Small Chocolate Cake (6 Inch)

Small cakes are certainly convenient for small celebrations. This 1 layer 6 inch chocolate cake serves 4, so it’s perfect for date night, a Valentine’s Day dessert, a small family birthday celebration, or for whenever you need a scaled down cake. We love it with chocolate ganache on top. You can also use this chocolate cake batter to make a small batch of cupcakes. 

6 inch chocolate cake with chocolate ganache on top sitting on a pink cake stand

This is a 1 Layer 6 Inch Chocolate Cake

Over the past year, we’ve received many requests for smaller variations of normally large desserts. We’ve directed a lot of bakers to our 6 inch cakes blog post, where I teach you how to turn cupcake batter into a 6 inch layer cake. But what if you don’t need 3 layers?

Here’s our 1 layer 6 inch chocolate cake recipe. I worked on this recipe with Valentine’s Day on my mind. Wouldn’t it be nice to make a tiny cake without a ton of leftover slices? But even beyond that holiday, it’s massively convenient to have a dessert option for small gatherings, families, celebrations, or just a casual at-home date night.


Small Chocolate Cake Details

  • Flavor: This cake is sweet with divine chocolate flavor, especially when you pair it with deep dark chocolate ganache (recipe included below). Wait for the cake to cool completely before digging in. I find its chocolate flavor develops after a few hours.
  • Texture: If it’s not over-baked, this cake is soft, rich, and indulgently moist. Have you ever made the sour cream version of my larger chocolate layer cake? The texture is pretty much identical. Any unfrosted edges become delicately crisp (not in a bad way!), which adds a little textural dimension to each slice.
  • Ease: Since the cake is so small and there’s no elaborate decorating required, this is a very manageable recipe for beginner bakers. The ingredient list is pretty straightforward and you don’t even need to use a mixer.
  • Time: Set aside a few hours to complete this cake recipe. The cake is pretty thick, so it takes close to 30 minutes to bake through. The longest stretch of time, however, is waiting for the cake to cool.
  • Equipment: Nothing special except for a 6 inch cake pan (affiliate link to the exact cake pans I use and love).

small chocolate cake on a pink cake stand

Overview of the Ingredients & Process

Though you can find the full printable recipe below, let me walk you through a couple steps and answer some possible questions that may arise.

The batter comes together in 2 mixing bowls. Whisk flour, unsweetened natural cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt together in one bowl. The espresso powder is optional, but definitely use it if you have it. Espresso powder accentuates and deepens the chocolate flavor. In another bowl, whisk oil, sugar, egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. Buttermilk is our acidic ingredient and crucial for this cake’s rise. If you don’t have buttermilk, use the DIY version detailed in the notes below.

Expect a semi-thick cake batter. 

bowls of ingredients and a 6 inch cake pan

Like I recommend with all my 6 inch cakes, use a parchment paper round. Trace the bottom of your 6 inch cake pan on a large piece of parchment paper. Cut out the parchment circle. Very lightly grease the cake pan. Place the parchment round inside. Grease the parchment round too. Using butter or nonstick spray, I grease the pan AND the parchment. This promises an ultra non-stick environment for your small chocolate cake.

6 inch chocolate cake before and after baking

Though its diameter is small, this is a thick chocolate cake. It’s pretty moist, too. Because of its thickness and delicious moisture, the cake may sink a little in the very center. Don’t fret over that. (Cover it up with ganache!) As long as a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, it’s done.

two side-by-side photos of chocolate ganache in a bowl then chocolate ganache spread on a small chocolate cake

Toppings

You can top this small chocolate cake with chocolate ganache (recipe included below), buttercream, or whipped cream. For a thick layer of buttercream, I recommend halving this chocolate buttercream, this strawberry buttercream, this peanut butter frosting, or this vanilla buttercream. For a lightly sweetened whipped cream topping, you could halve the mocha whipped cream paired with my flourless chocolate cake or halve this vanilla whipped cream recipe.

