The Ingredient Mistake To Avoid When Making Small-Batch Desserts

Sometimes, you only want half a cake. Or six donuts instead of a dozen. Maybe you live alone, or maybe you're the only person in the household with a sweet tooth. But most popular recipes aren't meant to serve just one or two people, and when it comes to perishable pastries and desserts, more isn't always merrier.

If you're not attached to a particular recipe, you might be able to find a small-batch version instead. There's no shortage of single-serving chocolate chip cookie recipes and mug cakes available online. But sometimes, you're craving grandma's recipe for banana muffins — which was meant to feed six kids and four hungry farm hands, not you and your roommate. 

If you're lucky, the recipe will be easy to divide. In baking, precision is everything, though, and you can't divide an egg by three. So what should you do?

Pay attention to ingredient amounts — and remember that baking is an art and a science. Need half an egg? Crack the egg into a bowl, whisk it until the white and yolk are combined, and then divide the whisked egg. The best way to do this — as with all recipe adjustments — is to use a kitchen scale rather than a measuring cup. Volumetric measurements, like cups and tablespoons, are imprecise. Small differences get magnified when you scale a recipe up or down, so you'll get better results if you weigh your ingredients

Sometimes, the answer is trial and error

Even if the math works out perfectly, scaling your recipe down can still throw things off. Yeast is tricky to adjust, and spices don't always divide the way you think they should, either. Bake time and pan size will all have an impact, too. With so many factors in play, it might take a few tries to get things right. 

Sometimes, you might realize that it's better to split the difference another way. Sure, whisking eggs together might be the best way to get a perfect split, but it might not be what is best for your recipe. The recipe might work better with just the yolk or just the white.

Even if you want to stay true to your original recipe, it might be a good idea to search for another smaller recipe that you can use as a guideline. Many pros recommend avoiding scaling a recipe by a factor of 4 — so if you're planning to make less than a quarter of the original, you'll need to do some extra work to adjust. Pay particular attention to leavening ingredients, too, like yeast, baking powder, or baking soda.

And if your experiments don't turn out, look on the bright side — at least you didn't waste a full-size recipe's worth of food.