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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.

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

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.”

overhead image of pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting and berries and pistachio garnish
slices of pistachio cake on green plates

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.

pistachio crumbs in a food processor
pistachio cake batter in a glass bowl

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:

You could also use this pistachio cake recipe as the base for my fresh berry cream cake!

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

Decorating Inspiration

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.

pistachio cake on a wood and marble cake stand

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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 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

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.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Would using shelled Pistachios without the shells make a difference to the taste of texture of the cake?

    1. Hi Leonardo, we recommend using pistachios out of their shells for this cake.

      1. Hi, Sally, what would happen if I used whole eggs & half & half instead of whole milk?

      2. Hi Kira, for best taste and texture, we recommend following the recipe as written. The addition of the whole eggs and half and half would weigh down the cake quite a bit. Best to stick with the egg whites and whole milk here.

  2. The flavor of this cake is beyond!!! I have baked this twice and each time the cake sunk in the center and stuck to the pan. I used corn starch and flour instead of cake flour and live in Utah in a higher altitude. Could that be the problem?

    1. Hi Daniella, so glad you’re enjoying the flavor! Some readers have found this chart helpful for high altitude baking: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  3. This recipe is delicious! I love the real pistachio flavor unlike the flavor you would get from concentrated flavoring sold in a bottle. It’s easy to stack, and I loved pairing it with the cream cheese frosting shown in the video!

  4. An excellent recipe for a stunning cake. I made the cake exactly as Sally explains, the recipe is perfect. I added a little apricot jam between the layers and made the brown butter cream cheese frosting with a touch of almond extract. Fantastic.

  5. hi Sally, i cant find cake flour. can i substitute it will all purpose or almond flour?

  6. I made this cake for my mom’s birthday, but exchanged the cream cheese frosting for a white chocolate mousse and white chocolate / kirsch buttercream. Everyone loved it and most wanted a second helping! The cake was moist and the pistachio flavor is delicious. However, I have two qualms with this recipe:
    1. I wish I had put parchment paper at the bottom of the cake pans instead of just greasing and flouring per the recipe instructions. All three cakes were very difficult to remove from the pans as they stuck to the bottom and required a lot of coaxing to get out.
    2. As other commenters have mentioned, the cake is very crumbly. So crumbly that I found it difficult to assemble because moving the layers around created cracks in the cake and I was worried a layer was going to fall apart in my hands. I had to serve the cake straight from the refrigerator so the cold buttercream could hold the whole cake together. Even still it was difficult to cut cleanly.
    While we did really enjoy the finished product, I will likely explore other recipes if I want to make a pistachio cake again.

    1. I found the cake to be too crumbly also. The taste is delicious, so I think I would give it a second try

  7. Hi Sally,
    Can I leave out the Almond Extract? or replace with something else?

    1. Hi Alex, you can omit it or replace it with more vanilla extract.

  8. Hi,
    Would the cake layers still hold up if I doubled the recipe and had 6 layers?

    1. Hi Julie, for 6 layers, you’ll need 3x this recipe (or bake thinner layers). For best results, we recommend making separate batches rather than multiplying the batter recipe. The cakes should hold up, but you can always use dowels for support. Let us know if you give it a try!

  9. Does using salted pistachios make huge cake to salty? Should I leave out the salt if using salted pistachios?

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

  10. Hi. I love this cake. I’ve made it successfully 3 times. It’s delicious. I was just wondering if I could freeze the sponge like I would a ‘normal’ sponge cake? I have three family member’s birthdays coming up and would like to prep in advance.

    1. Hi Eliza, yes you can! 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.

  11. Thank you, Sally, for your Pistachio Cake. It has been the most raved-over cake I’ve ever made!
    HIGH ALTITUDE: I live in Colorado at 5,453 ft altitude. I noticed someone from Utah was having a sunken center and thought I’d share what I did that worked at my High Altitude. An additional 2 TBLSP flour, Less 1 TBLSP sugar, 1/8 tsp less Baking Powder, 65-degree butter, and an extra 2 Tblps milk. Baked in 3 9″ pans WITH WET RIMS AROUND THE PANS for 21 minutes at 360 degrees.

    I used Italian Meringue Buttercream with French Buttercream and raspberry sauce in between each layer. Perfect!

    QUESTION: Do you think this recipe would work with Walnuts next time? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for your great recipes and directions!

    1. Hi Lori, so glad you loved this cake! We haven’t tested walnuts instead of pistachios in this cake recipe. We would love to hear how it goes if you give it a try!

    1. Hi Margi, we don’t recommend it. It would take some recipe testing to determine the best amount to use in this recipe with the other leaveners included, and you’d lose a lot of softness. For best results, we recommend sticking with cake flour.