The pictured heart sprinkles are from this sprinkle set. (Affiliate link.) And I bought this adorable pink cake stand from Home Goods 2 years ago.

overhead photo of chocolate ganache and pink heart sprinkles on a chocolate cake

small slice of chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, mint, and a raspberry on top

Use This Batter for 6 Chocolate Cupcakes

So what if you want a smaller batch of chocolate cupcakes? Yes, you can absolutely use this recipe. This chocolate cake batter yields about 1 and 1/2 cups of batter total, which makes 6 standard size cupcakes. How does it weigh up against my standard chocolate cupcakes recipe? Well, this batter is a little thicker so the cupcakes aren’t quite as light, delicate, and spongy. They’re soft and moist, but have a slightly heavier crumb.

  • For a cupcake topping, use any of the topping options listed above.
  • For the pictured frosted cupcakes, I used the chocolate ganache recipe below. After the ganache cools completely, you can beat it with an electric mixer for about 3-4 minutes to make whipped ganache. Tastes like chocolate mousse! You can read more about it in the recipe below or in my chocolate ganache post.

6 chocolate cupcakes before and after baking

chocolate cupcake with whipped chocolate ganache and a raspberry on top


What About a Vanilla Version?

I don’t have a vanilla version of this recipe at this time. Though I haven’t tested it, I’m confident you could halve this homemade sprinkle cake recipe to yield a 1 layer 6 inch vanilla cake or 6 vanilla cupcakes. Feel free to skip the sprinkles.

Print
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small chocolate cake on a pink cake stand

Small Chocolate Cake (6 Inch)

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours (includes cake and ganache cooling)
  • Yield: serves 4
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This 1 layer 6 inch chocolate cake serves 4, so it’s perfect for any occasion requiring a scaled down cake. You can also use this chocolate cake batter to make a small batch of chocolate cupcakes. For best success, review the recipe notes before starting.


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (63g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/4 cup (21g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) buttermilk, at room temperature

Chocolate Ganache

  • one 4-ounce quality semi-sweet chocolate bar (113g), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
  • optional garnish: raspberries, mint, and/or sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 6×2 inch cake pan, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the small cake seamlessly release from the pan. I usually grease it with nonstick spray.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the oil, sugar, egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and whisk until smooth and combined.
  3. Pour the cake batter evenly into prepared cake pan.
  4. Bake for around 27-30 minutes or until the cake is baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Avoid over-baking. Cake is thick and moist, so the center may slightly sink. That’s normal. Allow cake to cool in the pan set on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.
  5. Make the chocolate ganache as the cake cools because the ganache must cool too: Place chopped chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to gently simmer. (Do not let it come to a rapid boil– that’s too hot!) Pour over chocolate, then let it sit for 2-3 minutes to gently soften the chocolate. With a metal spoon or small rubber spatula, very slowly stir until completely combined and chocolate has melted. Ganache will be thin, so let it cool and thicken for at least 30-60 minutes before using. Refrigerating speeds this up, but the ganache will not cool evenly. Stir it a few times as it sets in the refrigerator so it remains smooth. You can also let the ganache fully cool and thicken (takes about 2 hours). After 2 hours, you can whip the cooled ganache with a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until light in color and texture, about 3-4 minutes on medium-high speed. (Whipped ganache can be spread or piped. It is pictured on the cupcakes in the post above. I used Wilton 1M piping tip.)
  6. Spread ganache on cooled cake. If ganache has cooled and thickened enough (or if you whipped it), you could pipe it with a piping bag/tip. Decorate with optional garnishes, if desired. Slice and serve.
  7. Cover leftover cake tightly and store at room temperature for 1 day or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Frosted or unfrosted cake can be frozen up to 2-3 months. If desired, see my How to Freeze Cakes post. Thaw cake overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving. For make-ahead instructions for the chocolate ganache, see step 5 in my chocolate ganache post.
  2. Cocoa Powder: Use natural cocoa powder, not dutch-process. (See dutch-process vs natural cocoa powder for more information.)
  3. Espresso Powder: Espresso powder will not make the cake taste like coffee. Instead, it deepens the chocolate flavor. It’s optional, but for best taste, I highly recommend it. You can use the same amount of instant coffee (the powder) instead of espresso powder if desired.
  4. Amount of Sugar: I tested this recipe with 6 Tablespoons of sugar and the cake wasn’t as sweet, of course, but it tasted pretty plain. I recommend sticking with 8 Tbsp (1/2 cup). Topping with chocolate ganache definitely balances out the sweetness.
  5. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. Add 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1/4 cup. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  6. 6 Cupcakes: Preheat oven to  350°F (177°C). Line a standard 12-count muffin pan with 6 liners. Prepare the batter as directed in step 2 above. Pour or spoon the batter into the liners. Fill each 2/3 full to avoid spilling over the sides or sinking. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t over-bake, which will dry out the cupcakes. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
  7. Chocolate in Ganache: Ganache will only set if the correct chocolate is used. You can use high quality chocolate chips if needed (I prefer Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips), but I recommend using pure chocolate baking bars. You can find them right next to the chocolate chips in the baking aisle. They are sold in 4 ounce bars. I like Bakers or Ghirardelli brands. You can use other varieties of chocolate too, such as milk chocolate (aka German Chocolate) or Dark Chocolate. If using white chocolate, reduce the cream to 1/3 cup (80ml). White chocolate is softer, so you need less cream.
  8. Dairy-Free Alternative for Heavy Cream in Ganache: Use 1/2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk. Shake it up before opening and measuring. Whisk on the stove as it heats and bring to a simmer.
  9. 8 Inch Pan or 2 Layer Cake: You can use this cake batter in an 8×2 inch cake pan. The cake will be thinner and the bake time is about 24-25 minutes, but use a toothpick to test for doneness just as instructed above. I don’t recommend doubling this recipe to make a 2 layer cake because it will be quite thick and taste heavy. Instead, divide the batter between two 6-inch cake pans (bake time would be shorter) or divide this chocolate cupcake batter in 2 6-inch cake pans. Start checking with a toothpick at 26 minutes.

