Made from scratch with real pistachio and almond flavors, this rustic-chic layered pistachio cake is full of flavor, and enhanced with silky cream cheese frosting. Garnish with fresh berries, pistachios, and flowers for a truly remarkable dessert that’s perfect for spring.
The pink flowers pictured on the finished cake are called kalanchoe.
As nut flavors go, pistachio is one of the most subtle. In fact, did you know that pistachio ice cream gets most of its flavor from almond extract? The almond extract works to enhance the pistachio flavor, and I’m using this concept in today’s pistachio cake. I’m often asked how to change my pistachio cupcakes into a layer cake, so this is the perfect opportunity to show off those delicately nutty flavors again.
Tell Me About This Pistachio Cake
- Texture: The combination of real pistachios + almond extract results in a soft, buttery pistachio cake. Cake flour and egg whites keep the texture light and delicate.
- Flavor: This pistachio cake is made without any artificial flavors. The natural flavors of pistachio, almond, butter, and vanilla really shine through in each bite.
- Ease: This pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting is “nearly naked,” so no expert-level cake decorating skills are required. It looks gorgeous garnished simply with fresh berries, crushed pistachios, and some flowers, if you’re feeling extra springy.
One reader, Kathy, says: “Absolutely divine!!! Made this for my daughter’s bday and everyone loved it. The ground pistachios gave it a perfect light green tint. The texture was great-light cake with some bite from the pistachios. Not too sweet, either, which I prefer. This is a GREAT RECIPE.”
The full recipe is below, but first I’m going to share some of the main things I’ve learned while testing this pistachio cake recipe.
How to Get Real Pistachio Flavor Into Cake
We’ll grind shelled pistachios and then mix the pistachio crumbs into the cake batter for the best quality, real pistachio flavor. I know what you’re thinking: chunks of hard nuts in a cake? Don’t worry! The pistachios are ground into a soft and creamy crumb, which adds pure pistachio flavor without a chunky texture. I recommend using a food processor for this step. Just be careful not to overdo it and make pistachio butter!
The cake batter may resemble spicy brown mustard, but it smells fantastic. The ground pistachios tint the cake a light spring green. I also add a drop of green food coloring to deepen the color, but that’s completely optional.
Key Ingredients You Need & Why
I used my favorite white cake recipe as a starting point for this cake.
- Pistachios: Instead of using artificial pistachio flavor, grind shelled pistachios to add to the cake batter. I usually use unsalted raw pistachios for this cake recipe, but you can use raw or roasted pistachios, salted or unsalted, whichever you prefer. I recommend buying them already shelled, to save time.
- Almond + vanilla extract: Use pure vanilla and almond extracts for truly outstanding flavor. Almond extract enhances the pistachio flavor, so don’t leave it out.
- Cake flour: Cake flour is almost 30 times finer than all-purpose flour and provides the structure for this pistachio cake. We use slightly less cake flour in this recipe than in a white cake because of the pistachio crumbs, but the result is equally delicate and delicious.
- Egg whites: Using only egg whites ensures a light crumb that isn’t weighed down by the fat in egg yolks. Lighter confections such as marshmallows and angel food cake require only egg whites. Same rule applies here.
What Frosting Goes Well With Pistachio Cake?
I like pairing this sweet and nutty cake with smooth and tangy cream cheese frosting. But there’s no shortage of delicious options that would complement this cake! You could easily replace the cream cheese frosting with:
- Vanilla Buttercream
- Salted Caramel Frosting
- Strawberry Buttercream
- Lemon Buttercream
- Chocolate Buttercream
You could also use this pistachio cake recipe as the base for my fresh berry cream cake!
To frost and decorate this pistachio cake, I use a good amount of frosting inside and on top of the cake, and minimal frosting around the sides. This frosting style is called a naked cake, which exposes the gorgeous cake layers and reveals the deliciousness to come!
- For smooth sides, use a bench scraper (you can follow this vanilla naked cake video for a little guidance). I also recommend a cake turntable to make cake decorating even easier. Or simply just swipe the frosting on—this pistachio cake is so delicious no one will care what it looks like!
Today’s recipe makes enough cream cheese frosting to decorate this cake in the “naked” style. If you’d prefer more frosting on the sides of your cake, use the ingredient amounts for the cream cheese frosting from my favorite carrot cake recipe.
