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How can I modify a cake recipe to make a bigger cake?

The nicest thing about cake is that it comes in a variety of flavors. You may serve it in any number of layers, in a traditional Bundt pan, as paper-wrapped cupcakes, or as a single thick slab. But there’s a catch: most cake recipes are published with instructions tailored to a certain pan.

Thankfully, almost every batter may be cooked in a variety of ways, from a large cast iron skillet to a half sheet pan, or simply layers that are somewhat larger than those specified by the recipe. Altering your approach has less to do with science than intuition, but I’ve done my best to extrapolate some rules of thumb from my own experience (which includes hundreds of wedding cakes in every shape and size).

The idea is to ask the appropriate questions to obtain the answers you need to produce the proper quantity of batter for a certain pan and avoid frequent issues (is that stand mixer large enough to accommodate a double batch???) while predicting an acceptable bake time for the cake in question.

It’s a lot to take in, but with little practice and attention, you’ll be able to modify almost any cake to whatever pan you choose.

Question 1: Is the Pan Itself Important?

Most cake mixes are cooked in conventional pans, such as those included in our cake pan guide, and are generally adaptable to varied shapes and sizes.

Nevertheless, certain cakes have particular structural issues that need the use of a specific pan—for example, angel food cake should be cooked in a natural aluminum tube pan.

If a recipe asks for a particular pan, chances are it’s cooked that way for a purpose, and attempting to reformat it may have unintended results. This is especially true for cakes with unusual formulas or unusual techniques.

Consider the angel food cake once more: It’s an upside-down fat-free sponge cake created using whipped egg whites that must be chilled. Or think of cheesecake: It’s a flourless combination of cream cheese, sugar, and eggs cooked in a water bath in a loose-bottomed or springform pan.

Although it is undoubtedly feasible to modify these wildcards, such approaches are outside the purview of this essay, which will stay focused on more conventional cakes—think classic vanilla butter cake, devil’s food, gingerbread, and carrot cake, and other closely comparable styles.

Question 2: How Much Cake Batter Do I Need?

Cake pans exist in an almost unlimited variety of sizes and shapes, and although the usual rule of thumb is to fill a pan halfway to two-thirds full, who knows how many cups of batter that will be? And even if a baker were to fill a pan with water, one cup at a time, to determine its capacity, no recipe includes a yield in terms of batter volume.

But, adding up the components to obtain the total batter weight in a specific recipe is simple. As a result, I’ve learnt to consider my pan-to-batter ratio in terms of weight rather than volume. My technique isn’t based on science, but rather on the kind of intuition that a baker may develop after collecting enough data points over time.

It’s also worth emphasizing that my approaches are affected by personal taste, both in terms of aesthetics (I favor thick cake layers) and culinary style (I generally work with comparatively dense American cake batters, rather than airy European sponges).

Round and Square Pans

I multiply the area of the pan by 0.45 to estimate the approximate quantity of batter required for round and square cake pans at least two inches deep. For that, I have to pull out that ol’ grade school pun, “pie are square” (πr2), where r is the radius of the pan.

Layer Cake Formula: Area x 0.45 = estimated batter weight (in ounces)

A 10-inch cake pan, for example, has a radius of five inches, therefore r2 is 3.14(25), or 78.5. When I multiply 35 ounces by 0.45, I get a batter estimate of 35 ounces. It’s simple arithmetic, and the reward is cake, but for those who prefer not to calculate, here are the estimations for the most popular pan sizes.

  • 6-inch round: about 12 ounces batter
  • 8-inch round: about 24 ounces batter
  • 8-inch square: about 28 ounces batter
  • 9-inch round: about 28 ounces batter
  • 10-inch round: about 35 ounces of batter
  • 2-inch cupcake: about 1 3/4 ounces batter

Brownie Pans

I multiply the area of the pan by 0.37 to estimate the approximate quantity of batter required for rectangular pans at least two inches deep. To find the area of a rectangle, simply multiply the length of the pan by its width.

