How to Scale a Recipe

The Mac and Cheese recipe makes five servings, but you’re throwing a dinner party for nine people. You’re in luck: We’ve made it easy to scale our recipes up to greater yields (or down if you have fewer mouths to feed) by using baker’s percentages. Just follow these simple steps.


  1. Look in the scaling column of the recipe, and find the ingredient having a scaling value of 100%. Note the weight given. The 100% ingredient is usually the one that has the biggest effect on the yield of the recipe.
    Example: The 100% ingredient in the Mac and Cheese recipe above is white cheddar cheese.
  2. Calculate the scaling factor by dividing the number of servings (or grams) you want to make by the recipe yield.
    Example: This recipe yields five servings. If you are making nine servings, the scaling factor is 9 ÷ 5 = 1.8. (You can use the weight of the yield rather than the servings to calculate the scaling factor: If you want to make 1,100 grams of mac and cheese from a recipe that yields 800 g as written, the scaling factor is 1,100 ÷ 800 = 1.4.)
  3. Calculate the scaled 100% value for the recipe by multiplying the weight of the 100% ingredient by the scaling factor from step 2.
    Example: This five-serving recipe calls for 285 g of white cheddar, which is the 100% ingredient. To make nine servings, you will thus need 285 g x 1.8 = 513.0 g of white cheddar cheese. The scaled 100% value for this recipe is 513.0.
  4. Calculate the scaled weight for every other ingredient in the recipe by multiplying its scaling percentage by the scaled 100% value from above. You can ignore the weights and volumes given in the recipe—just use the scaling percentages.
    Example: The scaling percentage given for dry macaroni is 84%. Multiplying this by the scaled 100% from step 3, you find that 0.84 x 513.0 = 430.9. Similarly, you need 0.93 x 513.0 = 477.1 g of water or milk and 0.04 x 513.0 = 20.5 g of sodium citrate.

Because volume measurements are often rounded to the nearest spoon or cup, you should not multiply or divide volumes when scaling a recipe up or down. Instead, scale the weights as described above, and then weigh the ingredients on a digital scale.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Top 5 Modernist Cuisine at Home Tools

Maybe you gave someone Modernist Cuisine at Home, or perhaps you have it yourself. Now you want to know what to give with it, or what else to put on your own wish list. These are our top five suggestions.

  1. Right now, both Polyscience and SousVide Supreme have great packages.

    Digital Scale: We are very keen on precision. A digital scale allows chefs to accurately measure out Modernist ingredients, some of which can drastically alter your recipe if measured imprecisely. We recommend a scale that weighs out to a tenth of a gram because many recipes with Modernist ingredients may call for amounts as little as 0.3 g. We like the Digital Bench Scale. While our recipes in Modernist Cuisine at Home don’t call for accuracy in hundredths of a gram, you may still want to consider a scale that measures to the hundredths. If you are cutting a recipe in half, however, and it originally calls for 0.3 g, you’ll want to be able to measure out 0.15 g. For such precision, we like the Digital Pocket Scale. For something cheaper and ultraportable, try the American Weigh Signature Series.

  2. Digital Thermometer: As Nathan often says, “Why waste time being a human thermostat?” For cooking meat sous vide to precise temperatures, you’ll need a good thermometer. We like Taylor’s Professional Thermocouple and ThermoWorks’s Splash-Proof Thermapen, but if you are looking for something a bit cheaper, you may want to go with a digital oven probe.

    We make everything from carnitas to stocks to risotto in our pressure cooker.
  3. Sous Vide Setup: Sous vide cooking is becoming more and more popular, hence finding sous vide machines in stores is now easier. In making Modernist Cuisine at Home, we used the SousVide Supreme alongside various models from Polyscience. The SousVide Supreme is a little more affordable, but right now both companies have some great offers. PolyScience is offering the Sous Vide Professional (CREATIVE Series) with a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home for just $599. SousVide Supreme is offering their model, a copy of the book, and a vacuum sealer for $599.
  4. Pressure Cooker: When shopping for a pressure cooker, you’ll want to look for one with a spring valve. This is the best choice for stocks and sauces because the valve seals the cooker before it is vented. This traps most of the aromatic volatiles before they can escape. We love our Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker, but if you are looking for something a little cheaper, try Fagor.

    Foaming is just one of many functions of a whipping siphon.
  5. Whipping Siphon: Whipping siphons are one of our favorite kitchen gadgets. We use them for everything from making foams to carbonating fruit to marinating meat. We use them interchangeably with carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide cartridges, depending on what we want to do (note that you can do this with a whipping siphon but not with a soda siphon). We prefer iSi’s Gourmet Whipping Siphon, but there are many options available. Try to find one that holds a full liter, but smaller versions work too.


If you are looking for more ideas, we have you covered. Check out our Gear Guide where we discuss ovens, microwaves, silicone mats, blenders, and grills, just to name a few.