Keywords: chocolate, cake, ganache

220 Comments

  1. Question! I am making a layer cake for my daughter’s bday and one of the layers a chocolate cake. Would this make a usable layer of made in a 8 inch pan? Thank you!

    1. Yes, it is in the last note above (at the end of the recipe)

    2. I saw this in the notes…..

      8 Inch Pan: You can use this cake batter in an 8×2 inch cake pan. The cake will be thinner and the bake time is about 24-25 minutes, but use a toothpick to test for doneness just as instructed above.

  2. Can I use expresso coffee if not where can I get espresso powder

    1. Hi Luci, do not use liquid espresso. Simply skip the powder or use instant coffee instead.

      1. No my mom’s Italian and she only drinks expresso so I was just going to use the I was just going to her Italian expresso coffee not after she made it just the coffee itself

      2. I really like website Sally! You are super talented and I always check your website first, because you you just flat out know what to do, and make it pretty ta boot! Anyway, I am a fan, and you should be on the TV, well only if you want to I gotta get your cookbooks fer sure. Thanks for lessons & take good care

  3. The timing for this recipe during pandemic/quarantine/isolation/small family bubble is spot on.
    We went from serving 24 people during the holidays and winter family game nights to dinner/lupper for 2. I had no reason to bake a cake until this recipe showed up in my inbox today!!
    I’ve always felt after baking the cake it deserves recognition on a beautiful plate/pedestal. When my heart and soul goes into a cake, I don’t want to serve it on just a plate.
    Over the years most of my cake pedestals are now cracked or broken. Any chance one of these days you can provide us with a link to some of your cake plates and pedestals such as the beautiful pink plate shown here today?
    Thank you Sally!