More Baking Recipes You Will Love!Print
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 22 minutes
- Total Time: 5 hours
- Yield: 12 servings
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
Make this pistachio cake with real pistachio and almond extract flavors. This “naked cake” is finished with silky cream cheese frosting. Read the recipe notes before beginning. The pink flowers pictured on the finished cake are called kalanchoe.
- 2 cups (260g) unsalted pistachios (out of shells)
- 2 and 1/3 cups (275g) cake flour (spooned & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream, at room temperature*
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup (240ml) whole milk, at room temperature*
- cream cheese frosting
- optional: 1 tiny drop green food coloring*
- optional: garnishes such as berries and leftover pistachios
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- Make the cake: Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until ground up into very fine crumbs. See photo above for a visual. You’ll have about 1 and 1/2 cups of crumbs. (If you have more than that, set aside for garnish.)
- Pour 1 and 1/2 cups of pistachio crumbs in a large bowl. Whisk in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the egg whites on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sour cream, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just incorporated. With the mixer still running on low, pour in the milk (and the green food coloring, if using) and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
- Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 21-23 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the frosting: Prepare the cream cheese frosting (see note below).
- Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer and evenly cover the top with more frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the frosting all over the top and sides. (I used a bench scraper to smooth out the sides.) Decorate with garnishes, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake keep its shape when cutting.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- Make Ahead Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let it sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Food Processor | 9-Inch Round Cake Pans | Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk | Cake Turntable | Straight Icing Spatula | Bench Scraper | Marble Cake Stand or Serving Platter | Cake Carrier (for storage)
- Pistachios: I usually use unsalted raw pistachios. However, the cake is still sweet even if you use salted pistachios. Salted actually adds extra flavor! You can use roasted or raw (not roasted), whichever you prefer.
- Full Fat Ingredients: Whole milk and full-fat sour cream are strongly recommended for the best taste and texture. A full-fat plain yogurt would work instead, though the cake may not be as light. Same goes with a lower fat milk.
- Food Coloring: While the pistachio crumbs tint the batter light green, I added 1 *very teeny* drop of green food coloring to help brighten the green color. This is completely optional!
- Frosting: My recipe for cream cheese frosting will be enough to decorate your cake like I did in these photos. Minimal on the edges with more frosting inside and on top of the cake. Do you want more frosting? If so, make the amount of cream cheese frosting included in my carrot cake recipe.
- Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. For more information, read my post about the importance of room temperature ingredients.
- Bundt Pan: This cake batter will fit in a 10-12 cup bundt pan, but I’m unsure of the exact bake time. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.
- Here are my pistachio cupcakes!
Keywords: pistachio cake
Reader Comments & Reviews
Delicious! Subbed half pumpkin seeds for pistachios as the nuts are quite expensive…still a nice colour and flavour. Everyone from 13 to 50 years old loved this cake! Thanks!
If you’re used to chiffon cakes, this recipe is awesome. If you’re not, re-read cooling instructions and use light hands. It can (and will) crack horribly with the slightest bit of rough handling. ALSO. “Cake goop” is good,but still use parchment on the bottom of your pans (as instructed). I almost cried the first time making this because it suck horribly to the bottom of the pan despite never having had problems with my pan or cake goop. It’s the nature of the batter.
Hi, I was wondering if I need to alter the ingredients of this cake to make it into mini bundt cakes?
Hi Ingrid, this batter should work as is in a mini bundt pan, but we are unsure of the exact bake time, so keep your eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness.
Hello, if I make the cake layers ahead of time and freeze them, how should I thaw them? I made your red velvet cake and thawed the layers without the plastic wrapping (they were covered in when in the freezer) and assembled the cake once they were thawed and it was pretty dry although I believe it’s usually a very moist cake. Now that I want to make this pistachio cake I want to make sure I don’t repeat the mistake. Should I thaw them with the plastic wrap to keep the moisture of will that make the make mushy? Or should I assemble the cake with frozen layers then let the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours? Thank you for your advice!
Hi Malaïka! We’re happy to help. This post on How to Freeze Cakes will be a helpful resource. You’ll want to make sure you’re thawing the cakes while they’re still in the wrapping.Condensation forms as foods thaw, so this way the condensation will form on the wrapping, not the cake. That will prevent the cake from getting wet and sticky. Some bakers swear by assembling cakes frozen, but we always prefer to let the cakes thaw first and then assemble and frost. Hope this helps and that you enjoy the cake!
