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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.

  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

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