Tipping the Balance

When Nathan began seriously thinking about Modernist Cuisine, he was adamant about one aspect of the recipes: they would all be measured by weight. At The Cooking Lab, we believe that precise measuring by weight is the only way to ensure a dish turns out accurately every time.

The other day, Farhad Manjoo published an article–almost a plea, really–in The New York Times advocating for more cooks and cookbooks to toss their cups and spoons and use kitchen scales instead.

While he doesn’t mention hydrocolloids, or other Modernist ingredients that can change a recipe if off by just 0.1 gram, he does give this anecdote in defense of scales:

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the managing editor of the blog Serious Eats, once asked 10 people to measure a cup of all-purpose flour into a bowl. When the cooks were done, Mr. Lopez-Alt weighed each bowl. “Depending on how strong you are or your scooping method, I found that a ‘cup of flour’ could be anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces,” he said. That’s a significant difference: one cook might be making a cake with one-and-a-half times as much flour as another.

We ran into the same problem during the production of MC when we wanted to give a table of average volume measurements for people who did not own a scale. Yet despite all of our efforts, it is impossible when working with solid ingredients to consistently obtain a given number of grams simply by measuring the volume. The ingredient dimensions, the force with which you fill the measure, and the natural shifts in water and solid content all contribute to inconsistent measurements; there just isn’t any practical way to replicate these factors every time.

Manjoo explains why we don’t see many recipes giving quantities in grams or ounces, despite all of the evidence that everything from carrots to hydrocolloids needs to be measured by weight:

Yet the scale has failed to become a must-have tool in American kitchens. Cook’s Illustrated magazine said scales were in the kitchens of only a third of its readers, and they’re a fairly committed group of cooks.

There’s a simple reason for this: The scale doesn’t show up in most published recipes. American cookbooks, other than baking books, and magazines and newspapers generally specify only cup and spoon measurements for ingredients. A few, like Cook’s Illustrated, offer weights for baking recipes, but not for savory cooking. (The Times Dining section recently began using weight measurements with baking recipes.)

This creates a chicken-and-egg problem for the kitchen scale. Cooks don’t own scales because recipes don’t call for one, and recipes don’t call for one because cooks don’t own one.

Many people argue that they prefer to cook by feel: they don’t measure because they don’t need to. But they are making recipes that they know, and they have acquired a sense of taste and confidence in the kitchen through a significant period of trial and error. The truth is professional chefs, bakers, and pastry artists often do things by feel, too, but only because they have gained such a breadth of experience beforehand.

Because we wrote our book to teach people and to empower them with accurate information, we saw it as fundamentally important to give them the precision of a weight for every ingredient (the sole exception we made is for final fine adjustments to seasonings that are highly dependent on the individual taste of the cook). People who are learning how to cook and follow a recipe according to volume often end up disappointed by failure and can end up losing interest in cooking; that is a terrible shame when it happens.

We are hopeful that more cook­book authors will embrace this philosophy. Good scales are cheaper and easier to find than ever, and we hope they find their way into all modern kitchens. You can read all about them on pages 1·94-95 and 4·41 of Modernist Cuisine, and find our recommendations in our Modernist gear guide.

Kitchen Tech and Progress

The link between humanity’s development and the evolution of cooking techniques is well-documented and perhaps even obvious. Less apparent, however, is that along the way, many “traditional” chefs and cooks turned up their noses at new and emerging gastronomic tools and techniques of their time.

Some new products, such as the pressure cooker, initially seemed destined for mass-market adoption, but have never become commonplace. Other, much more outlandish-sounding contraptions, perhaps most notably the microwave oven, eventually became so widespread that a backlash occurred and people waxed nostalgic for the way food used to be prepared. But somewhere between the Kyocera hand-honed ceramic knife and the Slap Chop are the inventions that simplified difficult, time-consuming, or previously unfeasible kitchen tasks enough to become essential tools in their own right.

There are Luddites and technophiles in every realm and every generation. Despite its title, Modernist Cuisine doesn’t take a strong position on old versus new. Rather, the book was created to explore the boundaries between the conventional and the avant-garde, and to push the envelope of modern cooking. Modernist Cuisine employs science to discover and explain how things work, why they don’t, and how to achieve culinary feats formerly considered impossible.

Does water boiled in a microwave oven or on an induction burner taste or behave any differently than water boiled over a gas flame or on a wood stove? Does anyone miss the prolonged stirring, beating, whipping, and kneading that is now handled by the ubiquitous electric mixer? Is a pinch or a dash somehow better than a gram or a microgram as measured by an electronic scale? Who’s to say that the ultrasonic pressure cooker won’t someday soar in popularity like the microwave oven or that the rotary homogenizer won’t ultimately be as common as today’s electric blender? Stranger things have happened.

History’s culinary scientists, inventors, and pioneers had to create every recipe, implement, and technique in use today. The team behind Modernist Cuisine is aware that not everyone wants to be on the bleeding edge of food science. But someone has to do it. Otherwise, sharp rocks and pointed sticks would be the only tools of the culinary trade.