Understanding Recipe Scaling
An Overview of Concepts, Tools and Techniques for Scaling Recipes for High-Volume Production Cooking and Baking
What it means to scale a recipe
Recipe Scaling refers to the process of changing or scaling a recipe to increase the units of foods produced while accommodating for the fact that the ingredients often do not increase on a one-to-one ratio if you want to establish the same flavor. For example, if your recipe makes four servings but you want to increase that to 80 servings (20 times the original amount) and you increase each ingredient by a factor of twenty, in all likelihood, the magic of what you intend will be lost in the process. Recipe Scaling is an art form: part math, part science, and 100% focussed on retaining the magic, the flavor, and the physical properties of your end product. .
When cooking in quantity (batch cooking for consumer packaged goods), some ingredients have the power to ruin your plans. These include ingredients such as flavoring (spices, salt, pepper), sweeteners or other additives which influence texture, and viscosity such as stabilizers, thickeners, raising agents and more. In these cases adding a mathematically corresponding amount of that ingredient may dramatically and negatively affect the final outcome of the recipe. Therefore chefs and makers who want to successfully create foods for large groups of people need to understand a certain amount of science and chemistry in order to create viable food at whatever scale. This article provides an overview of concepts, tools and techniques to be aware of when doing high volume production cooking and baking.
The proportion of ingredients generally scale arithmetically as the quantity increases. One problem chefs and makers encounter though is that recipes use different rates of measure which themselves do not easily scale.
A common example is in making large volumes of bread dough for multiple loaves of bread. The original recipe might call for four cups of flour and one cup of water. But flour can vary in volume based on density and texture. The best way to assure correct proportions is by converting all ingredients to a common measure – weight (mass) is most reliable – and then looking at their relative proportions. In this example the recipe becomes 10 ounces of flour to 6 ounces of water (both by weight). At home this can be measured with a typical cooking scale. In a professional setting, a heavy duty scale is useful and often necessary to accurately measure large volumes of ingredients.
Shown LPS-15 Portable Bench Scale by Brecknell
As part of its kitchen rental, Kitchen Nation provides chefs and makers with access to equipment like the scale shown above.
Recipe calculators are mathematical multipliers of a set of ingredients. That said, using them correctly depends on understanding what is happening at the level of chemistry in a recipe. Lifehacker has an excellent article that helps chefs and food makers better grasp the concept of recipe proportions in terms of ratios rather than specific amounts. How to Free Yourself from Recipes with a Few Golden Cooking Ratios is targeted to home chefs but is so well written that it’s valuable to anyone in the food industry.
Cooking Time and Temperature
Cooking time and temperature will change as the recipe scaling changes. It does not always change intuitively however. For example common sense may say that the more food is being cooked, the higher the temperature at which it will need to cook . Depending on the food being prepared however, the opposite may in fact be true. A classic recipe scaling case study describes cooking a multilayered wedding cake. Each successive layer is proportionally larger than the one above it. However since each layer has a larger surface area, it will cook faster at the same temperature. Therefore as each larger layer of the cake is baked, the temperature will need to be reduced but the cooking time extended. Science in the Kitchen has an excellent diagram that illustrates baking time and temperature as it changes relative to cake size.
Surface to Volume Ratio
Surface to volume ratio means the amount of raw material to the size of the cooking container. Almost any consumer packaged good is going to be made and sold in a single serving size or at most a multi serving (but still consumer sized) package. So even when making a recipe at a high volume the chances are you will be still be serving or selling it in a common individual sized container. When it comes to the actual application of heat to the mixture of source ingredients during the cooking process the size of the pot or pan will make a difference.
An excellent and detailed article that clearly explains issues with scaling recipes is at Science In The Kitchen. This article does a great job explaining many aspects of recipe scaling in particular:
- Heat flow rates – the example is baking bread: the larger the loaf the greater the difference in temperature from the outside surfaces to the center meaning larger loaves must cook at lower temperatures to compensate for the greater surface area.
- Equipment – the more food you put in an oven the slower (and potentially more unevenly) it will cook. One solution for this is to use a convection oven which pushes hot air around the food. One benefit of Kitchen Nation is that it provides professional level equipment like convection ovens. Another solution is a tunnel oven, the state of the art for industrial scale baking.
Baker’s Percentage (Formula Cooking)
Traditionally a baker’s percentage is a formula for scaling recipes that use flour. This formula can also be applied to other recipes – not just those in baking.
The principle underlying the baker’s percentage works like this: whatever the ingredient of a recipe is that has the greatest effect on the outcome (flavor/texture) of the recipe is considered to have the scaling value of 100%. This becomes the marker for the rest of the ingredients. Modernist Cuisine has an excellent example of this works as it would apply to a macaroni and cheese recipe. How to Scale a Recipe is actually one of the best descriptions ever written of how a baker’s percentage works. It is super concise and easy to understand.