Brownie Pan Formula: Area x 0.37 = estimated batter weight (in ounces)

A 9-by-13-inch brownie pan, for example, has a surface area of 9 × 13, or 117 square inches. By multiplying 117 by 0.37, I get a batter estimate of 43 ounces of batter.

Sheet Pans

I multiply the area of the pan by 0.3 to estimate the approximate quantity of batter required for shallow, rectangular pans such as conventional half-sheet pans, quarter-sheet pans, and so on. To find the area of a sheet pan, simply multiply the interior length and width of each side.

Sheet Pan Formula: Area x 0.3 = estimated batter weight (in ounces)

  • Half-sheet pan: about 54 ounces batter
  • Quarter-sheet pan: about 26 ounces batter

Bundt Pans

To convert recipes to Bundt pans, multiply the pan’s capacity in cups by 4.2 to get the approximate quantity of batter required in ounces. If the capacity is unknown, you can place the pan in the sink and fill it with water, one cup at a time, until it’s filled.

Bundt Pan Formula: Volume (cups) x 4.2 = estimated batter weight (in ounces)

  • Classic 10-cup Bundt: about 42 ounces batter

Scaling any recipe requires some flexibility, depending on the objective and purpose of the cake, the depth of the pan, and personal taste, as well as the practicalities of scaling (more on that in the next section).

Nevertheless, both under- and over-filling a pan may create difficulties, so don’t go more than two or three ounces over or below the projected quantities. An under-filled pan may produce a low-volume cake that’s crusty and tough or dry, while an over-filled pan may produce a cake that’s dense and a bit sunken in the middle, or with a weirdly warped crust (even if it doesn’t overflow outright).

Question 3: How Should I Scale the Recipe?

Divide the total weight of ingredients in the original recipe by the total weight of batter required to calculate the batch size required for a certain cake.

New ÷ Original = Multiplier

Let’s assume I want to bake a single 10-inch cast-iron pan cake out of my three-layer devil’s food cake (70 ounces batter).

A 10-inch circular pan takes around 35 ounces of batter, according to my rule of thumb. Divide that new amount by the original amount in the recipe (70), and we get 0.5 as a multiplier—essentially making it a half batch.

In other circumstances, the arithmetic isn’t as neat, and you can end up with a fraction of an egg. Broadly speaking, the pros of beating up a whole egg to scale out exactly what you need vastly outway the cons.

As far as I can tell, the disadvantages include the emotional misery bakers feel when dropping 0.42 ounces of egg down the drain, or the inconvenience and ridiculousness of keeping and refrigerating less than a tablespoon of beaten egg in order to use it in their morning scramble.

Nonetheless, there may be situations when basing a recipe on an egg makes sense. For example, let’s say I wanted to make my three-layer toasted sugar and brown butter cake layer cake (82 ounces) as a single eight-inch layer for a Neapolitan cake.

According to my rule of thumb, an eight-inch circle takes around 24 ounces of batter. Divide the new quantity by the original amount in the recipe (82), and the multiplier is 0.29. This implies we’ll need 2 ounces of egg, which translates to around 1.16 big eggs.

We could round down and hope for the best, or we could attempt another technique (a big egg? A little extra water?). However, we may look at a recipe that asks for four whole eggs and conclude that 0.25 is a more handy multiplier, resulting in a one-egg cake. With 20 ounces of batter, it falls a bit short of my goals, but the simplicity and convenience of that batch size may be appealing to many bakers.

Please keep in mind that the new recipe will have its own schedule, and the physical cues in the recipe will always take priority over the approximate estimates indicated for time—this is true even for the old recipe, but more so with a smaller quantity.

Question 4: What About Scaling Up?

Many recipes may be safely doubled or tripled, whether for a dozen cupcakes, additional cake layers for stacking, or a large sheet cake to satisfy a party. This is particularly true for small-batch recipes, where the yield is a single cake layer, such as a my blackberry snack cake or a classic olive oil cake, and other such low-volume affairs.