Did you let it cool in the pan completely or turn out of pan to cool on rack after 15 min or so, as the normal routine? Sounds like it cools in the pan and then you turn it out when ready to frost?
Hi Ellen, we like to let the cakes completely cool in their pans before inverting.
Sally–Using ground pistachios, what color does the cake turn out when baked? I’ve been disappointed that grinding makes the nuts look brown even when I have done my best to rub off any skin on the nuts. Any advice on this? I’d like it to look green inside.
Hi Ellen! Without green food coloring, the cakes will be a light greenish brown. We always add just a bit of gel food coloring for the lovely green color!
This is my favorite cake and I want to make it into gobs (Whoopie pies)! What would I have to add or adjust in the recipe to do that?
Can I replace the whole milk with sour cream although it’s already in the recipe or a non dairy option like almond or hazelnut? Weird as we are we can have sour cream but not milk or soy. Thanks
Hi Esperanza, you can use a non-dairy milk in place of the whole milk. Hope you enjoy the cake!
hi sally!! would you recommend adding simple syrup for added moistness? ty 😉
Hi Sonny, the cake is still wonderfully moist without, but you absolutely could add a simple syrup if desired!
Hi love this recipe. I’m interested in making this but as a 10in 3 tier cake , is this possible and what quantity of ingredients would be required?
Hi Jackie, so glad you love this cake. Here is everything you need to know about converting recipes to different Cake Pan Sizes and making tiered cakes.
Thank you for the info on cake pan sizing and tiered cakes
By increasing my baking tin size to 10” could you tell me please roughly how much I need to increase weighed ingredients of pistachios, eggs whites also baking powder and soda. Apologies for all the questions just not too sure how much to increase by, it’s going to be my daughters wedding cake.
Delicious!!! I love almond extract, and it was really fun making a pistachio cake for the first time.
Would you recommend replacing the almond extract with rose extract if I wanted to go for more of a pistachio-rose flavor? Or would that change the flavor balance too much? Thanks!
Hi Alexis! You definitely don’t want to leave the almond extract out of the cake. You could add rose extract in addition if you would like, but we are unsure of the best amount to add. You could also add rose extract to the frosting instead of the cake (another reader reported success doing this!). Let us know what you try 🙂
Thanks for the advice! I kept the almond in and to get the rose flavor without overwhelming, I just spritzed the cooled cupcakes with food grade rose essence, and again once frosted and refrigerated. Edible rose petals on top with crushed pistachio. More of an eau de rose which I think worked well 🙂
I’m really looking forward to baking this cake tomorrow. I only have three 8 x 2 inch pans, instead of 9 x 2. Will I have to change anything in the method to ensure it comes out okay?
This cake fits into 3 8-inch cake pans. The bake time may be a minute or so longer.
loved this cake. I made it because I was bored and shared with my co workers. They could not stop eating it!
Hey! I’m trying to bake a cake for my mother’s birthday. She loves pistachios so I figured this is a great recipe. Although, I’ve never bakes a cake before, I’ve only done cupcakes brownie and even macrons. What is the level of difficulty for this? Should I risk making it on my own?
Hi Laurel, if following the directions closely, it’s definitely doable! If it’s easier, you can also make the cake in a 9×13 pan rather than as a layer cake. Simply pour the batter into a greased and lightly floured 9×13 pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Same temperature. Hope it’s a hit for your mom’s birthday!
Loved the cake but… cake falls apart it’s so moist and delicate I can’t ice it I can’t lift it I can’t cut just turns up into a mess 🙁
What brand of cake flour do you recommend? Thank you!
I really like Swans Down or Softasilk.
My granddaughter requested a pistachio cake for her birthday. This one was just perfect. For the filling, I made Sallys Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting with the strawberry variation. I was intrigued with the use of freeze-dried strawberries. It did not disappoint — it tastes just like fresh crushed strawberries. I made an Italian meringue for the frosting. The cake was a hit!
I made these pistachio cake layers for Easter (but changed the frosting) and they were truly fantastic! The hint of almond extract in the cake really elevated everything. This is definitely one of my new favorite cake flavors. Thank you Sally for another incredibly delicious and successful cake!