Divide and Conquer– A Skinny Secret for the Holidays

I’m taking a break from my regularly-scheduled programming to bring you this special message that may or may not be helpful during this time of seasonal surplus.

small pans.jpg

I know it's hard to tell in this picture, but these are half-size versions of standard-size baking pans.

Is it just me or do you also have trouble resisting leftover desserts from holiday celebrations? With Thanksgiving behind me, but hopefully not still ON my behind, I am contemplating my plan of defense against the traditional weight gain of the Christmas season. For me, the leftover pie, cake or cookies beckon most loudly when everybody has gone home. Of course, I try to pawn off any extra food, but I’ve observed that more and more, people decline. And who can blame them? Few of us need extra padding.

After accidentally buying several 7-1/2 inch glass pie plates on ebay a few years ago,  I noticed the average pie recipe, cut in half, fit perfectly into my small pie plates. Although reduced in size, there still seemed to be plenty of dessert for our special family dinners (hubby, me, 2 sons and their wives and 1 grandson) with little or no leftovers.

When I started looking around, I found a small tart pan at a Home Goods store;  small, round, cake pans (6-inch) at a restaurant supply (also seen in craft stores); and a small bundt pan in my mom’s kitchen. I even have a spring-form pan in a small size as well as small loaf pans. This means I can cut almost any dessert recipe in half. Everybody gets to enjoy his sweets, but I don’t have much left when the party is over.

Last week, for Thanksgiving dinner, I made 4 (7-1/2 inch) pies, all of them filled with only half a recipe. Multiple culinary choices seem to be part of the Thanksgiving tradition and I wanted to make sure everybody got what he wanted without too much waste. Most people took a taste of several different pies, then helped themselves to a larger serving of their favorite one. The result– much fewer leftovers than past years when we would have 4 or 5 (9-inch) pies.  In fact, so few that I didn’t feel guilty about tossing remainders at the end of the day.  (If you have trouble disposing of sweets, read my post “On the waist or in the waste.”)

This might not work when cooking for a huge crowd, but I’ve noticed I sometimes go overboard worrying that people will go home hungry and then I end up with way too much. I remind myself that anything in short supply suddenly seems more precious and popular.  Better to have people fighting over the last piece than trying to pawn off half a cake on people who really don’t want or need it or worse, me eating it later.

One word of caution: you might want to experiment ahead of time with any particular recipe you’re planning to divide to make sure you did the math right.  I make note of the amounts for future reference right there in the cookbook.  For things like pie or tart crusts, you may need more like 2/3 or 3/4 of a recipe. I like to double a one-pie-crust recipe and then make 3 smaller crusts. The 2/3 to 3/4 rule also applies to icing or frosting.

Don’t forget to adjust baking times.  A half-recipe will likely take more than half the original time but not quite as long as a whole recipe.


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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Lou Gist January 3, 2016 at 6:21 pm

This may be a duplicate request. It disappeared after I tried to send.

Do you remember Ell’s breakfast Slices. I loved them and they just disappeared off the shelves probably 25-30 years ago. They were wonderful. Better than Hawaiian bread. I wish you could replicate. The slices were dense and yellow colored.


Sona December 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm

oops also cookie sheet


Sona December 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm

As a former Home ec person, wondered what your take is on buying a good yet inexpensive pan. Do not want the nonstick, yet I havent a clue as to what to buy.

Looking for small frying pan, 8 x 13 pan thankyou


Paula December 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Sona, I use a Scan Pan skillet. It has a titanium non-stick finish. Sorry, except for my Le Creuset, I use nonstick because I don’t like to use much oil in the pan. I also don’t like to scrub pans. My favorite cookie sheet is a Volrath. Love, love them. Available at restaurant suppy or online.


Sara December 7, 2011 at 11:46 am

What a fantastic idea!!! My husband is always joking that I make enough food to feed a small army… it’s just the two of us, but growing up I frequently cooked/baked for a large family. Old habits die hard. Being forced to prepare smaller servings will definitely be helpful for me.

Anyway. I’m a newcomer to your website…. I followed a pin on pinterest for your salad in a jar (which is equally brilliant). Glad to have found you!


Paula December 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Hi Sara, Glad you wrote. Can’t wait to look around your blog. Very interesting. Good luck with portion sizes. It can be challenging. Paula


Foodnap November 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm

This sounds fantastic, the smaller the merrier 😉


Piper@GotItCookIt November 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm

You are brilliant! I like to make small tarts/quiches, but I should do it for dinner parties too. Everyone usually has too much dinner and eats little, or no, dessert. This way I don’t have to eyeball the dessert when I am pouring my morning coffee.


bonnie November 27, 2011 at 11:50 am

This is such sensible advice– thank you! Today I will be throwing away the remains of the last 2 bakery pies that others brought (not worth eating). Next year I’ll make the pies–minis!.


TheKitchenWitch November 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

Save the Ass! 🙂

For me, pie isn’t the problem. It’s those pesky leftover mashed potatoes and gravy…


The Café Sucré Farine November 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm

You always have great ideas, Paula! I love these smaller pans, didn’t know they came in all these different varieties – I do love Homegoods too – seems like you can always find such fun things there! Another thought is to make two pies or cakes in the smaller size pans and freeze the other portion for the next party or get together – giving you less leftovers but also less work when the next special occasion rolls around!


Paula November 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Chris, Great idea–especially for cakes and pie crusts.


Betty @ scrambled hen fruit November 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

This is a great idea. 🙂 None of us here need leftovers to tempt us. I have several smaller sized cake pans, but no small pie tins. Those I’ll have to look for!


carolyn November 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I have a suggestion when baking anything on a thin cookie sheet ,such as dinner rolls. I put two cookie sheets together and this prevents the bottoms from getting too brown while the tops turn out beautifully brown.


`Suzanne November 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Such smart advice Paula, I only made one pie this year and the rest people brought so it’s gone and by the way it was your recipe for Banana Cream Pie and it turned out fabulously delicious! I’m off to the gym now only my 2nd day for the week at the gym but one day at home so not too bad for a holiday week with out of town guests. Hope your hand pies turn out great. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.


Marilee November 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

Great idea! I just found the small sizes on http://www.foodservicewarehouse.com. They’re advertising no minimum order for this week only and free shipping. Thanks for the great tip!


Paula November 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for leaving the link Marilee. They have all kinds of cool stuff. I could go crazy!


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