The Phantom Chef
Culinary Advice You Can Really Use

Chef Smorgas of Borg

The Phantom Chef

Recipe Conversions
For The Mathematically Challenged

(Yes, there will be a test)

Chef Smorgas_of_Borg

I know. I promised a column on choosing and using knives this time. But, I received so many requests for information on how to increase or decrease the number of servings in a recipe that I am skipping the knives column to offer my advice on that topic. I hope you aren't disappointed.

Many times we find a recipe that just sounds too good and can't wait to try it. Then, we look at it and realize that the number of servings listed is either too few or too many. At this point, we have the quandary of how to alter the recipe for the number of servings we need.

This is not quite as simple as halving or doubling the recipe. There are many pitfalls in such a simplistic way of adjusting a recipe. Many failed recipes are the result of not being aware of a few, simple guidelines when attempting such an adjustment to the printed recipe.

Some recipe books embrace the philosophy of "A recipe is a precisely designed formula for a perfect result every time". I say, "Horse apples!" My philosophy of any recipe is: "No recipe is perfect" (except for most involving pastries and baking).

Here are some very basic guidelines when altering the number of servings for a recipe:

  • Always try to use an even number when attempting to multiply number of servings for a recipe.
  • If you desire to decrease the number of servings from a recipe, always try to divide by an even number.
  • Always increase or decrease measurements proportionally. There is one Major Exception to this rule: Salt. Hold back on increasing salt content. You can always go back and increase salt later if you deem it necessary.
  • Not all recipes are easily divided in half easily. Look at the lowest common denominator and adjust accordingly. For example, you really don't want to try to have to figure out what half an egg is.
  • The timing of the cooking can, and often does, change with an increase or decrease in the quantity of the adjusted recipe. This is where using your own cooking sense. Visual guides (is it browned yet?) and measuring internal temperatures are crucial to the success of your altered recipe.


Some foods, such as pastas, double easily. If the recipe calls for a half pound of pasta, and you need one pound, double the amount of pasta and the water. You may also need a larger pot (something to always keep in mind when increasing a recipe).

Another thing to keep in mind is that cooking times will change with increases or decreases in the quantities stated in the recipe. For example, if you double a cookie recipe and need two cookie sheets, you will need to increase the baking time slightly. Another guideline is to reduce the cooking temperature in the oven by about 25 degrees (F) for more fragile cookies. Also, place one cookie sheet above the other on the oven racks and switch them halfway through the cooking to ensure that the baking is even.


Ha! You think THAT was easy? Now it's time for your MATH TEST! Okay, I'm in charge here, so I will say that you have to know how to measure in English standard, not metric.

Here it is: Convert a recipe (all ingredients) from a serving for, let's say, 2 to serving portions for 8.

How do you do it? (Answer at end of article)

Doubling For Sautéing

Using a larger pan is easy enough for sautéing in a larger amount. But there are drawbacks. If the pan is too large for the burner you are using, it will heat unevenly. If you are faced with that problem, use a smaller pan and cook in batches. (Batches being smaller amounts of the total amount you desire). Also, when sautéing in larger amounts, it is not always necessary to increase the amount of oil or butter required. Again, use your own judgment. You can add more oil or butter if you deem it necessary while sautéing.

The One Caveat of Doubling a Recipe

Always avoid doubling recipes for eggs in the same pan. If you are making omelets or scrambled eggs, it's best to make small batches matching the original recipe. If you attempt to make all at once in one pan, there is a very good chance your eggs will turn to steel belted radials that taste like the rubber on the treads.

Reducing Recipe Serving Amounts

It's pretty easy to halve a recipe. Just divide by two in most cases. ( yeah, there are exceptions, but they are so rare as to just ignore them in this article). One important point to remember is that by reducing the number of ingredients, you also reduce the cooking time in most cases. There will be fewer ingredients in the pan, pot or oven, thus they will cook much faster. So, either remove the food from the pan, pot or oven sooner, or reduce the recommended cooking temperature slightly. Cookies and muffins are notoriously prone to burning in reduced recommended recipe amounts. To save your cookies from burning, as already noted, use a smaller baking pan to reduce the chance of the pan overheating. With muffins, any unused cups in the muffin pan (this applies to cupcakes as well) should be filled with about an inch of water to ensure the pan doesn't overheat and burn your buns. Er, I mean, muffins.


One guide to never try to break is that most baking recipes, especially for cakes, have been perfected for the exact sizes and serving portions mentioned. Never attempt to increase or decrease them. You are almost guaranteed to fail in such an effort. If you need more, cook multiple batches as directed instead of trying to double or triple what is in the recipe. If you need to reduce the recipe, go to a bakery.

Test Answer

Well, I'm not talented enough on this newfangled computer thingy to print it to you right, so here it is in descriptive:

The formula is: "New Yield" (how much you want) over (divided by) "Old Yield" (how much the recipe is for) Equals "conversion factor".

Now, multiply each ingredient by the formula: "conversion factor x old quantity = new quantity"

(in the US measurement system, you usually have to convert all weights to ounces and all measures (liquid) to fluid ounces. In the metric system, this is not usually necessary, lazy Brits).

Okay. Now you know how to convert a recipe - unless you don't understand US measurements. In that case, let me know by email if you want me to post a complete list of US measurements used in cooking (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc) next time.

Keep on cooking!

(All rights reserved by the author)

Comments, questions and suggestions welcome.
E-Mail to Smorgas_of_Borg, the Phantom Chef

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