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

323 Comments

  1. I made this cake this weekend and it was fabulous. I don’t have a lot of experience baking layer cakes, but this one came out perfectly. I used the recipe for the strawberry buttercream to frost it. It both looked lovely and tasted delicious – so moist.

  2. Hi Sally,

    do you think this would work with dark chocolate filling and fresh strawberries?
    Love your recipes, thank you very much.
    Jarka

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jarka, absolutely — this pistachio cake would be delicious with a dark chocolate ganache filling and strawberries. Let us know if you try it!

  3. Hi Sally! I will make this recipe for my birthday next week, I love love love pistachios and i was wondering…
    The pistachio flavor is strong in this cake? Where I live pistachios are very expensive and I would like to use them in a cake where their flavor would not be lost… i hope you can help me, thanks a lot, this recipe looks amazing

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Gabriel! Since we’re not using any artificial pistachio flavoring, the pistachio flavor isn’t overpowering but it certainly is there and noticeable. You’ll taste light pistachio plus delicious almond, butter, and vanilla flavors. We’d highly recommend it if you are a big fan of pistachios — let us know if you give it a try!

  4. Deborah Harrington says:

    Hi – I gave it a try and the cake is very moist. I used one cup of regular sugar and 3/4 cup (packed) of brown sugar. It’s a wonderful recipe! Very versatile. I used 8 inch pans and will be filling it with layers of ricotta cream to attend an Italian themed dinner. Another time I will try your delicious looking frosting. I use many of ySally’s recipes. You are all very gifted. Thank you so much!

  5. Oh Sally, this is absolutely divine! I only had two pans so baked it longer. I did reduce the sugar and subbed some almond flour (needed to reserve some pistachios for decorating), but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. I whipped some ganache (semi-sweet and dark) and filled and frosted the cake, with a thin layer of unwhipped ganache over the top with drips along the side. Decorated with crushed pistachios and it looked gorgeous, and tasted wonderful! Thank you so much for another winner!

  6. Navneet Oak says:

    Made this cake today. It was absolutely delicious. The only problem was that is was too crumbly. Any Idea why this would happen? Also, i substituted the sour cream with thick yogurt.
    Thanks

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Navneet, if your cake was overly dry and crumbly, it’s possible it was simply over baked. A bit less time in the oven should help for next time. Also, be sure that you’re spooning and leveling your flour, as too much dry ingredient in the cake can also contribute to drying it out. This post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes might be of interest to you as well. Thank you for giving this recipe a try!

  7. Hi Sally. I’ve made this cake already. The flavor was spot on. I didn’t have any problems with the batter or the bake. When I made it I used 3 6in pans and made a SMBC frosting instead of the cream cheese frosting. This time around I plan to use 9in pans and still make the SMBC frosting. Can you please tell me how many cups I should make in order to crumb coat, frost a final time but to also use as a dam/filling? I plan to put a layer of pistachio butter on one layer then cherry jam on the 2nd layer, hence the extra frosting needed for the dam. When I make cakes I like to put a thin layer of the frosting over any filling I’m using. Again, the reason why I need to know how many cups you think I’ll need. The only decorations I plan to put on the cake will be 8 swirls that I plan to put fresh cherries on top of. I know this is a lot of information but I wanted to give you as much as I could so you could give me an accurate amount or close to regarding the frosting. Thanks. Hope to hear from you as soon as possible….

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tammie, Our recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream yields about 5 cups of frosting, which is enough to fill and frost a three layer 9-inch cake with just enough frosting. To be sure you have enough you can make this recipe once, and then make a half batch separately and combine them. See the recipe notes under the frosting recipe about cutting the recipe in half. Enjoy!

  8. I made this cake today. I’ve been searching for a pistachio cake recipe ever since I had this absolutely divine pistachio loaf at a bakery once- years ago. I’m so glad I stumbled across this one.

    My notes: I did not have everything @ room temperature in time, so I poured warm water into 3 bowls and set the milk (in a Pyrex measuring cup), sour cream, and all 5 eggs in for 10 minutes. It worked out beautifully. While they were coming to room temp, I blitzed the pistachios and weighed out the dry ingredients. Highly recommend all of y’all to do that, too; room temp really makes a huge difference!

