I started out small-batch cooking when I was living on my own. It was more of a necessity back then. While I could eat an entire 9-by-13 tray of lasagna, it didn’t necessarily mean I should. And sure, I froze extra portions of food—for a while.
And then one day I woke up to a freezer full of cornbread squares, unidentified things in red sauce (either that aforementioned lasagna or a layer cake with raspberry sauce?), and so many balls of cookie dough that the bag wouldn’t close anymore.
Enough, I said.
When I set out to scale down my favorite recipes, I knew the ingredients wouldn’t be the only things that would have to shrink. So I took one last look at my large baking pans, and off to the donation box they went. I successfully hunted down a 6-inch cake pan (for making my favorite cakes, only smaller) and I squealed when I found a muffin pan with just 6 divots at an estate sale one Saturday morning. I started to believe the small pans were out there, I just had to find them.
But one pan with excellent scale-down potential was right in front of my eyes all along: the bread loaf pan. The classic metal bread loaf pan is 9-inches by 5-inches by 3-inches, roughly half the size of a 8-by-8-inch square brownie pan.
Before I started small-batch baking, the loaf pan didn’t get a lot of play in my kitchen (except for a chocolate pound cake recipe with a glaze that makes it taste like a donut!). But when I was looking to scale down my brownie recipe, the loaf pan presented itself. When cut down the middle, I had two individual-sized brownies. A brownie for today and a brownie for tomorrow: what more could I want?
These days, I have a small family of my own, but I have to admit that my mini desserts had a big part in that. The only thing I could find out about this handsome guy at work that he had quite a sweet tooth. After casually mentioning my love for chocolate, we were talking, and the rest of the story gets a little fuzzy, because it seems like we just jumped into the moment last Sunday morning when we were all in the kitchen together, teaching our daughter how to stir brownie batter.
When I’m not using my 9-inch loaf pan to make brownies, I make these salted caramel bars. My husband absolutely loves them, and I love that I have an excuse to buy fancy jars of salted caramel sauce. (You can also make your own!) I also make a mini banana cake in the bread loaf pan. Don’t miss the dark chocolate peanut butter frosting—it takes the cake over the top.
Notes on scaling down full-size recipes for a smaller crowd:
Savory and sweet recipes can both be scaled down to fewer servings. I’ll admit: savory recipes are much easier to reduce. Baking is a science, and it’s usually not as simple as halving a recipe. When I’m reducing a large dessert, I start by halving it. If it calls for an odd number of eggs, decide if you’ll use the egg yolk or egg white: In general, cookies and bars need the egg yolk (for richness and chew), while cakes often need the egg white (for fluff and lift). You can also beat an egg, weigh it, and then easily divide it in half, using the weight as an indicator.
One peculiar thing about small desserts is that I’ve found that the baking time usually does not differ significantly from the original. As always, you’ll want to check your baked good about 5 minutes before the time is up, but I’ve found the baking time is usually the same as the original-sized dessert. If a cake sinks, however, it’s usually because it was under-baked, so don’t be afraid to increase baking time, as the batter is often compacted much more in a smaller pan.
It’s going to be a bit of a project to scale down a baking recipe and get it to taste as good as the original, but that’s where I come in—I’m happy to do it for you.
Two-Serving Banana Cake with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Frosting
For the cake:
- 1 large ripe banana
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil (or coconut oil)
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
For the frosting:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A few splashes of milk, as needed
Salted Caramel Bars for Two
For the bars:
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup salted caramel sauce (recipe follows, or use store bought), plus extra for drizzling
For the salted caramel sauce:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half (or cream)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
Do you have an ingenious tool or technique for miniaturizing a big recipe? Tell us in the comments below.