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Learn how to make a deliciously soft and buttery 6 inch vanilla cake, plus a dozen other cake flavors for your smaller 6 inch cake pans. These are perfect for smaller gatherings and much easier to decorate, too!

6 inch vanilla cake with sprinkles on a teal cake stand

More and more over the past few years, I see questions about adapting large layer cake recipes to fit smaller 6 inch cake pans. 6 inch cakes are very popular and yet most traditional cake recipes don’t accommodate the smaller size.

But last year I discovered an easy solution when I made a 6 inch birthday cake. I no longer adapted cake recipes to fit the smaller cake pan size. Instead, I began using cake batter from my CUPCAKE recipes. (And most of my cupcake recipes are actually adapted from the larger cake variety, so the work is already done!)

I know it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it was a total lightbulb moment as I suddenly had dozens of 6 inch cake flavors to bake. I love the 6 inch size for children’s birthday cakes, small gatherings and celebrations, or bridal/baby showers where there’s a lot of other desserts. And when it comes to decorating, 6 inch is a very non-intimidating size cake!

6 inch chocolate cake on blue cake stand

Cupcake Batter = 3 Layer 6 Inch Cake

Cupcake batter that produces about 12-15 cupcakes is the perfect amount for a 3 layer 6 inch cake. One dozen cupcakes usually takes about 3-4 cups of cake batter, which divides perfectly between 3 6 inch cake layers. This means that you can essentially turn any batch of cupcakes into a small layer cake. I’ve tested this several times with many different flavors, but usually stick with vanilla cake and chocolate cake, which are made from my vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes respectively.

6 Inch Cake Flavors

Use the batter for the following recipes to make different flavor 6 inch cakes:

All 6 inch cake layers take about 18-21 minutes at 350°F (177°C). You need about 2.5-3 cups of frosting for a 3 layer 6 inch cake, which is usually the amount used for 1 dozen cupcakes. Any of the frosting recipes paired with the listed cupcakes would be perfect. 🙂

6 inch vanilla cake with sprinkles on teal cake stand
6 inch chocolate cake on a teal cake stand with a slice on a cake server

How to Prep Your 6 Inch Cake Pans

After you choose your 6 inch cake batter, it’s time to start prepping the cake pans. First, make sure you have quality 6 inch cake pans. I started using Fat Daddio’s 6 inch cake pans last year and loved them so much that I switched out my 9-inch and 8-inch cake pans for the Fat Daddio’s brand. From one baker to another– these pans are incredible quality for the price. Not working with this brand, just a genuine fan.

The smaller the cake, the more difficult it is to neatly release from the baking pan. Here’s my guaranteed solution so that your 6 inch cake layers glide right out:

  1. Make a parchment paper round. Trace the bottom of the cake pans on a large piece of parchment paper. Cut out the parchment circles.
  2. Very lightly grease the baking pans.
  3. Place the parchment round inside.
  4. Grease the parchment round too. Using butter or baker’s nonstick spray, I grease the pan AND the parchment. This promises an ultra non-stick environment for your cake. Never any sticking.

I usually keep a stack of parchment rounds on hand just in case I’m in a rush to get a cake in the oven. For cake emergencies, of course.

2 images of cut out parchment paper rounds and parchment paper rounds in cake pans

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake.

2 images of cake batter in 6 inch cake pans and baked cake layers in 6 inch cake pans

How to Frost & Decorate a 6 Inch Cake

You need about 2.5-3 cups of frosting to frost a 3 layer 6 inch cake. The frostings paired with the cupcake recipes listed above are plenty for your 6 inch cake, such as vanilla buttercream or chocolate buttercream. Assembling and decorating a 6 inch cake is just like putting together a larger cake, but the smaller size is definitely easier to work with.

