Let Me Eat Cake
August 21, 2016 6:02 AM   Subscribe

I need your best recipes, techniques, tricks, and ideas for baked goods for a single person. Important note - NO MICROWAVE MUG CAKES.

I like to bake - bread, cakes, pies, cookies, the whole shebang. However, I'm also single, and usually making a whole cake is just too overwhelming for both me and whatever roommate I have (espcecially now, since my current roommate is celiac). Same with an entire pie or tart, and sometimes the best cookies go bad. So I'm looking for ways to satisfy the baking urge that yield much more mangageable levels of output - two or three cupcakes or muffins, four or five-inch cakes, single-serve tarts or pies, etc.

I've had success with hand pies and small galettes, especially since I found a recipe that told me how to successfully scale it down to a single person (1/4 cup of fruit, this is how big the crust should be, proceed like you usually would) but cakes and cupcakes seem to be an especial challenge; I often can't simply divide a recipe because they tend to call for, like, "one egg" and I can't scale that down by a quarter. I've tried several of the "microwave mug cakes" recipes, but I really don't like them - the texture is all wrong and they don't seem to have the same richness that a proper cake has. I'm looking for something that you bake in an oven, even a toaster oven.

Tips for freezing would also work - could I freeze a pre-mixed cake batter in single-serve sizes, so I can just thaw and pour into a single cupcake tin? Or freeze a baked cupcake for later thawing? Tips on both would work.

Assume I have the tools necessary for various sizes of tiny baking - mini loaf pans for quick breads and little pound cakes, five-inch cake tins and springform pans, five- and six-inch pie pans, even silicone cupcake liners that can be used singly - and possess intermediate-to-advanced kitchen skills. I also have the willingness to eat my mistakes so I'll try anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
For scaling down a recipe calling for an egg, consider using Egg Beaters and measuring out just what you need. This article gives tips on using Egg Beaters instead of real egg in baking.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:09 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

For things that call for a quarter of an egg -- if you're willing to waste an egg / fry up the remnants, you could beat the egg and then measure out 1/4 of the mixture.

I've been making scones, which typically have no eggs and easily scaleable ingredients, but I've just been making a regular size batch and wrapping them individually in seran wrap to have throughout the week.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:10 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mini-cakes! You can always just shrink down normal-sized cake recipes--here's a conversion formula.

Also, this recipe from the toast is lovely and tasty *and* you get to have fun making honey comb:

This small-yet-tall cake is tinted with the taste of espresso, in reference to the coffee that Miranda’s character Usnavi sells at his bodega in In the Heights; the brown sugar creme fraiche frosting references nothing, but is incredibly delicious; and the honeycomb on top is mere affectation, but helps the cake reach even higher and its golden sparkle represents the million awards Lin will indubitably win.
posted by damayanti at 6:11 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

I get these pastries (croissants, pain au chocolat, etc) that come totally frozen and uncooked - you just put one or two straight in the oven from the freezer (with a little egg wash if I'm feeling fancy) and they bake up fine. I imagine that your homemade pastries would work just as well - make sure they're small, freeze them on a flat tray, and then you can bake as many or as few as you like. It might take a little experimentation but it looks like you're up for that!

There are also tons of recipes for "refrigerator cookies" that can easily be "freezer cookies" - just slice off enough for one or two at a time, if they're not too thick they'll thaw and cook straight in the oven if you add a couple of minutes to the cooking time.
posted by cilantro at 6:12 AM on August 21, 2016

I'll also say I didn't have 4in cake pans, but I did have a set of ramekins and they worked perfectly.
posted by damayanti at 6:12 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could try the book Dessert for Two by Christina Lane, which has scaled-down recipes.

- Cookie dough can be rolled into balls or logs and frozen, unbaked. (If logs, slice before baking.)
- Pies can be frozen baked or unbaked (I prefer baked)
- Cakes, muffins, and bread can be frozen baked (I prefer to freeze cake layers undecorated/unfrosted)
- Pastry dough can be frozen in any quantity/size

Individually quick freeze smaller portions like cookie dough balls and muffins by setting them out on a cookie sheet and putting the entire sheet in the freezer for about two hours. (Overnight is fine if you forget. I often forget.) That way they won't stick together. Once individually frozen, I usually pour them all into a gallon-size Ziploc bag. For larger items like cake layers and pies, wrap well in plastic wrap and then wrap again in foil.