  12. Hi Sally
    I have pistachio flour that I bought online which is roasted pistachios finally ground.
    Would like to make this cake using that!
    To substitute with this would I use equal to the weight you have listed which is 260 g?
    Also I have purchased pistachio butter!
    Do you think that would be overkill to use the pistachio butter in the frosting also?
    Thank you in advance for your response!

    1. Hi Sarah, We haven’t tested this with pistachio flour. Is it a similar consistency to the photo of the ground pistachios in the above picture? If so then yes, use the weight (260g). Pistachio butter would be delicious in the frosting, you just may need to experiment with the quantity to get the desired taste and texture. Let us know if you give it a try!

  13. Hi Sally,
    I can’t wait to make this cake for my mom’s birthday, but I do have a question. How many cake pans should I buy for this cake?

    1. Hi Zahra, this is a three layer cake, but if you have only one pan (or only want to buy one or two) you can leave any leftover batter covered at room temperature while the other layers bake. Hope it’s a hit for your son’s birthday!

  14. Would love to make this for my mother’s birthday! Do you happen to have a single-layer version of this cake? If not, any advice for a layered-cake first timer? I shudder at transporting an entire cake out of a pan and on top of another one…twice! O_o Thank you for any help!

    1. Hi Jen! You can bake this cake as a single layer 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. Same temperature. Hope it’s a hit for your mom’s birthday!

  15. Hi Sally. I don’t need 3 9” cake pans. If I cut this in half how many 6” round pans will this make. I want to make a
    Spumoni Cake and your pistachio cake looks soooo yummy. Let me know I can make this work. I love your cake recipes.

  16. Hi sally
    Thank you for your great recipe, i made this cake it was so delicoius but it was so crumbly and i could not move it , it would be powdered, could you help me please?

    1. Hi Sami, if the cake was overly dry and crumbly, it’s possible it was simply over baked. Also be sure to spoon and level or use a scale to measure your flour to ensure just the right amount. Too much can cause the cake to dry out as well. This post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes may be helpful to review. Thank you so much for giving this recipe a try!

  17. I substituted 1 tsp of vanilla for pistachio extract and had to make my own cake flour that I may have goofed a little BUT this cake is so delicious, so moist and used her cream cheese frosting with a touch of pistachio extract and a hint of the green coloring. SOO good.

    1. Hi Sami, 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!

  18. This cake was making! It was the first recipe I tried from your website and it was a hit! My friend wanted a pistachio cake and lo and behold, you had one! And it was fantastic! I followed the recipe, only omitting the almond extract. I paired it with your buttercream frosting, to which I added a tiny bit of pistachio flavoring. My friend wanted the cake soaked a little in rose syrup in between the layers, with rose hips on top. It was outstanding! Thank you for having this recipe available!

  19. Love this recipe. What can i substitute for a milk protein allergy. I can not use any milk or milk products ie. butter, milk, cream . Can i subsite olive oil or vegan butter and/or coconut milk ? what do you recommend ?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Jane, we haven’t tested this recipe with dairy-free substitutes, so we’re unsure of the exact results. You can expect different taste and texture whenever ingredients are swapped. We would recommend the vegan butter over oil, as you’ll need to cream the butter and sugar together and can’t do so with oil. If you do give anything a try, we’d love to know how it goes!

  20. I have been asked to do a tiered cake (probably 6×8 inch tiers) which I have never done before. I have also been asked to do pistachio. This looks delicious, but will these cake layers be stable enough to do tiers?

  21. Hi Sally. My colleagues have been asking me for pistachio cake for so long, so I’m planning to do your recipe. Reading the comments above, the base seems to be a bit crumbly and I’m planning to fully covered the cake with your vanilla buttercream. Do you have any tips to avoid this in my assembly? Maybe refrigerate the sponge from the night before?
    Looking forward!!

    1. Hi Elena, If a cake is dry and crumbly, it’s often because it was simply over baked. Before you begin baking, you may wish to review this post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes. If completely covering the cake with buttercream, we love to frost a crumb coat first, then refrigerate just until it’s set before adding the final layer of frosting. This will prevent any crumbs from peaking through. We hope your colleagues love this cake!

  22. I am planning on baking this cake for my dessert on Christmas Day and I wanted to know if it would be ok to use Bob mill’s pastry flour or should I stick with cake flour. I like King Arthur’s cake flour.?
    Thank You

    1. Hi Lisa, cake flour is best here. We like King Arthur or Swans Down brands. Enjoy!

  23. I loved this recipe so much, it turned out the best cake I have ever made, absolutely perfect!
    Thank you

  24. I made the cake for my mom’s 92 birthday. It turned out perfect. I’m not a baker, but I must admit it was light, delicious, and beautiful; everyone loved it, and my mom said it was the best cake she had ever eaten. I’m making cupcakes next.

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