    1. Thank you Brenda! The cake stand is from Home Goods a couple years ago– certainly a great find. If you ever want a timeless cake stand, I love the “Wood Marble Pedestal” from Crate & Barrel. This link may not work, so copy/paste it into your browser: https://www.crateandbarrel.com/wood-marble-pedestal/s674014

    2. Cannot wait to try this smaller cake, knowing if it’s a Sally recipe it will be good. Perfect for 2 of us. Will also try the white cake mentioned. I have made the 6” cakes but still find a 3 layer 6” cake is too much for two of us……..thank you, thank you, thank you.

    3. Hey Brenda, I’m an avid glass collector and just wanted to suggest thrift stores and antique markets for reasonably priced cake plates and pedestal stands. I’ve found some truly awesome display pieces over the years for as little as a few dollars apiece. My favourite finds are low footed vintage cake plates, but they tend to be about $20 CAD at antique places. It’s really easy to find pedestal style plates at thrift stores for far less. Anyway, that’s just my two cents!

  4. Looks delicious! Would olive oil or avocado oil work for the vegetable oil?

    1. I can’t see why not!

  5. I can’t seem to find espresso powder – can I take regular espresso and grind it into a powder???

    1. I recommend just leaving it out or use instant coffee (not coffee grounds) instead.

  6. This looks good, Sally, thanks for making scaled down recipes for us. I have 7 inch pans only, so when I make this it will be slightly thinner. Regarding buttermilk, I know fresh makes the best cakes, but I keep a container of Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend in my fridge all the time, when I want to make something on the spur of the moment and don’t have buttermilk. You add the powder to the dry ingredients, and use water equal to the amount of buttermilk called for in the recipe. I live in New Jersey, I don’t know if this is widely available around the country.

  7. Perfect for National Chocolate Cake Day on 1/27! I’m making this for sure. I really appreciate these smaller desserts.

  8. Sally, could you please come up with a valentines dinner for 2…for Valentines…this would be the perfect ending….thanks!

    1. I agree with you Mary Anne. I’d love to see a Valentine’s Day menu or simply a breakfast and dessert menu. Thanks for all you do Sally.

  9. Thank you , Sally! I appreciate you! I can see the work you put into your blog.
    This small 6 inch cake is much needed at my stage of life and also during our
    not normal pandemic life. Add the need for gluten free baked goods and you
    will see me celebrating!

    1. I’m going to try this one with gf flour. It seems like it would be an easy one to sub 1:1. I’ll probably do it for Valentine’s, but I will post results.

      1. Exactly what I am thinking too. Will you post please once you have made it and also what flour blend you use. I am in the UK and will use Dove’s gf all purpose flour blend which doesn’t have xanthan gum added so for such a small amount will probably just add not even a quarter tsp

      2. Jennie Rose up Sylva says:

        So I made this tonight with Namaste gluten free flour. It sank a lot in the middle, (as on no way you could stack it) but boy was it yummy. Real chocolate cake!!! Next time I will add mini chocolate chips.

  10. I thought the sub for buttermilk was 1 TABLESPOON per CUP of milk? So that should be .75 teaspoon of vinegar not .25. But i don’t trust myself so checking with you! ‍♀️
    Love your recipes!!

    1. Hi Bev, you can certainly use 1 Tablespoon per cup of milk but I usually use around 2 teaspoons and never have issues with rise. That should have read 1/2 teaspoon. Thank you for catching it!

  11. Thank you, Sally! This looks perfect!

  12. Yum! This was really simple and really delicious. Light and fluffy. Perfect for an afternoon snack with strawberries.

  13. This looks delicious! And I am so happy to see it. I often have the “need” to bake something or have a taste of something sweet – not an issue when my kids were growing up. Now it is just the 2 of us at home and my husband will often eat one piece of a treat (or one cookie) and that’s it, leaving the rest for me – and I don’t need those calories.

  14. Is there any chance you might be working on other flavors of cakes this size? Thank you!

    1. Hi Lisa! Not at this time. Feel free to try the vanilla version described above the recipe. Confident that will work just fine.

  15. Bonnie Rissmiller says:

    Can I use a 6×3 springform pan?