Although some bakers claim that complicated, sidereal computations must be performed to adjust the leavening agents for varied batch sizes, I treat these ingredients with the cold indifference of arithmetic alone—this technique has never failed me. Perhaps on an industrial scale it would be of some concern, but so, too, would a number of other issues too numerous and obscure to address here.

The most serious problem for home bakers is to consider their mixer’s capacity when scaling up an already big recipe. While one may technically be able to cram all the ingredients required for a double batch of something into the bowl, overfilling will both limit the batter’s capacity for aeration as well as increase the difficulty of homogenization.

The end product is often a thick cake that may sink in the center or be streaked with discoloration along the top, with mottled, uneven textures inside (some parts fluffy, some parts gooey; some light, some dark).

When utilizing the creaming technique, I aim to load my six-quart stand mixer with no more than 85 ounces of cake batter; possibly a little more for cakes that need folding in the majority of the ingredients by hand.

For smaller stand mixers, the quantity will be lowered based on the bowl capacity; to approximately budget capacity, allow around 14 ounces of batter for every quart the bowl can hold. Hand mixers (and hand mixing) can be a bit trickier to judge, as their effectiveness depends on the volume-to-surface area ratio of the batter in the bowl (ideally, the batter would not be able to engulf the beaters or whisk).

Hence, before doubling a recipe, add all the components and make sure the volume of batter won’t be too much for the equipment involved. The safest option may be to make two individual batches of batter, rather than one double batch.

Question 5: How Can I Avoid User Error?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up a cake by doing the arithmetic in my brain, or how many times I’ve solved a problem for readers by asking, “Did you make a half or double batch?”

Whether scaling up or down, always write the new recipe down before jumping in. It just takes a split second of inattention to incorporate one component at the original level, virtually usually ending mis catastrophic failure.

I’ve been there more times than I’d like to admit, and I do this for a job! No matter how meticulous a baker is, on-the-fly mental calculations are dangerous at best, and errors are inevitable. Maybe not today, but someday. Inevitably.

Question 6: How Should I Adjust the Oven Temperature?

This one is easy—don’t touch the dial. The temperature specified in the recipe is the ideal temperature for baking the cake. Period.

Question 7: How Long Should I Bake It?

It’s difficult to determine how long a pan of batter will require to bake. The best and safest option will always be to keep a close watch over the cake, and let physical cues, such as color, texture, and aroma, be your guide.

Cakes are normally done when baked to an interior temperature of at least 200°F, although the margin of error for thermometer probe placement varies with the thickness of the cake itself, possibly making it an inaccurate approach for novices. If the probe is too near the pan, or else inserted at a shallow angle, the readings may not reflect the cake’s doneness.

Nonetheless, depending on the quantity of batter and pan type, one may generally estimate the bake time of a recipe to obtain a broad idea of how long it may possibly remain in the oven.

Most eight-inch circular cakes will take around 1.29 minutes per ounce of batter to bake. Cakes baked in bigger pans bake quicker (about.9 minutes per ounce of batter in a 10-inch pan), whereas cakes baked in smaller pans take longer (up to two minutes per ounce for a 6-inch pan). Cakes cooked in a tube or Bundt pan, on the other hand, may only need a minute per ounce of batter.

Keep in mind that the principles provided below are broad generalizations intended to keep bakers in the ballpark when it comes to batching and baking cakes in various pans. Navigating the details will still require attention to detail, so take your time, make careful notes, avoid substitutions, pay close attention to technique, and always check on the cake as it’s baking—well before the timer has gone off.

Take It Slow!

Scaling a cake to a new batch size and pan needs a series of computations, each with a new possibility for mistake. From there, it still requires the correct ingredients, accurate measurements, and good technique for preparing the batter, along with personal judgement and intuition in baking the cake itself.