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 (62g) 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

183 Comments

  1. My son loves chocolate and almond flavors. I’m thinking of using this recipe for his birthday cake and adding some almond extract. My question is: what do you think would happen if I replaced some of the flour with almond meal? I don’t need it to be GF or anything. Like if I go half and half on the flour and almond meal? Would I still get a good rise?

    1. Hi Colleen, adding almond extract would be just fine but I do not recommend replacing any flour with almond flour. If you play around with it, though, you may want to adjust the wet ingredients since almond flour can’t absorb liquid like all-purpose flour does.

      1. My ganache turned hard after 3 minutes of mixing with an electric hand mixer. How long should the cake cool in the pan?

  2. Hi Sally, Been using your recipes for a few months and totally enjoying them. I made this cake yesterday and the gnash really gave it that chocolate taste, but the cake itself just wasn’t all that chocolatey? I didn’t use the expresso so was curious if I add this will it up the chocolate flavor or should I try something else. Thanks and look forward to trying out more of your recipes.

    1. Hi Jeremy! So glad you tried this recipe. Instant espresso deepens chocolate’s flavor very nicely, so I recommend adding it next time if you can. You can also try replacing 1 Tbsp of the flour with more cocoa powder. That should help too!

  3. Christine Engel says:

    Thank you for having recipes for small cakes – this size is something I would definitely bake more often. Why do you recommend cooling the cake in a pan rather than taking it out of the pan?

  4. The flavor of the cake left a lot to be desired. It’s not as chocolatey as I had hoped — even with the espresso powder. Your chocolate cupcake recipe and the triple chocolate cake are still winners. I’ll just deal with larger cakes and left overs! Probably won’t make this one again.

  5. Melanie Franceschi says:

    Geez, oh man, this cake was delicious. I had to make it in an 8 in cake pan. Turned out great. I made this twice in two days, once for my husband and myself and once for my daughter and her husband. They raved about it.
    I used your receipe for Ganache. Outstanding Sally!!! Just ordered a 6 in. Pan on line. Cant wait to try.

  6. My almost 3 yr old (omg he’s almost 3) asked to make a chocolate cake over the weekend. After thinking it over, I remembered this was recently posted. But, no 6 inch cake pan. But we did have a mini cupcake tin – so I said OK, let’s make cupcakes.

    Toddler approved recipe!

    He made the following changes:
    -grab the 1/3 c measuring cup somehow while Mommy was getting the egg, and used it to help mix the dry ingredients
    -dump about half of the 1/3c measuring cup worth of dry ingredients on the counter, try to clean it up by wiping it on the floor, then got upset when there was flour on his shirt and hands
    -help Mommy clean up the mess
    -get upset that cupcakes take time to bake

    1. This is by far the best review I have read!! I have an almost 2 year old…I feel the same way…can’t believe he is almost 2…but he loves to help me bake and I could just see this happening!! Made me smile!!! I also love seeing Mommy’s bake with their children…seems like so many people have lost the patience for that and that is some of my fondest memories as a child!!

  7. Judith VanDevere says:

    This was the best chocolate cake I have ever made. I didn’t have a chocolate bar, so I used mini semi sweet Nestle chips. I am going to make cupcakes next time. I didn’t have a 6 inch pan, so I used my small bundt pan. It’s just two of us, so just the right amount of cake. Love your web site.

  8. My ganache turned hard after 3 minutes of mixing with an electric hand mixer. How long should the cake cool in the pan?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Paige, The exact amount of time the cake takes to cool will depend on the temperature in your house, but usually at least an hour or two at room temperature. For your ganache, make sure you are using pure chocolate (not chocolate chips) and that you don’t let any water in the bowl. Water will cause the chocolate to seize! See the troubleshooting tips in the post on chocolate ganache for more details.

  9. I have 3 four inch cake pans. Can I double the recipe and fill the three?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Maryanne, doubling this recipe will yield too much batter for three 4 inch pans. 1.5x the recipe would be closer, though not perfect. You can use this guide to find out exactly how much batter you’ll need!

  10. Hi Sally, Thank you for sharing this recipe for small chocolate cake. I can make one on Valentine’s day.

  11. Would you recommend adding a shot of espresso if I don’t have the espresso powder?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tonya, we don’t recommend using liquid espresso. Simply skip the powder or use instant coffee instead. Hope you enjoy this one!

  12. FYI, I made the cake in a 6 inch pan and it took less than 15 minutes. I do have a suspicion that my oven “runs hot”. Just wanted to make people aware of the shortened cook time.

    1. I meant 8 inch pan, sorry!!

  13. super easy recipe! loved the cake – it was a big hit!