    1. That shouldn’t be a problem.

  16. I would like to use 2, 4-inch springform pans to make it a smaller 2 layer cake. Your thoughts?

    1. That should work, but you’ll likely have leftover batter. Fill both pans halfway then use leftover batter for cupcake(s) or mini cupcakes.

  17. Martha Davidson says:

    The recipe is perfect for just the two of us and since chocolate is my hubby’s favorite it will be a much used recipe.I noticed that several people wanted to find some of the beautiful cake plates. I have found several different ones at the local flea markets and online auctions The prices are usually very reasonable.

  18. This cake looks terrific and will be on my short list to bake really soon.
    I have a ganache question. I find making ganache is a hit or miss thing for me. Sometimes it is perfect but other times, it comes out grainy and not beautifully shiny and smooth.Is the problem related to cream temperature? The last time I make ganache, I used my instant thermometer to check but there is no suggested temp so poured the cream once it was about 150 degrees…the temp suggested for “liquid simmer”. The ganache looked okay initially but as it cooled, It was grainy…so frustrating. I would appreciate any words of baking wisdom you could offer. Thanks, Sally!

    1. Hi Nancy! I must have missed your question yesterday. It could be related to the temperature, but it could be that there isn’t enough liquid. Heavy cream is pretty thick and from container to measuring cup to pan to pouring over chocolate– you could lose a few drops. See if adding another 1-2 teaspoons of cream helps. And if you’re interested, here’s an article a reader once sent to me and I always find it helpful: https://www.finecooking.com/article/science-chocolate-ganache (If this link doesn’t work, copy/paste it into your browser.)

  19. Can I use a loose bottom tin?

    1. Shouldn’t be a problem!

  20. Please tell me the adjustments for making this a 2-Layer Six inch cake. I am a retired guy who is learning to bake by following Sally’s detailed baking instructions and videos. I love making your pie crust and have received compliments. Sally is the best!

    1. Hi Dan, thank you so much for trusting my recipes! I’m glad to help. You can certainly divide this batter between two 6-inch cake pans (bake time would be shorter) or try to squeeze this chocolate cupcakes batter in 2 6-inch cake pans.

  21. I want to make 2 layers- is it OK to just double the recipe?
    Thanks for your fabulous recipes!

    1. Hi Pam, for best taste, texture, and the overall height of the 2 layer cake, it would be better to divide this batter between two 6-inch cake pans (bake time would be shorter) or try to squeeze this chocolate cupcakes batter in 2 6-inch cake pans.

  22. Hi,

    Thank you for the recipe. Can I use plain yogurt instead of buttermilk?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Adriana, do not use yogurt– the batter needs liquid.

      1. Adriana Stefaneanu says:

        Oh, I understand. Thank you for the quick reply

  23. Thumbs up to the “tiny cake” concept! I can’t wait to give this a try.

  24. Where did you get your 6” pan……? Perfect recipe for Valentine’s Day, thank you

    1. Courtney Simson says:

      Laura, I ordered two on Amazon Prime.

  25. Could you please tell me which of your chocolate cake recipes you would recommend using for an ice cream cake? Thank you!

    1. Hi Debbie, I would use the sour cream version (detailed in the notes) of this triple chocolate cake. That recipe is 2 layers– not sure if you needed 2 layers. Another option is the chocolate cake recipe that we use for these homemade chocolate cake pops.

  26. I haven’t made this recipe yet, but planning on it. I don’t have buttermilk, what is a good substitute?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bella, you can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. See recipe notes for details.

  27. Maggi Wardell says:

    Add a shake of cayenne pepper to chocolate recipes…along with the espresso…you won’t taste the pepper but the chocolate is more intense

  28. My hero! How did you know this is just what I needed?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Happy baking, Jessica!

  29. This looks so good! I love using your recipes as they always turn out perfect!
    I am not going to school everyday right now due to covid so my parents and I enjoy staying up and watching movies since I can sleep in the next day. I like to make special deserts for our movie nights. However it is hard to find mini recipes. I am so excited to try this tonight! Thanks Sally!

  30. This is the best recipe I’ve come across. Comes out perfect every time & no mess. Thank you sharing.

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