When we come upon a recipe, it is usually made to serve a standard number of 4, 6, 8, or more individuals. A cake recipe is probably going to fill a 9 x 13 pan, and a cookie recipe will often make 4 to 6 dozen. When we do not want so much, we halve or quarter the recipe. Cups and half cups are easy, but what if your recipe calls for 2/3 cup of something and you want to quarter it? How much is a 2/3 cup and how do you measure it out in tablespoons?
My dear Aunt Mabel was an excellent cook. At Christmas time, she made these delicious little things called lace cookies. They are absolutely amazing. Thin, soft and chewy with a bit of crispness around the edges. Sweet enough but not too sweet, with the wonderful nuttiness of finely chopped pecans.
She made them as a special treat at Christmas. She was generous, made enough to give every one of her six siblings’ families about a dozen. That was really nice, but we all loved them and wanted more, so my mother asked for the recipe and Aunt Mabel shared it.
How I loved walking into the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon to smell a batch of these in the oven! Each one is so light that it is not filling. That means, of course, they cannot possibly be high in calories or anything that’s bad for you. It is easy to eat several at a sitting, trust me! When we were all still home together, a batch went quickly over the weekend.
Now, though, being on my own, more and more often I find myself reducing a lot of the recipes from my childhood. It makes no sense, but many of my friends do not find a gift of a dozen freshly baked cookies a thing to treasure, no matter how delicious they are and in spite of my assurances that they are so light, it’s like eating air. It seems they’re all watching their carbs, their weight, or they just have some ridiculous prejudice against sugar. Even at the office, when you think you’re being nice to sweeten someone’s day, you instead hear whispered comments like, “I wish they didn’t bring in all these sweets” as they down their third or fourth cookie. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world these days.
Halving, thirding, or quartering recipes is becoming a regular practice. I can make, divide up, and then freeze a lot of dishes. That makes it easy when making it and saves time later, when I take the portions out of the freezer for a quick meal. Few things can be better in the middle of winter than fresh, hot homemade chili in about 5 minutes.
Not everything freezes well, though. Some examples of this are Company Potatoes, Broccoli Au Gratin, and 7up Salad. Potatoes lose their texture, as does the cheese and croutons in the broccoli, and you simply cannot freeze the Jello, cream cheese and pineapple perfection of 7up Salad.
The same goes for these delicate cookies. I no longer risk letting them go to waste or having people turn up their noses at them. When I want a batch, I usually quarter it.
That’s pretty easy for the most part. The full cups become quarter cups. For the quarter-cup of butter, I can tell on the wrapper on the stick of butter that it will be 1 tablespoon, and this helps me when it comes to breaking down the shortening (1 tablespoon) and corn syrup (2 tablespoons).
The bane of my recipe cutting existence comes at the 2/3 cup of brown sugar. Half is 1/3 cup, but what is half of 1/3? Well, it’s 1/6, of course, but none of my measuring cups or spoons have a 1/6 cup marker. I have to convert it to tablespoons.
This is where the rest of the world thinks we Americans are crazy. Only the United States, Liberia, and Burma have failed to adopt the metric system. When it comes to cooking, that is most unhelpful.
Were my 2/3 cup measure a liquid like cooking oil, it would be equivalent to 160 ml. Dividing that by 4 is 40 ml. Metric measuring spoons are generally 2.5 ml, 5 ml, 15 ml, 100 ml, and 125 ml. Two 5 ml and two 15 ml spoons give me the 40 ml I need. No calculator required.
Brown sugar is not a liquid, though, so I would need to measure it by weight. This is really the best way to measure ingredients like sugar and flour. Too much or too little air in the cup can make volume measuring inaccurate.
The difference between sifting flour or not, and how the flour is then scooped into the cup, can cause a significant difference in how much flour gets into your cake, making it (usually) heavier than it should be.
