How to Multiply Ingredients and Minimize Stress

It’s that time again—the season of holidays, home-cooked feasts, and plenty of company to accompany the meal. While the task of entertaining a large group might seem a bit daunting, actually cooking for the crowd can be altogether overwhelming. Here are a few tips and recipe tricks to make sure your gathering goes off as planned.

The best way to prepare for a meal of larger proportions is to be strategic about the menu planning itself. It’s all about selecting the right recipes.

Selecting Recipes
•    Include Room Temperature Dishes: Choose a variety of recipes—some should be delicious served chilled or at room temperature to avoid reheating or baking everything off at the last minute.
•    Include Made in Advance Dishes: Use some recipes that can be fully made even days in advance—desserts such as cookies stand the test of time, and offer infinite variety to the menu
•    Include Prepped In Advance Dishes: Use recipes that can be prepped in advance—you won’t dress the salad until the last moment, but all the vegetables can be chopped, tossed together, and kept fresh and crisp in the refrigerator

Expanding Recipe Sizes
It’s likely that the recipes you’ve chosen aren’t already portioned for a crowd, and the problem with cooking for larger numbers is that an extrapolation of your favorite recipe may not be the direct translation you’d hoped for. There are certainly some recipes that multiply out to feed the masses easier than others, but that’s not to say you can’t make even your favorite, family classic stretch a little further with a little conceptual thinking, and, yes, a bit of math.

Here are a few basic tips and questions to consider in adapting your favorite recipes for a holiday feast:
•    What function are certain ingredients providing?—are they part of a specific ratio that controls the integrity of the dish?
•    Do the ingredients multiply out evenly?—it’s likely unreasonable to use something like half and egg yolk; you’ll need to scale up a smidge to make sure you’re working with whole amounts
•    Will your multiplications leave you with leftover ingredients?—while there are worse things than being stuck with ½ a can of tomato paste, you can easily plan to adjust the extrapolation of your lasagna recipe to coincide with whole-can ratios.
•    Will your cooking time be the same?—your bake time will differ depending on if you’ve accommodated the doubled chocolate cake batter in two pans or piled it all into one mammoth mold.
The first step to adapting a recipe is to think through how the individual ingredients function together to make the final dish. Is the oil making an emulsion, or coating the pan? To better exemplify how to think through enlarging a recipe, we’ll consider a few examples from Merry White’s essential and well-loved Cooking for Crowds.

White’s cookbook is an eclectic collection of flavors and meals, and offers ingredient lists and amended directions for each to be prepared for 6, 12, 20, or 50 guests. For savory recipes such as White’s Chinese Spiced Eggplant, for instance, the multiplication of the ingredients is based on the main feature of the dish—the aubergine, of course. (Aubergine is the scientific name for eggplant.) The proportions for the stuffing, and the sauce then follows suit accordingly. The oil, however, is used to coat the pan, not the eggplant directly. In this case, such a direct translation would result in oily eggplant indeed—White has thus wisely adjusted the oil to the size of the cookware, not the quantity of produce.

Two Recipe Examples - Fresh Strawberries with Sabayon Sauce and Linzertorte

Baking recipes have their own set of specific considerations when multiplying out for crowds. Some ingredients are set in essential ratios—the combination of egg and sugar is a prime example—which must be kept in precise balance. The recipe in this case needs to be multiplied out exactly. Take, for example, White’s recipe for Sabayon Sauce, and notice the direct multiplication of egg yolks and sugar to maintain the delicate emulsion that keeps the sauce from breaking. Then consider White’s recipe for Linzertorte, which carefully crafts the ingredients to make a flaky crust that is a reasonable size, but which does not adhere to the same, strict, multiplication stipulations. (Linzertorte is an Austrian pastry with a lattice dough design on top. Named after the city of Linz, Austria, it is popular at Christmas in Austria and some surrounding countries.)

Chill the strawberries until serving time.
Place the egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, or in a large heavy bowl that will fit over a saucepan of simmering water, and beat with a whisk until thick. (Do not overcook or the eggs will scramble.) If lumps form, strain before chilling. Chill.
Just before serving, fold in the whipped cream. Garnish each dish of strawberries with a tablespoon or two of the sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg yolks and beat well. Stir in the ground almonds and lemon rind. Combine the flour, cinnamon, and cloves and fold into the creamed mixture. Knead until the dough is firm and holds together. [Knead dough in several batches if you are making the larger recipes.]
Pat two-thirds of the dough into a 9-inch round cake pan [2, 3, 5 pans], with removable bottom. The layer should be about ½ inch thick. [For the larger recipes, you can use foil pie pans, if you make sure the layer is flat and uniformly ½ inch thick.] Spread with the preserves.

Roll out the rest of the dough on a table. Cut strips out of the dough (eight strips per pan), and make lattice tops by placing four strips one way, four the other over the preserves and pinching the ends down. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, then cool. Cut into small pie wedges to serve.

(Recipes from Cooking for Crowds, 40th anniversary edition, Princeton University Press.)

Whether you’re planning an intimate dinner party or an extravagant feast, the final step of preparation is to consider space as well. Cookware and serving platters should all be accounted for in the planning stages of the meal, and clear out the refrigerator now—you’ll need all the space you can get.

Merry White has two videos on Watch Vietnamese Pickled Salad and Chocolate Almond Cake.

Boston University’s Experiential Programs in Food, Wine & the Arts is pleased to welcome Dr. Merry White on Tuesday, December 17th at 6pm for a seminar about cooking for crowds—just in time for the holiday season. Each guest will receive a copy of White’s book Cooking for Crowds, the freshly released 40th Anniversary Edition! For tickets please call 617-353-9852.

Boston University’s Food and Wine Experiential Programs are dedicated to culinary education, offering certification programs in cheese, wine and the culinary arts as well as seminars in food, wine and gastronomy. Semester-long certification courses are offered during the Fall and Spring academic semesters while special tastings, demonstrations, and guests lectures are held year-long. For a full listing of current events and more information regarding professional certificates, please visit

Jessica Spier
Freelance Writer
Graduate of Boston University’s Program in the Culinary Arts