Tools I find helpful:

  1. Cake Turntable: This size is great for larger 9 inch cakes as well. A cake turntable makes it easy to frost the sides of a cake with a bench scraper.
  2. Bench Scraper: I like to run a bench scraper around the sides of the cake to smooth out the frosting. This works for any size cake. If you’ve never used one before to decorate a cake, you can watch me use it in my vanilla cake video. They’re very handy!
  3. Small Offset Icing Spatula: Use this for spreading the frosting between the layers and on top of the cake. The small size is great for frosting cupcakes too.
2 images of spreading frosting on a 6 inch cake and cake on cake turner

Since this is a small cake, it’s easy to pick up with a couple flat spatulas and carefully transfer to a cake stand or serving plate. You can also use cake boards, which are cardboard cut-outs that provide a sturdy foundation for your cake if you need to move it to another surface.

6 inch vanilla cake on blue cake stand
2 images of 6 inch vanilla cake and chocolate cake slices

Small cakes are taking over! Which flavor will you try first?

PS: I bought the pictured teal cake stand from Home Goods and unfortunately can’t find a link to it for you! Make sure you find a cake stand that’s about 8 inches in diameter to comfortably fit the 6 inch cake.

Print
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6 inch vanilla cake on blue cake stand

6 Inch Vanilla Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: serves 8 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Learn how to make a deliciously soft and buttery 6 inch vanilla cake, plus a dozen other cake flavors for your smaller 6 inch cake pans. 6 inch cakes are perfect for smaller gatherings and much easier to decorate, too!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (207g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120g) full-fat sour cream at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk at room temperature

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 cup (230gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 – 5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream or whole milk
  • 2 teaspoonpure vanilla extract
  • salt, to taste
  • sprinkles for decorating

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 6×2 inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the small cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 2 minutes until creamed together. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat on medium-high speed until combined, then beat in the sour cream. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just incorporated. With the mixer still running on low, slowly pour in the milk until combined. Do not over-mix. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 18-21 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling
  5. Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, the heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to medium-high speed and beat for 2 full minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I add 1/8 teaspoon salt.)
  6. Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. A bench scraper and small offset spatula are handy for decorating. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.
  7. Refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions for any flavor: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. If the frosting is still too stiff, beat it on medium speed with an electric mixer until it’s soft and spreadable again. Add a splash of milk or cream to thin out if needed. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. See How to Freeze Cakes. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Cake Flour: If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this cake flour substitute.
  3. 6 Inch Chocolate Cake: Skip steps 2 & 3 and instead, use the chocolate cake batter from my chocolate cupcakes. Frost with chocolate buttercream.
  4. More Flavors: See post above for links to more cake flavors using my cupcake batters. Skip steps 2 & 3 above, swapping out the vanilla batter for your chosen flavor.

Keywords: cake, vanilla cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Conversion question… I plan to adapt this recipe for use as you suggested for a smaller version of your Espresso Chocolate Chip Cake. My question is, I only have two six inch pans (four inches deep) so should I bake two layers, then wait for one pan to cool and bake a third layer… or can I divide all the batter into just two layers? (Obviously this would alter baking time.) Also is there a difference between Instant Espresso and Espresso Powder? My Instant Espresso came in somewhat larger freeze-dried pieces so to be safe I ground it down further in the food processor but just wondering. Thanks and I hope this recipe is just as delicious as EVERY OTHER SINGLE RECIPE FROM YOUR WEBSITE! You’re the bomb!

    1. Hi Laura! We recommend baking three layers, you can leave the last third of batter sitting lightly covered at room temperature. Instant espresso and espresso powder should be the same thing, but not espresso grounds. Happy baking!

      1. Hi! I had a similar question… How long can the batter sit before baking, if you only have one pan for cooking in and would have to bake the layers one at a time? With time to clean/cool the pan in between?

  2. Hi I am making your lemon blueberry cake which calls for three 8 inch round pans. Do you think I can use four 6 inch round pans to make 2 two layer six inch cakes? Or one two layer six inch cake and one 1 layer six inch cake? I hope this makes sense!

