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Mini Vanilla Cake Recipe

I love making cakes, but it’s a lot harder to share them with my friends and family right now. To avoid waste while still getting my baking fix, I decided to work on a mini vanilla cake recipe.

This recipe is based on my vanilla layer cake recipe, but has a few modifications that allow you to make it by hand!

image of mini vanilla cake being decorated with rainbow sprinkles for a birthday

I wanted this recipe to be easy peasy, so that you have no excuse not to get busy in the kitchen if you’re bored!

How Much Batter Does this Recipe Make?

One batch of this mini cake recipe makes enough batter to make 3, 4-inch cake layers, or 2 6-inch cake layers.

I like to make cute little 4-inch cake layers, but I know that’s an odd pan size that not everyone has on hand.

image of 4 inch cake layers being stacked to make a mini smash layer cake

Decorating This Mini Vanilla Cake

I challenged myself to decorate this mini vanilla cake without a spinning cake stand! I wanted to see what styles and decorations are doable if you don’t have tons of baking tools on hand.

The easiest style was a textured look with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon.

image of small cake with textured frosting sides to create a rustic look

Or if you’re after a more classic look, you can smooth with a bench scraper and add some buttercream swirls.

I also topped my cake with some nonpareil sprinkles. I figured a mini cake should have some mini sprinkles. They give this cake a nice pop of color that makes it perfect to celebrate any occasion.

image of an adorable mini birthday cake decorated with sprinkles and buttercream frosting

Substitutions and Swaps – Mini Cake Layers

This mini birthday cake uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have them all on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.

Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this cake recipe.

  • All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with AP flour, but you can use a gluten free flour blend or cake flour if that’s all you have on hand.
  • Granulated Sugar – I do not recommend reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sugar, as it will change the texture of the cake layers.
  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter in this recipe. Just be sure to omit the salt that this cake recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place (and also omit the salt)!
  • 1 Large Egg– If you have an egg allergy you can use a flaxseed egg or an egg replacer.
  • Buttermilk – You can also use full fat yogurt, sour cream, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
  • Vegetable Oil – You can use any flavorless oil in this recipe. Canola or even sunflower oil would work great!
image of flour being leveled in a measuring cup

Substitutions and Swaps – Vanilla Buttercream

  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place (and omit the salt)!
  • Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe if that’s what you have on hand.

Making This Mini Cake Gluten Free

You can swap in your favorite gluten free flour blend cup for cup in this recipe!

I personally prefer King Arthur’s gluten free flour blend, and find that 1 cup of GF flour weighs about 120 grams.

In addition to swapping the flour, there are two additional steps you need to take when making this mini cake gluten free.

Gluten Free Baking Tip #1: Over-mix Your Batter

The first step is to vigorously whisk your batter for a few minutes once it’s made. This helps give your cake layers structure.

I know this goes against everything you’ve ever heard about baking, but over mixing your batter is key when making anything gluten free.

It helps the cake layers rise better as they bake, and gives the cake a more tender crumb.

Gluten Free Baking Tip #2: Let Your Batter Rest

The second step I recommend is letting your batter rest for about 30 minutes before baking your cake layers.

Gluten free flour blends can have a hard time absorbing moisture and fats. Letting the batter sit before baking it gives the flour more time to absorb all that goodness.

This helps thicken the batter, and prevents your cake layers from having a gritty texture.

image of mini vanilla cake made for a 1st birthday

Tips for Making the Best Mini Vanilla Cake:

  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes it so much easier to stack and frost.
  • If your cake layers turn out less than perfect, please check out my cake troubleshooting guide.
  • Use a serrated knife to level your cake layers once they’re fully cooled. It makes this mini cake so much easier to assemble and frost.
  • I do NOT recommend using this recipe to make cupcakes! Instead, I highly recommend trying my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe. I like the texture better for cupcakes!
image of a slice of a 4-inch mini cake layer on a plate

Making These Cake Layers in Advance and Storage Tips

Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable. They can be frozen for up to 3 months, and as long as they’re wrapped right I promise they’ll taste just like they did the day you baked them.

Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.

A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!

If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

image of chelsweets celebrating with a mini vanilla cake

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you try this mini vanilla layer cake recipe, I’d love to hear what you think of it! Please leave a rating and comment below.

Tag me @chelsweets and use the #chelsweets on social media so that I can see your amazing creations!

Other Recipes You Might Like:

Yield: 8

Mini Vanilla Cake Recipe

image of mini vanilla cake being decorated with rainbow sprinkles for a birthday

This mini vanilla cake recipe is made in one bowl & is incredibly moist! One batch makes three, 4 inch cake layers that are perfect for a small celebration.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 33 minutes
Additional Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 8 minutes

Ingredients

Mini Vanilla Cake Recipe

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (125g)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (4g)
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt (1g)
  • 1/4 cup or 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted (56g)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil (56g)
  • 1 egg, room temperature (56g)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, room temperature (120g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4g)
  • gel food coloring (if desired)

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (169g)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (8g)
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt (1g)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (375g)
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp heavy cream or whipping cream (20g)

