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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
  • 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 rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
  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. Today I made the chocolate version with one addition: Orange zest! My husband loves the combination of chocolate and orange, so for this birthday, he had it all wrapped up in this cake. Perfect size, perfect texture, and perfect flavor! I can’t recommend this highly enough

    1. For my birthday, I did what others told me I should’ve not done—baked my own birthday cake. I find any excuse to bake and this was no exception. The 6 inch vanilla came out amazingly moist and buttery. I paired it with the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe from Sally and oh. My. Goodness. Heaven! Friends that I shared the cake with said it was the best cake they ever tasted. I have an excuse to make it again this weekend for a dinner party. I can’t wait! Thank you for bringing me the joy of baking, Sally (and team)!

  2. Would it work to divide the batter between two cake pans (instead of three) to have two thicker layers? I’m looking to make an ice cream cake with your lemon blueberry cupcake recipe (as a 6″ cake) and thought two thicker layers might support the middle ice cream layer better. Thanks!

    1. Hi Natasha, you can make slightly thicker layers, but we caution from filling the pan too much as it can overflow and bake unevenly. Be sure to only fill about half way to ensure best results.

    2. Hello!
      Could this recipe be used to make 4 layers of 6 inch cake?
      I’m wanting to make your piñata cake with 6 inch cake.
      Thank you!

      1. Hi Susan, you could use this recipe to make four thinner layers. Or you could 1.5x the recipe, fill your four cake pans half way, and then use any leftover batter for a few cupcakes on the side!

  3. Hi,

    I love making 6 inch chocolate cakes using your chocolate cupcake recipe. I read the conversions page and would like to confirm if I could 1.5X the 3 tier 6 inch chocolate recipe for a 3 tier 8 inch cake? Thanks!

  4. Hello, I have been baking this Vanilla cake for 2 years now and love it. However, sometimes it turns out dense and sometimes it’s nice and fluffy. Please guide me what am I doing wrong and it comes dense? TIA

  5. Ok so I am back here… it was the temperature of butter that was killing me. Its sort of embarrassing to admit but I have finally hit a eureka moment so I will share here… I was just told by my 13 year old what room temp means ‍♀️ I knew I should have paid attention in science. That’s why sometimes the recipies are perfect sometimes the cakes are dense because I was just winging it. Also I realised that’s why I always struggle with butter based recipies. So my question once again is can I completely substitute the butter for oil and what will be its weight?

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

    1. hi Jackie! Yes, you can. The carton should have conversions for the amount you’ll need for this recipe. Enjoy!

  6. I love the multitude of 6″ cake recipe you provide instead of using full cake recipes. Question though…I am making the blueberry lemon cake, and am curious as to whether adding lemon curd (which you use in the citrus cake) works. I love the citrus cake recipe using the curd….can I add blueberries to it and still use the cream cheese frosting on outside of cake?

  7. Hi Sally,
    This might seem like a silly question, but I wanted to start making 6″ cakes and am going to need a way to package and transport them. I want to buy the round cake boards and white boxes with windows but I’m not sure what size to buy that will accommodate the cake and decorative icing on top. As the cakes are 6″ around and 6″ high (I am ordering the Fat Daddio 6’x2′ that you recommended) do I buy a larger sized board and box??? Again, sorry if this seems like a silly question, but the 6″ boards and 6″x6″ boxes would be too small? Am I on the right path with my thinking here? Would I need to upgrade to the 8″ boards and 8’x8′ boxes to have some wiggle room. Thanks for your anticipated answer.

    1. Hi Vicki, it’s best to get a box that is wider than the cake itself so that the edges of the box don’t come in contact with the edges of the cake. You may choose to use an 8 inch box and 8 inch round, so that the round fits snugly in the box and the cake has plenty of space in the center. You could also use the 8 inch box with the 6 inch rounds (if you don’t want any of the cake round showing underneath the cake), but use caution transporting it as the round could slide around a bit. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you so much for your quick response Lexi…..your answer was exactly what I was hoping it would be as the 8″ rounds and 8″ boxes is what I was leaning towards and are what is currently sitting in my Amazon cart with the cake pans:) Have a great day!!

  8. Is there a recipe for an extra thick 6″ cake? I’m hoping to make a small cake (4.5″ )but tall. Making three extra thick cakes that I can slice in half would make it easier than 6 separate cakes!