    I put in gel green food coloring. It came out a lovely mint-green color, and once I turned it upside down, I got this gorgeous sticky browned top, which was what I was going for, actually. I’ve been making your white cake for years now, and so a lot of this recipe felt familiar to me.

    Final note: I had wayyyy too much pistachio. I weighed out 260 grams of shelled pistachio, blitzed it, and had almost twice as much. (I saved the extra and combined it with almond flour, which I plan to use to make another of these babies! We’ll see how it goes.) For everyone else, I would recommend being conservative in your amount of pistachio, maybe 200 g instead?

  9. It’s tasty but I’ve tried making this 4 times and every time the sponge breaks when i try and move it. I really want to make it into a 3 layer. Any advice? Thanks!

  10. Sucheta Mitra says:

    Hi Sally can I replace pistachio with almonds in this recipe to get a almond cake

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sucheta, ground almonds will be very similar to the finely ground pistachios we use in this recipe, so should be a fine substitute (though we haven’t tested it so can’t say for sure). Use the same amount. The flavor will go wonderfully with the almond extract. Would love to hear how it goes!

  11. melinda b marashi says:

    Sally,
    I need to make a chocolate wedding cake (2 three layer tiers) with vanilla buttercream frosting. I have trialed the cake several times (I am not a real baker) and the bride has approved it. I am working on finishing touches with semi-nude frosting. However, I have to transport the cake about 175 miles and be there the day BEFORE the wedding. My question is: Should I make the frosted cake two days before wedding and freeze the individual tiers then day before assemble the cake and touch up at destination? It is a small wedding.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melinda, we don’t typically recommend freezing decorated cakes, because the frosting could become quite drippy during the thawing process. If you can make the cakes and store them in the refrigerator (tightly covered for 1-2 days) and transport them as you suggested, that might be your best bet. The more assembling and finishing touches that you can save for the arrival, the better!

  12. Hello! If using salted pistachios, should I omit or reduce the 1 tsp of salt called for in the recipe? Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Michele, no need to lessen the salt if using salted pistachios. We love making the cake with salted pistachios– it adds extra flavor!

  13. Gayathiri Pathmanathan says:

    Dear Sally, all your recipes are absolutely amazing! I love pistachio cake but am a little daunted by the prospect of making a layered cake. Is it possible to bake this cake as just a uniform, single-layered one? Hope to hear back from you soon!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Sure can! To bake in a 9×13 pan: 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. Hope you love this cake, Gayathiri!

  14. Carrie Helminger says:

    I wanted to make a hazelnut cake for our 10th wedding anniversary and tried this recipe with substituted roasted and skinned hazelnuts instead of the pistachios. It turned out perfectly and so yummy!! I used the nutella frosting recipe in between the layers and on top. Just perfect for my nutella loving husband! Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      That cake sounds divine, Carrie! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, we’re thrilled it was a hit. Happy anniversary!

  15. I have been bringing desserts to various parties for a good 15 years now. A couple months ago I stumbled upon this recipe and have made it 4 times already. Multiple people, including my “not-really-a sweets-guy” brother proclaimed this was their favorite dessert they ever had! Thanks so much for this recipe, I love making it!

    I have veganized it before with the following swaps:
    Tofutti cream cheese for the cream cheese frosting
    Tofutti sour cream
    Earth Balance or Miyokos vegan butter
    5T aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas) whipped to replace eggwhites

  16. Michael Sheriff says:

    Hi can I use liquid egg whites from a carton ? If so how do I determine how much? Or do I have to use eggs

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  17. Usually when cakes contain only egg whites, they are beaten until soft peaks form and then folded into the batter. Is it not the case for this cake?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Toni! Yes, that is often the case, but not for this recipe! It’s perfectly soft and fluffy without beating the whites. Enjoy!

  18. any chance this could be made with Olive oil in place of some/all of the butter?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Allison, we don’t recommend oil. You’ll need butter for creaming with the sugar. Let us know if you give it a try!

  19. This was so delicious! Thank you for a recipe that’s a keeper. Yum yum!

    I didn’t have cream cheese so made an orange icing with candied orange slices to decorate. I wouldn’t recommend it as the orange flavour was too strong and detracted from the pistachio.
    Also mine wasn’t as green as yours. Next time I’ll add more green food colouring or try to take the brown husk off the pistachios.

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