Small cakes make a big impression

I’m known as the office baker, and pre-pandemic I would bring in a cake, cookies, and other treats on a weekly basis. Having dozens of eager recipients helped me maintain my waistline while still indulging in my favorite hobby. For the past year, however, visits to the office have been few and far between as we have been fortunate enough to work from home. My baking desire continued, but I realized early on that making full-size treats for just the two of us was not going to be a workable solution unless I wanted to buy a wardrobe consisting solely of muumuus. Therefore I decided to downsize my baking. It is easy enough to bake a half batch of cookies, but reducing the size of a cake can be tricky. Bill Clark of Epicurious takes the apprehension out of downsizing cakes by showing how to easily turn an 8- or 9-inch cake into a six-incher.

I used this technique in the Eat Your Books Cookbook Club a couple of months ago when Yossy Arefi’s Snacking Cakes was the featured baking volume. (If you don’t already have Snacking Cakes on your bookshelf, you must buy it right now. It’s one of my favorite baking books of 2020.) I wanted to try a lot of different cakes, but didn’t want to waste a bunch of ingredients. So I halved the recipes (meant for a 9-inch cake pan) and baked them in a 6-inch pan, and it worked great, as the above photo shows. As Clark points out, the math is a bit more complicated if you want to be precise, but I found that halving was good enough for my purposes.

I use a similar downsizing process with Bundt cake recipes: if a recipe calls for a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan, I will make a half recipe in a 6-cup Bundt. If there is excess batter, I use a mini-loaf pan to make an additional tiny loaf.

Baking times can vary greatly when downsizing cakes, and the Epicurious article covers that subject as well. Interestingly, Clark says that he doesn’t reduce the amount of frosting when he makes small cakes. He feels like having the full amount provides enough extra to do more decorations, or you can freeze the icing for use later – most buttercreams freeze well, but meringue-style frostings do not.

Photo of Orange-poppy seed cake with raspberry glaze from Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings by Yossy Arefi

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  • Skamper  on  April 4, 2021

    This is exactly my strategy with Snacking Cakes. I recently bought a 6″ pan and plan to go through the book primarily making half recipes. At least until my office reopens. Disagree about the frosting, though. I recently made a 1/3 batch of Arefi’s cocoa glaze (which is delicious) and it was quite enough for a 6″ cake.

  • sanfrannative  on  April 4, 2021

    I’ve had 6 inch pans for awhile now because hubs and I don’t have kids but I love to bake. Our two cats aren’t going to help us eat it! I’ve usually taken a “let’s cut the recipe in half and see what happens” approach. It’s worked well enough but def going to use the math next time!

  • averythingcooks  on  April 4, 2021

    I recently began experimenting with my mini loaf pans and I then purchased two 6″ inch cake pans in early March. I found Bill Clark’s Epicurious article 2 weeks ago and my 1st attempt was using his math rule with a 2 layer 9 inch carrot cake from Anna Olson. The results were good but the layers took way longer to bake than suggested. Also, as the layers weren’t overly tall, I am sure that it would have been fine to simply cut the ingredients in half 🙂 I also made 2/3’ds of her cream cheese frosting & had way more than enough to fully frost my little cake.

    I then found a recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction blog designed to be a 6″ single layer chocolate cake with whipped chocolate ganache which baked in the given time and was lovely! She also has recipes for triple layer 6 inch cakes on her site and ideas for what recipes to use directly in small pans or are potentially easy to scale back (ie cupcakes).

    As I cook for the 2 of us and share with my father in law, I am enjoying my efforts and always looking for ideas. Thanks for posting this topic!

  • Indio32  on  April 4, 2021

    Great post….. will be looking to buy some 6″ cake tins when the shops here in England open again on the 12th April.
    I genuinely think (as I’ve said before) that in todays world most people/families are going to struggle to get through a 12 portion cake in a healthy way without either giving some away or throwing it out.
    I’d be first in line for a baking book(s) that would produce 4/6 portion cake recipes and I’m sure they’d be plenty of others interested well.

  • hillsboroks  on  April 6, 2021

    The easy answer I found a couple of years ago is the cookbook “Everyday Little Cakes.” I’ve have used it throughout the pandemic with great results. The layer cakes recipes are all designed for 6″ cakes. The only problems I’ve had us that the recipes call for baking them in a 325F oven and they are never done without a much longer time in the oven. Now I just put the oven up to 350F and the cakes turn out perfectly in the specified time. I’ve tried most of the layer cake recipes and loved them all.

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