  3. Hi Sally…I have no idea why but this cake did rise however it then fell flat when taken out of the oven. It was dense inside as well. The taste was lovely but texture not so much. I have a feeling it’s to do with my oven. It’s a fan oven so I usually do 20deg less than what u mention in the recipe. Am I right ?

    1. Hi Molly, yes we recommend reducing the oven temperature if you use fan settings. Usually when cakes collapse and are dense, that’s a clear sign of under-baking. An easy fix for next time!

      1. Hello, does the oven setting (18-22 min at 177°C for this 6×2 cake pan recipe can also be applied to 6×3 cake pan?

      2. Hi Anne, if you’re following this exact recipe (using three cake pans) and using 6×3 inch pans, the bake time should be the same!

    1. Hi Joanne, I wish we could help, but have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  4. I made this vanilla cake for my son’s birthday recently, and it came out so beautifully! Light crumb that didn’t get dry, dense enough to slice and layer easily. I used the lemon cream cheese buttercream from another cake on your site, and I was nervous it would be too sweet but it balanced out the tart fillings (raspberry jam & lemon curd) and raspberry sorbet I served it with and it was perfect. I did find that, with those liquidy fillings, freezing was better than refrigerating before I sliced it. And even with my big family (husband and five boys!), the six-inch layer cake is a great size, enough for most people to have two good slices. I’ll be coming back to this one over and over.

  5. My pans are 6” X 3”. Would I need to make any adjustments since your recipe is for 6” X 2” pans?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Heather, those will work just as well. Just be sure to still distribute the batter across three pans. Enjoy!

  6. Is there something you could recommend to sub in for the egg whites? We have an egg allergy at home.

    1. Hi Sarah, We haven’t tested any egg substitutes in this recipe but let us know if you do! Here’s all our egg-free recipes if you’re interested.

  7. Hi! I’d like to make this recipe and add bourbon to the batter and the frosting. Would this be advisable? Also, would your vanilla sugar go well with this, or do you think the bourbon would overpower it?

    Thanks so much in advance!

    1. Hi Emilee, We have never tested this cake recipe with the addition of bourbon. If you want to experiment we would start by reducing down the bourbon on the stovetop so that you get all of the flavor without adding too much liquid (similar to how we reduce Guinness in Guinness Cupcakes, or champagne in champagne cupcakes), and then you would want to reduce another of the wet ingredients. Vanilla sugar would be great in the cake! If you try anything out, let us know!

  8. Helloo, would the recipe (or bake time) be the same for a whole pan and not layered pans? Sorry if my terminology doesn’t make too much sense, I’m new to baking

    1. Hi Anna, Do you mean to bake all of this batter at once in one 6 inch round pan? If so we don’t suggest that and encourage you to divide the batter between three separate pans. Putting too much batter in one pan risks uneven baking and the batter will be too heavy to rise properly.

  9. I’m so glad I found your site. Since its just me and my husband a 6 inch cake is perfect. sometimes I even only use one layer. Freeze the other layers for later use. Thank you for the recipes.

    1. That’s a great idea to freeze extra layers for later, Sue. We’re so glad you’re enjoying our recipes 🙂

  10. This recipe exceeded my expectations so much. I wasn’t sure I would like the all the citrus in the cake and icing but it was totally delicious. This was my first ever making and decorating a 3 layer cake and the detailed instructions made it easy. I did find the cake layers were ready a bit earlier than the stated time but this could be my oven. My family loved it and thought it was better than any cake I have ever made in the past. Totally worth the time and effort. Would be great for a birthday or bridal/baby shower.

  11. What fillings would be good instead if icing on the vanilla cake layers, and what to use?

  12. A 6 inch cake is perfect for our family of 3! The vanilla cake came out perfectly, and was delicious with your creamy peanut butter frosting (I have a house full of peanut butter lovers). My baking time was a bit longer than indicated in the recipe, closer to 25min, but came out fantastically. Thank you for all of your amazing recipes!