Thaw pastry dough and already-baked goods before using; everything else can go directly from freezer to oven, just add a couple of minutes baking time. For cupcakes and cakes, just thaw without further heating. For bread and muffins, you can either thaw them, or take them directly from the freezer, pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds or so to defrost them a little, then lightly toast them in the toaster oven.

Or you could do what I do, which is walk around the neighborhood with freshly baked goods and hand them out to whoever I see!
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:18 AM on August 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: A single note in the hopes of honing things down - The recipe from the Toast is pretty much EXACTLY the kind of thing I'm looking for, and the tips from "Dessert for Two" is right now running a very close second.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife and I regularly enjoy this eggless, mix-in-the-pan chocolate cake.

Here's a similar recipe from King Arthur Flour.
posted by jon1270 at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2016

Response by poster: Jon: the mix-in-the-pan cake says it serves 8 and the King Arthur Flour recipes serves 16. I'm looking for "serves ONE" or "serves TWO".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2016

Best answer: Brett Bara's exactly two chocolate cupcakes is my go to for 'I want cake but not a cake' moments. It even has a matching tiny recipe for frosting and I make it successfully with gluten free flour.
posted by halcyonday at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

Small Batch Baking is another book that offers exactly what you're looking for.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live alone and what I do is bake cakes in layer pans. Because there isn't as much depth, you can have wider pieces. I usually have no problem going through a cake layer within in a week, and if I have company to dinner, I can still set what appears to be an entire cake before them.
posted by orange swan at 6:52 AM on August 21, 2016

Jon: the mix-in-the-pan cake says it serves 8 and the King Arthur Flour recipes serves 16.

Yes, but they're easier to scale because they don't have eggs, and they dirty fewer dishes because they can be mixed in the pan. Also the two recipes are essentially the same size in terms of ingredient volumes and pan size, so the number of servings called out is arbitrary; by the evident King Arthur standard, that Crush Cakes recipe serves at least 6.
posted by jon1270 at 6:55 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I scale down that cake-in-a-pan recipe all the time (I use my family Wacky Cake recipe).

One hearty serving:
1/2 c flour
1 T cocoa
1/4 c sugar
1/3 t baking soda
Dash of salt
Optional: Sprinkle of cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg
Optional: TINY sprinkle of cloves
Optional: a couple of tablespoons of fresh or frozen berries
1/3 c water
1 t vinegar
1 T oil
1/3 t vanilla
Optional: 1/3 t peppermint extract if you're not using the dry spices

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in baking dish, then all the wet ingredients in a small measuring cup. Dump wet into dry and stir until combined. Bake for ~30 minutes.

(I have also halved this version of the recipe to get a small single portion and it works).
posted by maudlin at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you want savoury, there's always stovetop biscuit and mini-Yorkshire pudding.

1/4 c flour
1/4 t baking powder
1 T cold butter, shredded / cut
Dash of salt
Optional: dried dill weed and/or shredded cheddar to taste
~1 T milk (add slowly as needed; amount may vary depending on humidity)

Heat cast iron frying pan on medium. When ready, combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the milk cautiously until you get the right biscuit dough texture. Press cohesive dough into the pan as a single biscuit and cook for 4 minutes each side.

Yorkshire Pudding
1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 c milk
1 egg
2 t beef fat OR 2 t butter or neutral oil

Turn oven to 450. Put appropriate baking dish in immediately with 2 t beef fat OR put empty baking dish in immediately if you're using a fat that burns quickly. (The fat will go in the baking dish just before the batter).

AFTER the oven reaches temperature, combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then add milk and egg and vigorously beat in liquid by hand or use an immersion blender/old-fashioned egg beater.

Take the hot baking dish out of the oven. If it doesn't have beef fat and is dry, now add the oil of butter, then the batter immediately after.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes; then turn down to 350 and bake 15-20 minutes more. You should get a nice, airy, crunchy dome and a pillowy, custardy base pudding. (This is NOT a popover recipe.)
posted by maudlin at 7:21 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also love to bake and don't have enough people to eat things. Bread, in particular, can be very easily frozen in whatever sizes you want.

