual items like cookies and muffins, that’s nothing to worry about, but for cakes, you’ll definitely need to choose a smaller pan. A half cake recipe baked in the original pan size will be less cake and more pancakes. I always refer to this exceptionally detailed guide from The Joy of Baking when swapping out one pan for another.
Needless to say, cooking temperatures will remain the same. I repeat, do do not reduce the temperature by half. Cooking times, however, might decrease a bit. Start by reducing the cooking time by about 20% and start checking for doneness from there. Again, this is less important for treats like cookies or muffins that are baked in individual portions; it doesn’t matter if there are only 3 cookies on your rimmed baking sheet instead of 6 or 8. Use the 20% rule for cakes, quick breads, brownies, etc.
Reduce your losses
There are times when it just isn’t worth pulling out the calculator and reliving math class. Most yeast dough recipes designed for home cooks come in batches the perfect size for a stand mixer. Cutting another in half would mean that there is so little dough that your stand mixer would have almost nothing to grab. You can certainly knead the dough by hand, but frankly, yeast products freeze so well that it’s much smarter to bake a full batch and just freeze half to save for a rainy day. Biscuits, biscuits and scones are all prime candidates for freezing, either before baking, which is my preference, or after.
The best advice I have for you is to do all the math and write or type your halved recipe separately. There’s nothing worse than making a recipe only to find you’ve added half the butter but all the flour. Wait, actually the best advice I can offer you is to use a scale for all your cooking needs. (Oh, you thought I wasn’t going to revisit this topic? Ha!) You can constantly scale up or down any recipe, at any time with far less mess and hassle than using cups.