  13. Sally I so want to make a 6 inch my husband bought me 2 6 inch and they are your fat daddio ones you like but they are 3 inch deep so can I use them as though they are 2 inches deep and buy a third pan. Or will they not work because of depth difference in depth? Thanks so much for your response

    1. Hi Laurie! Your pans will work, but we do recommend sticking with three layers as instructed. Thick cakes can be difficult to bake through without burning. You can use your two pans and let the last third of batter sit covered at room temperature while you bake two layers, then bake the third when a pan is available.

  14. I made the peanut butter cake with the chocolate peanut butter frosting. The cake was moist and had wonderful peanut taste. The chocolate peanut butter frosting was delicious. I made it and froze it for a week and it was completely decorated. I thawed it in the fridge and it stayed moist. I got a lot of compliments from the friends I shared the cake with. EVERY recipe I have used from Sally’s Baking Addiction has been excellent!

  15. Been using my sauce pan and one size bigger for cakes for year. Grandkids love the smaller cakes

  16. Really disappointed. Followed the directions exactly, making sure not to over mix. Cakes were very very dense, and had no flavour. I made it as a smash cake for my baby’s first birthday and it wasn’t smashable.

  17. Sally, I am going to attempt a 6” coconut cake for Easter. Do you have suggestions for adapting the vanilla cake recipe? Thanks!

    1. Hi Gina, You can use this coconut cupcakes batter for three 6 inch cake pans. (Skip the caramel filling and chocolate frosting.) Follow the baking instructions for 6 Inch Cakes and you can halve this frosting recipe instead. Happy baking!

  18. Thanks for the recipe. Could I half this recipe to make 2 layers? I’m OK with thinner layers. Just don’t want to have extra cake leftover and waste ingredients. Thanks!

    1. Hi Nav, halving this recipe would lead to two very thin layers. We recommend sticking with the recipe, or reducing the recipe by a third for a two layer cake. Or you could fill two pans and use the leftover batter for a few cupcakes. Let us know what you try!

    1. Hi Daniela, you can use this recipe, filling your square pans 1/2 way. Use any leftover batter for cupcakes. Enjoy!

  19. How many cups of batter does this recipe make? I want to split it into five even 6” cake layers and would like to be able to measure and divide up the batter precisely. Thank you!

  20. Hi, Sally, I came to your site looking for inspiration for a coconut cake for Easter Sunday, and I was not disappointed! I wanted a small cake, and looked at your 6” Vanilla Cake recipe. I have two 7” pans, so I used those. The batter fit perfectly into the 2 pans, baked up almost perfectly level to 1 1/4”, and took 25 minutes to bake. I removed them from the pan after 15 minutes cooling time. Lightly browned on the sides, very little top browning. Perfect cakes! When I decorate tomorrow, I plan to use your Coconut Easter Nest Frosting, as that one seemed the least sweet of all your cream cheese recipes, thinking it will pair perfectly with some toasted coconut, some untoasted. I will put a little nest of Hershey eggs on the top of the cake. Thank you for your inspiration and wonderful recipes. I can’t wait to taste the cake!

    Janet

  21. Hi,I want to try this recipe.Can I use whole eggs instead of egg whites.what should I change in the recipe if I’m using whole eggs.Tjank you

    1. Hi Fathima, Using only the whites helps keep the cake texture light and fluffy. For best results, we recommend sticking to just egg whites. For a 3 layer, 6-inch cake recipe that uses whole eggs, we’d recommend using our Yellow Cupcakes recipe instead.

  22. Hi sally I just want to say I live your recipes but I’m quite in a dilemma. So I have this cake ordered for 17 people but the cake is tall. So I thought that I would make double the batch to get 2 six inch chocolate cakes and stack them all on top of each other. That way I can cut the slices again in half . Would do you think?

    1. Hi Sarah, by stacking 2, 6 inch cakes, do you mean two completed cakes for a total of 6 layers? If so, we fear that may be a bit tall and the soft chocolate crumb won’t be able to support that much weight. It would be best to make two separate cakes or you could try our triple chocolate cake for a chocolate cake that will serve more. Hope this helps!

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