It works like this: Make the dough and knead etc as usual. Leave for the first rise. Then shape it into loaves or buns or whatever you want and freeze it right then. Then defrost it when you're ready, and that defrosting time will act as the second rise. Then bake as usual. Defrosting takes a few hours so I generally get the loaf out either before work or before going to bed, then bake after work or when I get up. You want to avoid over-rising it the second time so I sometimes put it in the fridge to defrost, but because the freezing slows the yeast down it's not usually a problem. At one point my husband and I made literally all our bread like this for years, it works really well. The biggest downside is you have to plan ahead with the defrosting, but being able to defrost and cook just two buns is really great.
posted by shelleycat at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

An old acquaintance of mine spent some time exploring this: The Baking for One Diaries.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

To save energy and heat, I'm an advocate of freezing the cake (or cupcakes) for later frosting. In fact, I think some people freeze cake layers specifically to make them easier to frost.

Especially if you live where it gets hot in the summer, it makes a lot of sense to only heat up the oven rarely, bake a lot at that time, then consume small portions from your freezer.

I think the best way might be individual wedges with a touch of stenciled powdered sugar:

- bake two 8" layers. Use a recipe with a lot of butter and eggs so you won't need frosting to make the cake moist.
- let them cool; cool completely in the refrigerator (so they cut well)
- don't stack them; cut them into wedges
- store wedges in container, with pieces of waxed paper between them; or wrap individual wedges in foil
- thaw one or two wedges, either on counter or 30-60 seconds in microwave
- place wedge on plate, position small stencil on wedge, and gently tap a spoonful of powdered sugar over the stencil for a lovely sweet decoration (instead of frosting)
posted by amtho at 8:07 AM on August 21, 2016

Response by poster: Mollymayhem: I ran across Googlelistings for that link before posting this and tried to look, but I can't seem to access it. Is the site down?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on August 21, 2016

I make lava/molten cakes and just freeze the batter and cook from frozen. Drop and bar cookies also freeze very well.
posted by jeather at 8:17 AM on August 21, 2016

Virtually all baked goods freeze really well. My mother used to bake a bunch of different things -- coffee cakes, squares, cookies, tarts, etc -- on a single day, put them all in the freezer and then pull them out to put them in our school lunches every day for the next few months. My friends sometimes have days when we all get together and bake cakes or cookies or pies and then divvy them up and everyone takes home like 12 different pieces of cake, and we freeze those, too. All of it freezes well with the exception of layer cakes with whip cream instead of icing between the layers -- whip cream gets a slightly off texture from freezing.

Tips for freezing:

Freeze as individual pieces and try to keep those pieces from touching as you freeze them. We mostly froze things on jelly roll pans / cookie sheets, placing each square/piece of cake to it was slightly not touching the next one and then putting a layer of wax paper on top of it and freezing another layer. If you're freezing more than one thing, heavier items to the bottom, lighter items to the top. Don't do more than about 3 layers or it just takes a lot longer to freeze effectively.

You need to get things so they're pretty frozen before you put them in their final home but not necessarily rock hard -- 2-3 hours will do for most things. You don't really need to worry about stuff drying out in the freezer in that timeframe, but if you're thinking "I'll throw these in here tonight and repack them when I get around to it in a few days", you might want to cover the whole thing with a bit of saran wrap.

After everything is actually frozen, then you can put in more tightly packed, sealable containers for long term storage. We still tended to put a bit of wax paper between layers -- this video shows a good technique for cutting paper to fit a round container if that's what you're using -- and you can re-use the wax paper when you fill the container up again. If you're freezing pieces of what was a round cake, it can help to pay attention to how to offset the layers so that the piece on the bottom is going one way and the piece on top of is going the other way and as a unit, they basically form a flat top.

We'd also try to make sure that different things were placed in the container in mixed layers, so you always had a choice of visible items, rather than having to dig past the top layer of tarts to get to the chocolate cake below. Just make sure you pay a light eye to keeping the same things on top of each other -- it doesn't matter so much once they're frozen, but a bunch of heavy pound cake on top of delicate tarts may break the edges of the pastry, so pile all the pound cake on side of the container, all the pastry on another side, with some cookies in between, or whatever, consistently through all the layers.