The same is true of brown sugar. I know that I am supposed to pack it. Usually a recipe will tell me, “brown sugar, firmly packed” or “brown sugar, lightly packed.” Who is to judge what is firm or light? If the recipe said instead to measure out, “4 ounces brown sugar by weight,” I can be sure to get exactly the right amount of brown sugar in my cookies.
If you are not used to measuring out ingredients in the kitchen by weight, you may not even own a kitchen scale. I will give you a link to the one I have used for years that just recently had a small plastic piece snap off (though I still use it) and to the one I intend to purchase whenever I convince myself it is really needed (frugality is a virtue).
Back to the virtues of the metric system vs. our volume measures, if measuring by weight as European cooks do, I would have a recipe telling me that I need 120 grams of brown sugar instead of the 2/3 cup in my aunt’s recipe. Again, a number that is easily divisible by 4 and doable in one’s head.
Alas, we are still where we are, the question is still about 2/3 cup by volume, and that is the “how much” we are here to learn today. The answer is: 10.6667 tablespoons equals 2/3 cup.
That 10.6667 number converts to 10-2/3 tablespoons. It is still not a user-friendly figure at face value. Depending on the ingredient, eyeballing that 2/3 tablespoon could be bad news. Here is where knowing our standard conversions is helpful.
There are three teaspoons to a tablespoon. That 2/3 number represents two teaspoons, for a total of 10 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons in 2/3 cup.
For this to be useful in my particular situation of dividing Aunt Mabel’s cookie recipe by four, I have to work it just a little bit more.
Going back to the original answer to my cooking math problem, I have to take that 10.6667 tablespoons and divide it by 4 to quarter the recipe. That means I need 2.66667 tablespoons of brown sugar in my cookies.
Recalling the calculation above with the .66667 tablespoon, the more useful answer to my question is 2 + (.66667 x 3) = 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons. Or, 8 teaspoons if I would rather measure out six more times than dirty another spoon.
You may have other calculations to perform in the future, so here is a quick cheat-sheet for standard volume measures:
1 cup = 16 tablespoons
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 cup = 48 teaspoons
From those basic conversions you can calculate any recipe division you need. Want to halve a quarter cup of cooking oil? A full cup is 16 tablespoons. Divide that by 4, and you know that 1/4 cup contains 4 tablespoons. Cut that in half, and you need 2 tablespoons to divide that recipe.
When you want to double a recipe that requires 6 tablespoons – maybe the cider vinegar in a big batch of BBQ beans for a family reunion – simply multiply 6 by 2 for 12 tablespoons. You can measure it more quickly when you divide 12 tablespoons by the number of tablespoons in a quarter cup (4) to convert it to 3/4 cup.
Now, I’m sure you want the rest of the Lace Cookies recipe, as well as the quarter-portion version of it.
Here is the back of the recipe card, in her own hand-writing and dated as well:
This is the recipe divided to one quarter portion:
Aunt Mabel’s Lace Cookies (1/4 version)
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon shortening (Crisco)
- 2 Tablespoons + 2 Teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup (Karo)
- 1/4 Cup flour
- 1/4 Cup finely chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease a cookie sheet; set aside.
- In small, heavy saucepan, bring butter, shortening, brown sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat.
- Remove immediately; add flour and nuts.
- Drop onto prepared cookie sheet by level teaspoons about 3 inches apart.
- Bake at 350º for 8 minutes (watch carefully after 5 minutes).
- Let cookies cool 1-2 minutes before removing from sheet.
- Cool thoroughly on baking rack; cover tightly and store at room temperature. That is, if they aren’t all eaten directly from the cooling rack.
Knowing the basic measuring equivalents of a cup, tablespoon, and teaspoon is an important part of a cook’s knowledge base. Without it, we may struggle to know just how much to put into a recipe when we need only half or a third of the servings it makes. Measurements like 2/3 cup are especially challenging, but with a little bit of mathematical magic, we can get there. I hope this article has helped you with that. Try the lace cookies, too – they’re truly scrumptious. If you do bake up a batch, let me know and tell me how you liked them. Thanks for reading!