The example given in Modernist Cuisine illustrates it this way – let’s say you have recipe for mac n’ cheese that serves 5 but you want to serve 30. Divide 30 by 5 to get 6. 6 is now the multiplier by which the rest of the percentages of the recipe are increased. In the case of the cheese (which is 100%) of the recipe for five calls for 285g. In order to scale the recipe then multiply 285 x 6 = 1710g. This is now how much cheese is needed! Easy!
In general knowing how this works will get you a long way toward successfully creating food at high volume.
Recipe Scaling and Cooking Process
The final piece for successfully scaling recipes is in the process. Some things to take into consideration when scaling the process of cooking when scaling recipes are: + Time – As recipe yields increase, time becomes a factor. This is because it will take longer to mix ingredients, and prepare, cook and transfer the final food product. Managing this in a way that does not have a negative impact is a skill that Kitchen Nation can help with as necessary. The way time will affect a cooking situation depends on the food involved.
+ Movement – working with large batches of food often requires the transfer of large quantities of ingredients. Even things like where a mixing bowl is positioned matter. If a chef or maker has to transfer 80 quarts of sauce (which might weigh as much as 160 pounds) it could be problematic. If the mixer is elevated however, gravity can be used to assist in the transfer of the sauce, rather than the chef having to be strong enough to handle 160lbs. Kitchen Nation’s kitchen layout and equipment placement is designed to take these needs into account. + Viscosity – Viscosity is a measure of a substance’s resistance to flowing. The more dense or thick a substance is, the higher its viscosity number. Another way to think of viscosity is that it is a factor that describes the internal friction of a moving fluid or substance. The larger the viscosity number the more friction the substance has and the harder equipment has to work to move it or mix it. This matters is because whether making pudding, bread dough or salsa, it is necessary to take into account the viscosity when mixing or blending large volumes of ingredients.
Shown: 80 Quart Hobart Mixer designed to handle large volume mixing
- Storage – Storage becomes an issue with scaling recipes because of the obvious need to stage ingredients before they are assembled and to handle completed product before it is delivered to the distribution location. Kitchen Nation provides dry storage, cold storage and freezer storage for chefs and makers on a weekly and monthly basis. Professional kitchen storage prices and rates are listed on the pricing page.
- Automation – Automation in the kitchen makes all the difference. The Unifiller depositing machine is an example of the necessity of automation that comes from recipe scaling. Without equipment to evenly and quickly disperse ingredients, it would be impossible to prepare and produce food beyond a certain scale. The video below show the Unifiller depositing machine in action.
One thing we emphasize and facilitate for chefs and makers at Kitchen Nation is cooking food at high production volume. We understand that it an interrelated (and sometimes very complex) system of formulas, processes and equipment. Scaling a recipe can be straightforward once the basic chemistry of food is understood. And beginning chefs can learn and apply that chemistry in a practical way in their home kitchen. But here Kitchen Nation provides real support is in helping to scale the process as well as the recipe so that chefs and makers can grow their food business in a sustainable way. Kitchen Nation provides large extremely clean facilities that are USDA certified and filled with the equipment necessary to produce food at large volumes.
At Kitchen Nation we know food is awesome. Food is something everyone needs. And as human civilization has become more urbanized (moving toward cities and away from living on farms), it has become necessary to make food in bulk. And large automated kitchens like those at Kitchen Nation help made this possible. Kitchen Nation helps food makers create food in quantity. Call it batch cooking, mega cooking or high volume production cooking – it’s all about scale. This article is written for food makers who want to understand the issues, tools and techniques involved in creating food in quantity. Most cookbook recipes are designed to make food for family sized scale. Creating the same food though for 100 people or for 10,000 individually wrapped portions is a whole different scope. The reason is because recipes don’t scale evenly. Renting professional cooking space at Kitchen Nation is the ideal way to produce your food at scale.
- How Stuff Works: How to Scale a Recipe
- Chemicalengineering.org: Chemical Engineering Innovation in Food Production
- Crafty Baking: How Baking Works
- Wikipedia: Modernist Cuisine
- Lifehacker: How to Free Yourself from Recipes with a Few Golden Cooking Ratios
- Cleveland.com: Learn to cook in parts: Understanding the ratio approach can empower cooks
- Your Mother was a Chemist: Science in the Kitchen: Scaling Recipes
Surface to Volume Ratio
- The Food Rush: The Science Behind Scaling Recipes
Scaling the Process
- Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University: Scaling Up Your Food Process
- Amazing Food Made Easy: Thickening Technique
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