For things that are quite moist/dense and have thick points of contact with what's beside them -- for example, slices of a pound cake, or a regular cake that you're freezing in the shape of the original cake -- use two small squares of wax paper between each slice of cake and the next. By using two instead of one, one piece freezes to one side, the other piece freezes to the other side and when you pull the items out, they aren't both stuck to the same piece of wax paper. Again, you can re-use the pieces of wax paper for future freezing if you save them. We didn't usually bother saving these, because there were just a lot more and they were smaller and you were getting them every time you took a piece of cake, so putting them away somewhere was more of a hassle.

You can also freeze things individually and then put the individual pieces in a large ziploc bag. You still want to pay attention to layers and keep them separate, and don't jam so much in there that the bag barely closes. Small squares cut out of cereal boxes on the bottom of the ziploc bag can make the bag more stable as you're taking it in and out of the freezer and will reduce the wear and tear on the edges of your baked goods.

Most things will thaw out in an hour on the countertop, or a few seconds in the microwave on a lowish power setting. I don't recommend microwave thawing for iced cakes, because the cake and the icing will defrost at very different rates. Some things, like lemon tarts and nanaimo bars, will be better frozen anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:24 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another suggestion: google "easy bake oven recipes". Lots of people have recipes for making small cakes that fit easy bake oven pans, which are a good size for having a piece of cake tonight, one tomorrow and then being done the cake. You can buy smallish individual cake pans in most home stores, or you can even buy real easy bake pans on eBay, and just bake them in your toaster oven. You'll have to experiment a bit with the right timing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:29 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Site works fine from my end--not sure why it's not working for you.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:49 AM on August 21, 2016

Best answer: The Kitchn has been doing a series on baking for one. They have recipes for one vanilla cupcake, baking one brownie and one chocolate cupcake.
posted by siouxsiesmith at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just an equipment tip - Wilton (and other manufacturers) makes a mini version of just about every kind of baking container from springform to layer cake pans (I use their mini pie pans, the intact ones rather than the two-piece tart style, for eggy breakfasts). I strongly prefer the individual pieces to the muffin-pan-style sheets of cake/pie/bundt/etc molds.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Quick breads - banana bread, pumpkin bread, and the like - freeze well after they've been baked, especially if they have some oil in them instead of butter, as it extends the shelf life. I used to double batches and freeze a normally sized loaf, but you could easily make mini loaves and freeze most of them.
posted by asphericalcow at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2016

Best answer: Also, you can freeze buttercream frosting separately from the cake. I used to do this when I did a lot of cake decorating and had too much of specific colors left over. You just put the frosting onto a sheet of cling wrap and fold it up so that it's not exposed to air. (I also do this to freeze tomato paste in tablespoon-size portions.)
posted by FencingGal at 9:19 AM on August 21, 2016

This comes from the land of mug cakes, but another thing you can do is mix whatever cake mix with angel food cake mix, which is pre-eggulized. From there it's pretty easy to futz with water (and oil if wanted) to get to one person's worth of cake.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sally's Baking Addiction has a section for making a single giant cookie.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2016

This upside-down cake recipe has a few advantages: it's very flexible (have made with many different fruits, added different spices and flavorings), it halves very nicely (though you may not do so well with the electric mixer in those proportions) and it doesn't go stale right away, so I feel like your half sized cake would be as nice for a few more days. I make the caramel in a cast iron pan and build the cake directly in there. I have done it in a small cast iron and it was lovely. It lasts 2-3 days without tasting stale, I feel certain that it would freeze we'll post baking. It might freeze well prebaking, not sure.
posted by vunder at 2:48 PM on August 21, 2016

Best answer: Similarly, almost any yogurt cake recipe is extremely flexible, can be halved (at least) and/or portioned out into smaller pie or loaf pans. The proportions are really flexible.
posted by vunder at 2:55 PM on August 21, 2016

I am just discovering how useful freezing can be for a single person, after years of listening to advice about it, but not doing it!

