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Cooking for One: Halving recipes: The trick's in pan size

Thursday, May 11, 2000

By Marlene parrish

Let's assume that you, a solo cook, have a sweet tooth. Let's also assume that you have enough kitchen savvy to keep you from starving on any given day.

So what do you do when you see a dessert recipe that looks really good, but it makes a huge quantity, something like a Texas Sheet Cake or a Chocolate Angel Food Cake? Do you cut out the recipe and file it to try some on some future day or just sigh and turn the page? True, you could make a whole big cake then have to deal with staleness, or cut it in half and freeze, but then the odds are good you'll taste the off flavors that eventually permeate frozen baked goods.

Solo cooks, you can have your cake and eat it, too, if you take the time to do some arithmetic. Almost all cakes, bars, pies, puddings and cookies can be made in half portions. There's a rule for it: Rulers rule.

For example. A few weeks ago in Kitchen Mailbox, the Post-Gazette published a recipe for Pineapple Squares. What a good idea. A cakey crust on both the bottom and top with fruity goo in the middle. It sounds like a riff on pineapple upside down cake or a pineapple newton. Sounds like a Cajun Sweet Dough Pie. Sounds like I'm making this.

But reading through the recipe, I cringed.

Bake in a 15-by-10 jelly roll pan? It would take a week for my husband and me to eat the thing. Heck, we're only good for a couple of squares each until we get bored. Roll out huge sheets of dough and try to transfer it into a jelly roll pan in one piece? Well, that sounds like fun. Nah. Too cumbersome. I'm cutting this baby in half.

I yelled to Bob, "What's half of a 15-by-10 jelly roll pan?" Bob yelled back, "Use your 11-by-7 pan." He figured the area by multiplying the length by the width of the pan, getting 150 square inches. Half of that amount will fit comfortably in the 11-by-7 rectangle, 77 square inches. Close enough.

Here are some other handy substitutions by about half. When you figure the area of a round pan, remember Pi-r-squared. (And hold the jokes about how pies are round.) That is, the area is 3.14 times the square of the radius.

Then again, you can always use water displacement, dumping water from one pan to another until you stop making a mess.

Tube pans, angel food pans or kugelhopf pans measure 9 or 10 inches in diameter. To make half, bake the recipe in an 8-by-4 or 9-by-4-inch loaf pan. If you want to bake the whole recipe, you divide it into two loaf pans or into 4 miniature loaf pans (5 3/4-by-3 3/4 inches).

To bake half a cake, bake one layer in a cheesecake pan of the same diameter. Or bake half a cake in a small cast-iron skillet.

To bake half a pie, bake the recipe in a small fluted tart pan. Or instead of using a pie or tart pan at all, make a small rustic pie. Those are the ones that just flop the dough over the filling on a cookie sheet and size is really not very important.

Half an egg? A large egg measures 1/4 cup. Break the egg into a cup, stir with a fork and take out 2 tablespoons. Kitty gets the rest.

The only place you'll get in trouble with halving a recipe is figuring out how long to bake it. If your oven has a window and a light, just keep checking progress until the everything starts to look done, then test it. C'mon, this isn't rocket science here.

Now let's deconstruct the pineapple recipe.

Looking at the ingredients, I see there's no salt. Salt is like sunshine in a recipe. When it's absent, the dish is flat and uninteresting. When salt is present, everything tastes a bit brighter and better. Add a pinch of salt.

I see there's no flavor boost. Pineapple loves just a hint of almond, so I'll add a few drops of almond extract and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. (I know that a 15-ounce can of crushed pineapple is just a titch short of 2 cups, so I'll tuck away that thought, and maybe some day I'll make these squares with thick, sweet applesauce or a canned commercial coffeecake filling.)

Since I'm lactose intolerant and don't use butter, I might substitute 6 tablespoons of light olive oil for 1/2 cup butter. The lemon juice and almond extract will cover any subtle flavor differences.

Finally, life is short, so instead of chilling the dough, rolling it out later and wrestling it into the pan, I'll roll out the dough right away between sheets of waxed paper and ease it into the pan.

Honey, I Shrunk the Pineapple Squares

1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 (15-ounce) or 2 (8-ounce) can(s) crushed pineapple, juice included
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Few grains salt
Fresh lemon juice to taste

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick butter (or 6 tablespoons light olive oil)
1 egg, broken up
1/4 cup milk

1 cup confectioners' sugar, about
Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spritz an 11-by-7-inch pan with nonstick spray.

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a medium-small saucepan. Add remaining filling ingredients and cook until thickened; let cool.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into the dry ingredients or use a food processor. Mix in the eggs and milk to form a dough. (If using olive oil, add it with the liquids.)

Stir the dough until it holds together, then divide in half. Roll 1 piece between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Use the pinky side of your hand to keep the edges even, and use a ruler to roll the dough into a rectangle the size of the pan. Remove the top sheet of paper only. Use the other sheet with the dough "stuck" to it as a guide, and fit the dough into the pan. Roll out the second piece of dough the same way and set aside for the moment.

Spread cooled filling over bottom layer of dough. Top with other half of dough.

Bake 30 minutes. Immediately score top of hot cake into pieces, about 20.

When cool, dust with confectioners' sugar or drizzle with a glaze made from confectioners' sugar and a few drops each of lemon juice and water.

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