The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Recipes This Holiday Season

From soups to breads and spices, here's an expert's advice on how to do it right.

If you're entertaining for the holidays, there might be a problem with your go-to recipes. As perfect as they might be for your own family, there's a good chance they won't provide enough food for your guests. This is where scaling comes into play. It's the simple act of modifying your recipe to make sure it serves the right amount of people. Jennifer Earnest of Chef's Garden Catering & Events and Jen & Jamey's Virtual Cooking Classes in Jacksonville, Florida deals with scaling every day. She says often it isn't quite as simple as doubling or tripling your recipe. Although that may work well with soups and casseroles it can be tricky with ingredients like spices and yeast. So what's a person to do? We asked Earnest for her best tips for scaling recipes this holiday season. Here's what you need to know.

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How to Scale Salt and Spices in a Recipe

If your recipe contains one teaspoon of salt, it might be tempting to think that you'd simply triple the salt if you're making a batch for three times as many people. Not so fast, says Earnest. Tripling the salt might make the end result overly salty and the same principle applies to other spices, too. Earnest also says that when working with salt it's important to be aware that there may be other ingredients, like stock or bullion, that also contain sodium, making it even easier to over salt your soup. She says you should add salt and other spices in small increments. Taste as you go along until you reach the desired flavor level. Lastly, she suggests, "add the salt close to the end of your dish."

How to Scale Yeast or Baking Powder in a Recipe

Buttery yeast bread is the perfect accompaniment to a holiday meal. However, if you double or triple recipes with yeast or baking powder, there's a good chance your bread will rise too much and make a mess all over your oven. No one wants that! Earnest says there's an easy solution. Instead of straight forward scaling, Earnest says, "stick with small batches." This means that instead of doubling with yeast or baking powder, you should just make two separate loaves and bake them at the same time.

How to Pick the Right Pan for a Modified Recipe

Soups and sauces are good candidates for recipe doubling and straight forward scaling. Simply double the recipe, dump it in the pot, and you're through. This concept doesn't necessarily hold true with other types of food, however. If you try it with a cake or a recipe like lasagna, you're likely to find it won't get cooked all the way through if you fill your pan all the way to the top. To prevent this, Earnest says, "when you are doubling a recipe, you want to make sure your pot or pan has the right amount of surface area. Surface area is more important to depth when it comes to making sure things cook evenly, especially when cooking rice dishes and casseroles." In general, you'll be fine as long as you find a large enough pan to allow your dish to bake at the same thickness of your original recipe. Another solution is to make smaller batches in more than one pan as opposed to one big one.

How to Scale Your Portion Sizes

Portion sizes can be especially tricky over the holidays when your table most likely includes a variety of dishes. "If you are having 20 guests and five different casseroles, you will obviously need less of each casserole than if you are only serving two," Earnest says. "Look at your overall spread of dishes in comparison to how many guests you're serving." She goes on to say a good rule of thumb is eight ounces of sides and seven to nine ounces of protein per person. This will make sure everyone gets enough to eat without resulting in an excessive amount of leftovers.

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