Pistachio Cake

There’s nothing fake or artificial in this beautiful pistachio cake. Made from scratch with real pistachio and almond extract flavors, this rustic and chic layered naked cake is adorned with silky cream cheese frosting. Garnish with fresh berries, pistachios, and flowers for a truly remarkable dessert.

pistachio cake on a wood and marble cake stand with a slice on a cake server

Pistachio is an underrated dessert flavor. Is it because of the green? Or because it’s a nut? More people should give pistachio a chance. Pistachios pair wonderfully with almond and vanilla flavors, not to mention butter and sugar. (What doesn’t?) In fact, did you know that pistachio flavored ice cream gets most of its flavor from almond extract? We’re definitely using that in today’s pistachio cake.

I’m often asked how to turn my pistachio cupcakes into a layer cake– your wish is my command! Let’s get started.

overhead image of pistachio cake on a marble cake stand

How to Get Real Pistachio Flavor Into Cake

For quality pistachio flavor, we’ll grind shelled pistachios into fine little chips and chunks and pour them directly into a vanilla almond cake batter. There will be some pistachio powder hiding in all those teeny pistachio pieces– that’s ok! Add it to the batter; it will tint it a whimsical light green! Since we’re not using any artificial flavor, the pistachio flavor isn’t strong. You’ll taste light pistachio plus delicious almond, butter, and vanilla flavors. A beautiful springtime cake.

The combination of real pistachios + almond extract results in a soft, light, and buttery pistachio cake made without artificial flavors.

slices of pistachio cake on green plates

Pistachio Cake Ingredients

We use my favorite white cake as a starting point for today’s pistachio cake. You’ll notice many similar ingredients, plus a few extras that turn white cake into pistachio cake.

  • Pistachios: Instead of relying on artificial pistachio flavor in today’s cake, let’s take pistachios and grind them into a crumb. I know what you’re thinking. Hard chunks of nuts in cake? Actually no– the pistachio crumbs become really soft and buttery. 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.
  • Cake Flour: Cake flour provides the cake’s structure. Cake flour is almost 30x finer than all-purpose flour. Using it is a surefire way to achieve a delicate and delicious texture. I use slightly less cake flour in this recipe compared to my white cake because of the pistachio crumbs. It’s sold in the baking aisle and you can use the rest of the box in any of these recipes that use cake flour. In a pinch, use this homemade cake flour substitute.
  • Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Use both leaveners to help the cake rise.
  • Salt: Salt adds flavor.
  • Butter: Butter adds moisture and flavor, and creates a tender crumb. Use room temperature butter.
  • Sugar: We use granulated sugar to sweeten this cake.
  • Egg Whites: Use ONLY egg whites. No yolks. Only using egg whites ensures that the crumb is not weighed down by the fat in egg yolks. Think about it: lighter confections such as marshmallows and angel food cakes only require egg whites. Same story here.
  • Sour Cream & Milk: Both keep the cake ultra moist. I recommend whole milk and full-fat sour cream for best taste and texture.
  • Vanilla & Almond Extracts: Use both pure vanilla extract and almond extract for truly outstanding flavor. Almond extract enhances the pistachio flavor, so don’t leave it out!
  • Milk: Milk creates an ultra moist cake.

pistachio crumbs in a food processor

Don’t be alarmed. The cake batter will resemble spicy brown mustard, but it smells amazing. I add a tiny drop of green food coloring so the finished cake is on the greener side. That’s completely optional.

pistachio cake batter in a glass bowl

Overview: How to Make Pistachio Cake

  1. Make pistachio crumbs. Use your food processor to break down the nuts. The goal is a super fine pistachio crumb. If you go too far, you’ll end up with pistachio butter. Add a little honey; it’s delicious on toast. But not what we want in our pistachio cake.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients together. Include 1 and 1/2 cups of pistachio crumbs.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg whites, sour cream, and extracts.
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients together.
  5. Pour in the milk. Mix just until combined– the batter will be slightly thick.
  6. Bake. These cakes take about 21-23 minutes in the oven.
  7. Let the cakes cool completely.
  8. Make the cream cheese frosting.
  9. Assemble and decorate the cake.
  10. Refrigerate. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake keep its shape when cutting.
  11. Serve!

cream cheese frosting in a glass stand mixer bowl with whisk attachment

Pistachio Cake Frosting

There are many options for decorating your pistachio cake! I use smooth and tangy cream cheese frosting– it pairs wonderfully with the sweet pistachio cake. 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. If you want more frosting, make the amount of cream cheese frosting included in my carrot cake recipe.