Instructions

Mini Vanilla Cake Layers:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Line three 4-inch or two 6" round pan with parchment rounds, and grease with non-stick baking spray.
  2. Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) with a whisk until fully combined.
  3. Pour the melted butter, oil, and egg into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. The batter will be thick.
  4. Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract, and mix until just combined (the key is to mix until the ingredients are JUST incorporated, so that the batter isn't over mixed). 
  5. If desired, add in gel food coloring. Mix the color in by hand using a rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl part way through.
  6. Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.
  7. Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the pans to cool for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around the perimeter of the pan to separate the cake from the pan.
  8. Place cake layers into the freezer for 20 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process. Once the layers are fully cooled, carefully flip the pans and remove the layers from the pans.
  9. Use a serrated knife to level the tops of the layers, and then frost as desired.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

  1. While the cake layers bake and cool, make the vanilla buttercream frosting.
  2. Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment, until smooth.
  3. Mix in the vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste and salt on a low speed.
  4. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream.
  5. Continue to mix on low speed for a few minutes, until the desired consistency is reached. 
  6. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream (1 tsp at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).
  7. If you plan to color the buttercream, add in the gel food coloring once the frosting is fully made, and beat on low until it reaches the desired color

To Assemble The Cake:

  1. Stack and frost cake layers on a small plate or cake stand using a dab of frosting to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
  2. Add an even layer of buttercream between each cake layer with a large offset spatula.
  3. Add a thin coat of frosting around the cake, fully cover the cake layers.
  4. Smooth using a bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (5 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
  5. Add a second, thicker layer of frosting to the cake, and smooth using a bench scraper. Then decorate as desired!

Notes

Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable.

Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.

A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!

If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information

Yield

8

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 575Total Fat 27gSaturated Fat 15gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 10gCholesterol 89mgSodium 264mgCarbohydrates 81gFiber 1gSugar 68gProtein 4g

Audrey O

Sunday 26th of June 2022

Hi, I'm a long time hobbyist cake decorator (about 25 years). After taking classes on how to decorate, I made sooo much buttercream frosting (from lard back in those days) that I stopped doing it for a while. After I had my first child (I have 3 now, the oldest being 17), I began decorating cakes again (still using lard) only on their birthdays. Now, if you notice, I only said cake DECORATOR. I used to buy premade cakes (like from Costco) and ask them to leave it naked, then I would bring it home and decorate it, LOL! I haven't decorated a cake in a couple years now due to covid and my kids not having a bday party, but this weekend, I had a request from my niece who was celebrating her son's first bday, to "provide" the cake. Since it was on short notice, I decided to just bake my own, and hit the web for recipes on the best way to layer a cake. My search led me here and I went for your chocolate cake first. (I made a tiered cake with the 8 inch being your chocolate and the 6 inch being this mini vanilla cake). I HAVE TO TELL YOU first off that my oldest son cannot stand chocolate cakes, and he THINKS he preferred the chocolate to the vanilla (but he also says it may be because I frosted the vanilla in fondant, lol). Everybody else in the house, LOVED the chocolate cake (I don't know if it was the buttermilk or the dark chocolate cocoa or the butter used in the buttercream or a combination of both) but at the bday party there were RAVES, and people coming back for seconds. It was ABSOLUTELY the BEST chocolate cake we have EVER tried. Now. I am NOT a vanilla cake person (to me if a dessert doesn't have chocolate in it, it is NOT a dessert, lol), but eating the scraps once the cake was trimmed(although I was absolutely shocked that the mini cakes needed little to no trimming), had me thinking differently. It was ABSOLUTELY the BEST vanilla cake that we have ever had. Actually, we had leftover chocolate frosting from the chocolate cake, and leftover strawberry mousse that I filled the vanilla cake with, so I promised my son that I would re-do the vanilla cake with the strawberry mousse and chocolate frosting this time, instead of fondant, so I'm headed back to the kitchen to make another batch. Just wanted to say thank you for the ABSOLUTE BEST cakes we have ever tried. My husband said to the recipes were "keepers" and we all agree, so thanks so much for sharing!!

Chelsweets

Sunday 3rd of July 2022

Hi Audrey,

I am so happy to hear that!! You are too sweet, thank you for sharing :)

Audrey O

Sunday 26th of June 2022

@Audrey O, Oops. Sorry. Just realized that I posted this review under the "wrong" cake. I used your small batch vanilla cake for the 6 inch size, but everything else I said, remains the same. :)

Kathy

Saturday 11th of June 2022

Hi I wanted to say that I made a mini vanilla cake yesterday and it looked amazing and it tasted good thank you. ?

Violet

Saturday 11th of June 2022

This was very useful thanks, ? I really enjoyed making this mini cake.?

Kelly

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

How do I get your vanilla cupcake recipe? Would like to try it as the mini cake is very tasty!

Chelsweets

Friday 3rd of June 2022

Hi Kelly,

Thanks! Here's the link: https://chelsweets.com/classic-vanilla-cupcake-recipe/

You can find any of my recipes by either googling "chelsweets vanilla cupcakes" or whatever recipe you're looking for, or using the search icon at the top of the page <3

Kelly

Tuesday 31st of May 2022

The melted butter in cake recipe. 1/4? 1/2? Little confused

Chelsweets

Friday 3rd of June 2022

Hi Kelly,

Apologies for any confusion! A 1/4 cup of butter is half of a stick of butter.

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