  14. This little, lovely cake! It was the highlight of January! So decadent. Perfect dessert for three people. A homemade chocolate cake for dessert on a Tuesday? It wasn’t at all hard to make. I used my chocolate buttercream frosting! Perfect!
    It has been requested for Valentine’s Day…

  15. Geoffrey Selling says:

    I made two of these for special events for friends. Because of the pandemic, i didn’t get to taste them but I asked one of the friends who is a terrific baker and a discerning palate to tell me what she thought. Her thoughts: 1. It was absolutely delicious 2. It seemed like the kind of cake that took a really long time—it seemed very special 3. It had a very good texture. 4. The icing was so rich and creamy 5. This is an “I would make again” recipe! Save it!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Thank you for making and sharing our recipe, Geoffrey! We appreciate the positive feedback from your friends.

  16. Lynne Coppock says:

    Oh my goodness! This cake is wonderful. I wanted to bring a cake to my mother in law’s nursing home to celebrate my husband’s birthday with her. I didn’t want to bring a traditional size cake. This one was just perfect! An, truly, the most delicious chocolate cake we have ever eaten. So moist and flavorful. And the ganache frosting is just heaven! Finally, a cake I can make for a couple or small group without a ton of leftovers. Love this!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      What a lovely way to celebrate, Lynne. Thank you for sharing!

    2. I want to make this but only have an 8″ pan. What changes would I need to make?

      1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        See recipe notes for 8 inch pan instructions!

  17. Christel Goetsch says:

    Perfect timing for me to make for just my husband and me to “celebrate” our son’s birthday… (He now lives out of state, but that doesn’t mean this day isn’t a special one for just his parents to celebrate!!)
    So excited for our special dessert tonight!

  18. This is a great recipe for small cakes, just what I was looking for. I have made this cake three times now and we love it. Thank you Sally.

  19. If I double the recipe will it work in a 12″ heart shaped pan?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Candace, I’m unsure but this Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions chart should help. You can always double it, fill halfway, then use any leftover batter for cupcakes.

  20. Because of Covid-19 and it was just my husband and me, this was the perfect size cake for his birthday celebration the other day! Thanks for another wonderful recipe Sally!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      So happy you and your husband loved this recipe, Sarah!

  21. Hi ,
    Just checking do I need to use parchment paper around the cake tin or just the bottom of the pan ?

    1. Either works, but I like using parchment paper rounds just around the bottom of the pan. Here’s why:

      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.

  22. My husband and I loved this cake. It was so easy to make. Hope to see more small dessert recipe. The size was just right.

  23. Hi Sally,
    Can I stack this chocolate cake and make it 2 layers (of course I doubled the recipe and bake in 2 6″cake pans)? Will this cake too heavy to stack on top of one another?
    Can I used ganache to fill the layer in between wheb stack together and frost the cake too?

    Thanks for your advice.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hello Hui, for best taste, texture, and the overall height of the 2 layer cake, it would be better to divide a single batch of 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. Chocolate ganache would be delicious between the layers!

  24. I made the cupcakes with ganache frosting. My husband and I enjoyed them. Next time I want to try the peanut butter frosting. Thank you for creating a smaller size version option for the cupcakes and/or 6″cake. For two people it’s perfect!! I’d appreciate more dessert recipe options for two.

  25. Is it ok to triple this recipe for a 3 layer 6 inch cake?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lynn! For a 3 layer 6 inch cake we would use this Chocolate Cupcake recipe – it’s the perfect amount of batter. You can read more about 6 inch cakes here.

  26. A great little cake. Super easy to make and a fun weekend treat. Next time I’d love for it to turn out a TOUCH fluffier though. It’s not dense but not super light. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Carole, feel free to add some baking powder to give the cake crumb a little more lift. I recommend 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon.

  27. Have you tried making the red wine version of your chocolate ganache with this recipe? I’m thinking of doing this for our Valentine’s dinner date at home.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Amy, red wine chocolate ganache would be delicious topped on this cake!

  28. Hi Sally…this cake was the perfect treat for Saturday night at home! Delicious! Hope you’ll post a few more 6″ cakes! I’ve tried six of your recipes in the last two weeks and all were wonderful…thanks for helping us get through this crazy time.

  29. Hi Sally, do you always whip the ganache or can you use it without whipping after it’s cooled? Thanks! Making this as dessert to take to sick friends.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Deborah! You can use the ganache without whipping – that’s what we did in the photos of the cake. The photo of the cupcakes show whipped ganache. How sweet of you to bake for your friends, hope this recipe is a hit.

  30. The ganache came out grainy, not smooth as shown in the picture. I started cooling in refrigerator and then left it on the counter since I had to go out and was afraid it would get too cold…ughhh! Any help
    Is appreciated!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, If you decide to make it again, take a look at the post all about How to Make Chocolate Ganache and there is a section in the post called “Troubleshooting Chocolate Ganache” which talks about that grainy texture. I hope this helps!

      1. Thank you! I’ll check it out!

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