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Try 6-inch pan for petite dessert

Like Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge, you've been looking for just the right cake - not too big and not too small. Well, look no more. One 6-inch cake is ideal for small gatherings, while several of them can allow your guests to try more than one cake flavor.

These small cakes, which look particularly petite when compared to their 8-inch and 10-inch cousins, are a popular item at Metrotainment Bakery in Atlanta (404-873-6307, www.metrobakery.com).

"There's less waste and everything today is about eating healthy," said Barbara Pires of Metrotainment Bakery. Her customers often take home 6-inch cakes so they're not tempted by the leftovers.

In addition to offering cakes in its retail space, the bakery prepares desserts for the Metrotainment Cafes restaurants, which include Garrison's Broiler and Tap in Duluth. At the bakery, the strawberry cake, which is topped with strawberry halves, is well liked by customers at this time of year. Other top cakes include coconut, red velvet, white mousse, carrot and double fudge.

Of course, you don't have to go to a bakery to get 6-inch cakes. They can easily be baked at home, though not every store stocks 6-inch cake pans. The cake decorating row of a craft supply shop is a good place to start looking. If you prefer to shop online, visit www.wilton.com.

Most cake recipes are intended for 8-inch or 9-inch pans, but there's no need to adjust the ingredients when making a smaller cake. Just divide the batter differently and allow for more layers. If you have a bit of batter left over, make a few cupcakes.

If you're using a cake mix, divide the batter into two or three 6-inch pans, Pires said.

When pouring batter into a cake pan, be sure not to overfill it. "Half is a good rule of thumb," she said.

Different kinds of cake will rise differently, she said. "The lighter cakes, of course, will rise higher. The dense cakes won't rise as much."

Frosting a smaller cake does require more care, Pires said. "It's a little different because you don't have the weight of the cake to hold it down," she said.

To keep the cake from moving around as you add the frosting, she recommends setting it on a damp towel on the counter. Dipping the knife into hot water can also help the frosting process go more smoothly.

We've included a few recipes that can be adapted to a 6-inch pan.

Classic White Cake

6 cups sifted cake flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

11⁄2 cups butter or margarine

3 cups sugar

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

12 egg whites

Buttercream icing (recipe on Page 2F)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease bottom of pans and line with waxed paper or parchment paper. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Set aside. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

With a mixer at slow speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternately with milk. Beat well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Gently fold egg whites into batter. Pour into prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Makes 12 cups batter. This recipe will make approximately three 6-inch cake layers or two 8-inch cake layers.

Allow cake to cool before frosting with buttercream icing.

Source: Wilton Industries, www.wilton.com

Chocolate Mint Fudge Cake

21⁄4 cups sifted unbleached white flour (plus extra for cake pan)

11⁄2 cups natural evaporated cane sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

1⁄4 cup organic butter, softened

11⁄2 cups organic low-fat milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄4 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 organic eggs

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted

Icing

1⁄2 cup butter, softened

1⁄8 teaspoon peppermint extract

6 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 8-inch round baking pans (serve as a layer cake or individually) with canola or olive oil and dust with enough flour to cover. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter, milk and vanilla and peppermint extracts. Beat for 2 minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and then gradually add the melted chocolate (be sure the chocolate is not too hot) and beat for 2 more minutes on high.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until done when tested with a toothpick.

Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan, if desired, and continue cooling on racks.

To make icing, place softened butter and peppermint extract in a mixing bowl. Blend on low speed for one minute. Add powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing on low until smooth. Add the cocoa powder and continue to mix on low until fully incorporated. Spread icing on cooled cake.

Note: This recipe will make approximately three 6-inch cake layers.

Source: Whole Foods, www.wholefoods.com

Buttercream Icing

1⁄2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1⁄2 cup butter or margarine

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

4 cups sifted confectioners sugar (approximately 1 pound)

2 tablespoons milk

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

Makes 3 cups icing.

Source: Wilton Industries, www.wilton.com

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

3⁄4 cup milk

11⁄2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 large eggs

11⁄4 cups pure pumpkin, such as Libby's

11⁄2 cups granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar

1⁄2 cup vegetable oil

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup (about 3 medium) carrots, grated

1 cup coconut, flaked

11⁄4 cups nuts, chopped, divided

Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch-round cake pans.

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Combine milk and lemon juice in liquid measuring cup (mixture will appear curdled).

Beat eggs, pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, pineapple, carrots and milk mixture in large mixer bowl; mix well. Gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Stir in coconut and 1 cup nuts. Pour into prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 15 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Frost between layers, on sides and top of cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Garnish with remaining nuts. Store in refrigerator.

Note: This recipe should make approximately four 6-inch cake layers.

Source: Nestle, www.verybestbaking.com

Cream Cheese Frosting

11 ounces softened cream cheese

1⁄3 cup softened butter

31⁄2 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Combine softened cream cheese, softened butter and sifted powdered sugar in large mixer bowl until fluffy. Add vanilla extract, orange juice and grated orange peel; beat until combined.

Source: Nestle, www.verybestbaking.com