    1. Hi Jennie, we recommend separating the batter into the three pans rather than adding more for a thicker layer. With more batter in one pan, the cake will not bake as evenly and you run the risk of overflowing batter.

  9. Hi! I’m wondering if your team has ever created a 6 inch marble cake or if you know how I could make that work. I’m having a joint party for my two boys’ birthdays so I was thinking about making two 6 inch cakes. One wants chocolate, the other wants marble.

  10. I’m looking to make Sally’s most popular 9in strawberry cake but in 6in pans. I know there’s a recipe for it but here’s my problem. I only have 2 6in pans at the moment. I know some batters such as chocolate can be left out and used when a pan becomes available but I’m not sure if I can do that with this batter? If I can’t could you recommend a sheet pan size that I could use as I don’t mind cutting the layers out by hand/template? I really don’t want to use anyone else’s recipe because…

    1. I know how the finish cake tastes as a 9in…

    2. I trust Sally’s recipe…

    Hope to hear from you soon…

    1. Hi Tammie, we’re happy to help. You can use the batter from our strawberry cupcakes for 3, 6 inch round layers. You can simply leave the remaining batter covered at room temperature while the other two cake layers bake. We hope you enjoy this one!

      1. I’ve already replied to this reply to me, lol but I’ve run into another problem and need some advice. I’m planning to make Sally’s 9in strawberry cake but as a 6in. I’ve completed the cakes but now I’m stuck on the frosting. With Sally’s OG strawberry cake the frosting is made with cream cheese yet the link above for the cupcakes that one’s suggesting a white chocolate base. I want to make the cream cheese based strawberry frosting but I don’t see a recipe for it. Well, other than the one for the 9in which would leave too much frosting leftover. Can you please provide a link to a cream cheese frosting that can be used to frost these 3 layer 6in cakes? FYI, I do plan to flavor it strawberry by using the freeze dried powder. Hope to hear back from you soon. Thanks!

      2. Hi Tammie, you could halve the strawberry cream cheese frosting from the strawberry cake if you only want a very thin layer of frosting. Otherwise, you may wish to make 3/4 of the recipe or even the full recipe if you plan on doing some decorating!

  11. Question: Can i replace whole milk with buttermilk like you have in your regular vanilla cake recipe?

    1. Hi Shannon, If you use buttermilk, use it to replace both the sour cream and milk (1 cup total).

  12. I made this for my friends babies first birthday as her smash cake! It was so easy and fun to make! The cake came out delicious!! Perfect amount of vanilla flavor! My husband ended up sneaking a piece after the smash and said it was so good he wanted me to make it for his birthday! This will be my go to vanilla cake recipe going forward!

  13. Hi,
    May I know why this 6-inch cake recipe use sour cream and whole milk instead of buttermilk in your “The Best Vanilla Cake I’ve Ever had” recipe?
    What will be the difference in taste between the two ingredient?
    I will be baking a 6 -in Vanilla Cake for my daughter tomorrow. Hope to get your advice soon.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Angela, This 6 inch vanilla cake recipe is a bit fluffier than our best vanilla cake recipe. The sour cream and whole milk mixture makes the cake a bit sturdier than the buttermilk version. If you want, you can use buttermilk to replace both the sour cream and milk (1 cup total). Hope this helps!

  14. Good Morning Sally…. I Looooooooooooove all your cake and have successful with carefully following your instructions…… Today I have a dilemma and hoping you can help….. This recipe is super and I would like to know if possible to convert this recipe to fit a 12x18x2 sheet pan without messing up the the texture. Thank you from one of your Biggest Fans

  15. Tasty cake recipe. But it only produces about 3 1/2 cups of batter. For 6×2 pans I use either 1 3/4 cups or 2 cups per pan, so this resulted in thin layers, especially when adding fillings that need to be flavor balanced. Doubling recipe for next time. Luckily I get even layers so I don’t have to cut off any domes and lose any cake.

  16. Hi Sally, I am looking to make a cookies and cream drip cake. Will this recipe work if I put crushed Oreo’s in it?
    Thank-you!
    Renee

    1. Hi Renee, absolutely, you can add about 3/4 cup of crushed Oreo pieces to the batter. Enjoy!

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