I recently froze slices of brownie (individually wrapped in foil and all stored in a ziplock) which are delicious after a quick spin in the microwave. I also have frozen balls of cookie dough, which I froze spaced out on a tray before putting them all into a ziplock. I just pull out a few and put them in the oven when I want a cookie.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:05 PM on August 21, 2016

My method: bake regular-sized cake. Eat for desert, breakfasts, and about half of your lunches until it is eaten up. Cake for breakfast is the best.

Also, Isa Chandra Moskowitz' "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" has some recipes for very tasty cupcakes (the original small cake) that can be scaled down easily (since they don't involve eggs, you don't have to worry about scaling the recipe down requiring impossible measures like half-eggs) and are very tasty. If the vegan part puts you off, instead call them "Depression-era old-timey cupcakes", since that's what they are, and they just happen to be vegan if you use soy or nut milks instead of animal milks when the recipe calls for milk.
posted by eviemath at 3:28 PM on August 21, 2016

I really like this recipe for two snickerdoodles from Budget Bytes-- I've made it a few times and it always comes out great. You can skip the chilling in the fridge step if you're in a rush.
posted by Henrietta Stackpole at 10:03 PM on August 21, 2016

Vegan = no 1/2 eggs!

Instead of buying egg replacer in a bottle, use something you probably have in their pantry and throw out on a regular basis: aquafaba. About 3 tablespoons of bean water is equivalent to one egg; see the FAQ for details.
posted by sibilatorix at 7:02 AM on August 22, 2016

You should check out the cookbook Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. Once you know how your ratio, you can scale it up or all the way down to a single serving. The only thing is that you really need a scale to pull it off. But you could absolutely scale down to a recipe for half dozen cookies or a teeny tiny pound cake.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:34 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have successfully halved this recipe (so it becomes 2 servings) for molten chocolate cake. It's delicious and so easy.
posted by john_snow at 11:33 AM on August 22, 2016

Response by poster: Y'all have been giving me good advice so far, and I've found some great ideas.

This wasn't part of the original ask, and it is good advice anyway, but I'd like to add the ask that we also avoid using my freezer where possible; I don't have the biggest one as it is, and it's usually jam-packed with lots of frozen vegetables (it's how I stay on top of the CSA output). I could probably find room in there for maybe two or three slices of cake, but not an entire tray of pre-mixed lava cakes or an entire pound cake or a whole batch of slice-and-bake cookie dough.

Not to turn those suggestions away entirely, mind - but it's not something I'll be able to take as much advantage of as I'd like at the moment, and I'd like more mini-size things.

Carry on!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on August 24, 2016

A lot of excellent tips and recommendations here! My favorite cookbook by a mile for small-batch baking is America's Test Kitchen's The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook. In addition to other kinds of cooking, there are chapters on quick breads, on fruit desserts, pies, and tarts, and on cookies, cakes, and custards, plus an introduction with general cooking and pantry tips for cooking small amounts, dealing with leftover ingredients, etc. Every recipe includes an explanation of how specifically they scaled down that recipe, what worked and what didn't in their tests. I haven't made a ton of the dessert recipes yet, but I think my favorite so far has been the brownies, which are made in a loaf pan with a foil sling so they don't stick.

The fact that they give the in-depth explanations really helps me when I want to cut corners or scale down even further, or just wing it with my own variation, especially after I've baked it as-is once or twice.
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 8:30 AM on August 24, 2016

Response by poster: Apologies for that "no freezer" comment especially now that I see that I did originally say "freezer tips welcome" too.

I am fickle and may need a cupcake.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on August 24, 2016

Best answer: Dessert for Two, in addition to a book, is also a website/blog with many small batch dessert recipes. I've made the One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and I was very pleased with it.
posted by Adridne at 5:35 AM on August 28, 2016

Response by poster: So my roommate is out of the country for the next 3 weeks - I'll be in a downright orgy of baking, and can test out a lot of these. Thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:38 AM on September 22, 2016

Response by poster: I didn't get the chance to try these, actually, until today - after the aforementioned roommate has moved out and before the new one has come in.

But I can say that the recipe halcyonday linked to here is precisely what I was looking for and that I am now therefore in tremendous trouble.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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