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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. I love this one from Anthropologie too!

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. Hi Sally,
    Was just wondering what the difference is in using 1 egg and 1 egg white in this recipe compared to the 3 egg whites in the 6 inch wedding cake recipe?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Sarah! There is truly no big difference (perhaps *a little* more structure in the wedding cake version, but not much). I chose to use 1 egg + 1 egg white in the wedding cake tier just so you didn’t need so many extra egg whites. As it turns out, it doesn’t make a HUGE difference. So, if it’s more convenient, you can use 1 whole egg + 1 egg white in this recipe.

  2. Hi Sally,

    Does the depth of the cake pan matter if I don’t fill them lots? I am planning on using 6 inch wide pans which have a depth of 4 inches, but if I don’t fill them, them being deep pans shouldn’t matter, right?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Francesca, correct. We advise not to fill the pans (regardless of depth) more than half way, otherwise the batter may not cook evenly/properly. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi Sally, what are your thoughts on brushing the cakes with a simple sugar syrup and water before the frosting begins. I understand this is to avoid the cake from getting dry. Why don’t you practice this?
    Just wondering.

    I love your death by choc cupcakes recipe BTW. The best I have come across. Was wondering can I use that recipe to do a birthday cake? Pls advice!

  4. Hi Sally

    I love all your recipes! I am hoping to do a White chocolate and raspberry cake for my daughters birthday. I was thinking of using your vanilla cake recipe with your white chocolate buttercream. Have you got any suggestions on how to incorporate the raspberries? Wasn’t sure whether to mix them in with some of the frosting for the inside of the cake or whether to put them in the actual batter? Or whether to do a raspberry jam instead.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Shannon! A layer on raspberry jam over buttercream in between the layers would be fantastic! Otherwise you could include fresh raspberries in the layers like we do with our fresh berry cream cake. Let us know what you try!

  5. Hello! I was wondering if I can bake and assemble the 6 inch strawberry cake 2 days in advance? The party is on Sunday, but I can only bake on Friday. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lead, that should work just fine, just be sure to tightly wrap/cover the cake so that it does not dry out in the meantime. Happy baking!

    1. Hi Rain, you can use plain full-fat yogurt to replace the sour cream (same amount with no other changes). Or, you can use buttermilk to replace both the sour cream and milk (1 cup total).

  6. Now that icing looks like the PERFECT texture for a finger to swipe! My question is I dont have three 6 inch pans but two 7 inch pans. Would following the exact recipe still work for my 7 inch pans? Will my layers be really thin?

  7. Hi Sally,

    I am struggling to make a vanilla cake! After 30 min of cooking the cake is still runny in the middle. I’ve only filled the pan about 2 inches.. any advice on how to avoid this and why it happens on every vanilla cake I make

    1. Hi Briar, how deep are your pans? For next time, try filling your pans only half way — it sounds like they may be too full, which is causing them to bake unevenly and have uncooked centers.

    1. Hi Hannah! The cake recipe in this post calls for vanilla extract, not vanilla bean. Hope you love it!

    1. Hi Susan! There will be too much batter for two 6 inch pans with this recipe. If the issue is you only have two pans, you can always leave 1/3 of the batter sitting at room temperature while the other two cakes bake, then use one of the pans to bake the third layer afterwards.

    1. Hi Sharon! All of the recipes on this site are written for conventional settings. Convection (fan assisted) ovens are fantastic for cooking and roasting. If you have the choice, we recommend conventional settings when baking cakes, breads, etc. The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven. If you do use convection settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake.

  8. How tall should each of the layers rise to in the oven? Mine came out somewhat flat. Or, better yet, how tall should the cake be fully assembled?

    1. Hi Stephanie, We use 6×2 inch pans and the layers are about 1.25 to 1.5 inches high once baked. Hope this helps!

  9. It’s a good recipe but I have done it twice now and both times it ended up taking twice as long to bake. I constantly take it out, put it back in, take it out again. I split it out evenly between three 6-inch pans and they are all severely underbaked in the middle after 20 minutes.

  10. I’m wanting to make this adorable layered csme for my son’s birthday, but I don’t have a round 6″ baking dish.. Would this recipe work for a double layer 8″ square cake?

  11. Hi sally,was wondering if i can use an all purpose flour in this recipe ?
    I wanted to bake a cake for my friends and i base in nigeria so we re common with all purpose flour.
    I dont know if using all purpose flour will be great.

    Actually its my first time using ur recipe nd i honestly hope for the best results.

  12. Hey Sally!
    I absolutely love your recipies! I actually won a baking contest with one of your recipies! Just letting you know, (I am only 12!) I really hope you know how much I use your recipies!
    I was wondering how you memorize recipies? I have always wondered because I can never seem to remember correctly! Thanks so much!!!!

    1. Creaming butter with sugar provides the base of this cake. Best to stick with butter!

  13. Hello. If I don’t have three 6” cake pans how do you recommend storing the batter while I bake each layer separately? Thank you!

    1. Hi B, You can let the batter rest at room temperature while the others bake until you have a free pan. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Jinny, We haven’t made this exact cake using the reverse creaming method, but you certainly can for a tighter crumb.

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