Other delicious frosting options: vanilla buttercream, strawberry buttercream, lemon buttercream, or chocolate buttercream. Or for something totally different, use this cake as the base of my fresh berry cream cake. So good!

pistachio cake on a wood and marble cake stand

overhead image of pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting and berries and pistachio garnish

Decorating Inspiration

One of my loves? Decorating cakes and cupcakes just for fun. I never used to feel confident in my decorating skills because I was always comparing my creations to the beautiful cakes and cupcakes on my Pinterest and Instagram feeds. Whenever I began decorating, I felt discouraged. And it wasn’t fun.

So I practiced. And I practiced some more. And you’ve seen my skills as a cake decorator (can I call myself that?!) improve. No one begins as an expert. Don’t let comparison prevent you from doing what you love. Be confident and have fun!

Topping the cake with goodies is the best part. I decorated today’s pistachio cake naked cake style with fresh berries, fresh flowers, and crushed pistachios. For smooth sides, use a bench scraper— you can watch me using it in this video for vanilla naked cake. If you don’t really care, just swipe the frosting on. To be honest, the best part of this pistachio cake is on the inside. 🙂

slice of pistachio cake on a green plate

Instead of constantly putting pressure on myself with unrealistic expectations, I’m closing the door on comparison and saying YES to more of what I love. It’s fabulously empowering to start taking control of your life.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt.

Print
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pistachio cake on a wood and marble cake stand with a slice on a cake server

Pistachio Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Pistachio cake from scratch with real pistachio and almond extract flavors. Nothing fake or artificial in this beautiful 3 layer pistachio cake. This rustic chic naked cake is adorned with silky cream cheese frosting!


Ingredients

  • 2 cups (260g) unsalted pistachios (out of shells)
  • 2 and 1/3 cups (275g) cake flour (spoon & 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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch cake pans.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Make the frosting: Prepare the cream cheese frosting (see note below).
  7. 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.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer, KitchenAid Hand Mixer, Ninja Food Processor, 9-inch Round Cake Pans, Whisk, Cake Turntable, Straight Icing Spatula, Bench Scraper, and Marble Cake Stand
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Here are my pistachio cupcakes!

Keywords: pistachio cake

380 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,
    I’m really keen to make this cake for a coeliac friend ( gluten free), what do you recommend as a substitute for the cake flour? can i use almond meal instead?

    thank you

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Penny, we haven’t tested a gluten-free version of this recipe, so we’re unsure of the results using almond meal. We would recommend against it, as the baking properties are very different than cake flour and we’d expect the texture to be much different. What might be a better choice is a 1:1 all-purpose gluten free flour like Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup. Again, we haven’t tested it ourselves but many readers have used it successfully in other recipes. If you decide to do any experimenting, we’d love to know how it goes!

  2. Hi sally…i always come back to your recipe .My friends loved this cake .. And i am always asked to bake again and again.i always have this doubt . How many days before we can bake any cake. And it is ok to store in the fridge with cling wrap tightly or is anyother way i have to store ..kindly help me in this ..

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mangai, we’re so glad to hear this cake is a favorite for you and your friends! You can bake the cake and store tightly wrapped for just a few days in the refrigerator, but much longer than that and we recommend freezing your cake layers for best freshness.

  3. Hey Sally, do you think this cake is sturdy enough to put 1-2 more tiers on top? Thanks!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rachel, with proper cake dowels and boards, this cake should hold up as a tiered cake. It’s a favorite – enjoy!

  4. Cake was too sweet and also a bit dense, with a few tweaks and cutting back sugar it would be better. I’ll be making it again. Thank you for recipe

  5. This came out extraordinary! I used salted pistachios and it balanced nicely!

  6. Hi, I’m excited to get going on this, but trying to plan my timing. Why does the total time say 5 hours, if the prep time is only 35 minutes, cook time is 22 minutes, and the cream cheese frosting time is 5 minutes?

    1. Oops, nevermind, I see the instruction to let it cool completely before frosting!

  7. can this cake be made ahead of time? frozen even before assembling into a 2 tier?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nathaly, absolutely! See recipe notes for freezing details.

  8. Hi Sally ..
    tried this cake and the it was awesome..can you help me with my doubts, can we use gluten free plain flour and corn flour instead of cake flour ..

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Hema, we haven’t tested this cake with gluten-free flour, so we’re unsure of the results. Corn flour would likely give you a very dry, crumbly cake. For best results, we recommend sticking to the recipe as written. So glad you enjoyed this one!

  9. Hi Sally! When making this cake, would it fit into 3 6 inch pans? Thanks!!!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melanie, for a 3 layer, 6 inch pistachio cake, we recommend using the batter from our pistachio cupcakes. It yields the perfect amount! Then use the baking directions for 6 inch cakes.

    2. Melanie, I cut the recipe in half and the batter fit into three 6 inch cake pans. Each layer is slightly taller than an inch.

  10. This looks incredible and I can’t wait to try! Do you think it would work to bake in a Bundt pan? If so, how long in the oven?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Victoria! This cake batter will fit in a 10-12 cup Bundt pan, but we’re unsure of the exact bake time. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  11. Excellent recipe!! Baked this for my dad’s birthday and everyone loved it.

  12. Jane Aldridge says:

    Execellent recipe – baked 4 x 12 inch layers for the base of my niece’s wedding cake. Held its shape beautifully ,stacked really well, delicious taste. Got loads of compliments. Thanks for sharing it!

    1. Hi Jane, I am also interested in making this for a wedding cake. I am just curious as to the quantity you used. Did you double this recipe? And how long did you bake? Thanks very much!

  13. Hi Sally, do you think peanut butter frosting will taste good with this pistachio cake?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Irina, sounds interesting! Let us know if you try it. We love this cake with strawberry buttercream as well.

  14. Thank you! I think I will try the strawberry frosting.
    Happy New Year and all the best in 2022!

  15. Not a fan of frosting so I baked this as a simple one-layer cake, scaling down the recipe to 2/3 of the batter and baking in a 24cm round springform pan. It tastes delicious, nutty but really soft, and I will be definitely making it again in the future – my mom especially loved it.

    SUGAR: the cake came out slightly too sweet for my tastes and next time I will use less sugar, but it’s worth noting that I used unsalted pistachios so I had less flavour contrast to play with. I think the sweetness is probably just right if you’re following the recipe to the letter and adding cream cheese frosting to provide a flavour contrast, BUT if you are planning on using a sweeter buttercreams to frost the cake AND are also using unsalted pistachios you may want to go easy on the sugar.

    SOUR CREAM: It’s hard to get here, so I just subbed full-fat yogurt in the same quantity. In hindsight I should have added less yogurt than the amount of sour cream the recipe calls for OR subbed full-fat greek yogurt 1:1, because the density of regular yogurt and sour cream is slightly different. I corrected it by adding slightly less milk than the recipe calls for so that the batter had the right consistency at the end.

    Really a delicious recipe 10/10 will try again.

  16. Hello
    We made this cake over the Christmas holidays and it was amazing. We just decided to make it again but this time we tried to make it as a Bundt cake instead , it completely flopped. How would you recommend we adjust the recipe for this? Do you suppose it had too much liquid in the recipe to make a Bundt cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Elly, This batter should work as is in a bundt pan, but the bake time will be longer. Did you try baking it longer than the layer cake? We are unsure of the exact bake time so keep your eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  17. Dear Sally, This looks delicious. I am going to try it today as a bundt cake. Would you recommend a simple glaze or confectioner’s sugar dusting or ???
    Thanks for any tips.

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nancy, Both would be good. We also love this cake with strawberry buttercream. The bake time will be longer in a bundt pan. We are unsure of the exact bake time so keep your eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness. Enjoy!

      1. Thanks for the advice Sally. I made this as a Bundt cake and baked at 350 for 40 minutes. I would do 35 next time. Just FYI for others. Delicious.

  18. Why does the recipe calls for 260 grams pistachios to be ground up even though not all of it gets used in the batter? Is it because it’s the extra is meant to be used as garnish? Also, what shade green of food colouring did you use? My green wasn’t as bright. I thought the cake was moist and delicious.

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Stephanie, If you have more than you need in the recipe, set it aside for garnish. So glad you enjoyed the cake!

  19. Hi Sally! Can I combine vanilla, almond and pistachio extract? In what proportion?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Klaudia, You can use pistachio extract if you can find it! We haven’t tested it but you can try simply replacing one teaspoon of the vanilla with it, so you are using one tsp of each. Let us know if you give it a try.

  20. Lilli Gerardi says:

    i’m getting ready to bake today and wondered if i could use egg whites from a carton instead of cracking 5 eggs? If so, do you know how many grams?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lilli, You can use carton egg whites if needed. The carton should give instructions for replacement quantities.

  21. So delicious! Made this for my son’s birthday and this cake was so light and tasty. I used your vanilla buttercream frosting and it was a perfect pair. Lots of compliments and I will definitely make again. Thank you Sally for another amazing recipe! You’re the best!

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