Pistachio Cake

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

My heart expanded last September and with my beautiful miracle came a deep realization. I’m now a role model for my daughter.

Whoa. That’s big.

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.

One of my loves? Decorating cakes and cupcakes for fun. You know that I’ve never felt confident in my decorating skills. This is because I always compared my creations to the beautiful cakes and cupcakes in my Pinterest and Instagram feeds. Whenever I began decorating, I felt discouraged. And it wasn’t fun.

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

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

So I practiced. And I practiced some more. And you’ve seen my skills as a cake decorator (can I call myself that?!) improve. My point with all of this? No one begins as an expert. Don’t let comparison prevent you from doing what you love. Be confident. Cut the crap and have fun–> lol.

GET CAKE-SPIRED

If you’re in the same boat as I was– nervous and not so confident with cake decorating– join the March Baking Challenge. We’re focusing on naked and semi-naked cakes. While it doesn’t require much frosting, it forces you to get a little creative. And today’s recipe is more cake inspiration for you! (Cakespiration?)

If you already made the March Baking Challenge, go ahead and make room for 1 more cake this month. Because you don’t want to miss this pistachio number. It’s soft, light, sweet, buttery, and filled with silky cream cheese frosting.

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Remember my pistachio cupcakes? (On the subject of cake and cupcake decorating, I used Ateco #849 closed star tip for those cupcakes. Easiest piping tip, cutest little design.) I’m often asked how to turn them into a layer cake, so let’s do it.

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 cake.

Instead of relying on artificial pistachio flavor, 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. 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. Beautiful springtime cake.

Use your food processor to break down the nuts. Your 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.

Ground up pistachios for pistachio cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

WHAT ELSE IS IN THIS CAKE?

The rest of the cake batter resembles my favorite white layer cake, though I divided the batter into 3 cake pans instead of 2.

  1. Cake flour. 30x finer than all-purpose flour. I use slightly less cake flour in this recipe compared to my white cake because of the pistachio crumbs. I love cake flour. Pick up a box because you’ll use it often. See all my recipes with cake flour. In a pinch, you can use this homemade cake flour substitute.
  2. Egg whites. All protein. Promises a super light texture. Ever wonder why meringue, marshmallows, and angel food cakes require egg whites? Light! Soft!
  3. Sour cream. Moist. (Don’t cringe at this word. You know you prefer a moist cake over a dry one!)

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 on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Silky smooth cream cheese frosting on sallysbakingaddiction.com

There are many options for decorating your pistachio cake. I use cream cheese frosting. My cream cheese frosting recipe will be enough to decorate your cake like I did: minimal on the edges with more frosting inside and on top of the cake.

OTHER FROSTING OPTIONS:

Think about the look you want. Do you want more frosting than this semi-naked cake style? If so, 1.5x any of the frosting options listed.

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Remember what I said above? It’s all about having fun. Topping the cake with goodies is the best part. I used some berries, florals, and crushed pistachios. If you want smooth sides, use a bench scraper. You can watch me using it in this video. 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. 🙂

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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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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 shelled pistachios
  • 2 and 1/3 cups (250g) sifted 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 | Straight Icing Spatula | Bench Scraper | Marble Cake Stand
  3. Cake Flour: Sift cake flour before measuring. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, use this homemade cake flour substitute. I suggest doing this 3x, then remove 2/3 cup since you need 2 and 1/3 cups in this recipe.
  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. 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, use this amount of cream cheese frosting.
  7. Room Temperature Ingredients: All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  8. Here are my pistachio cupcakes!
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! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

373 Comments

  1. Sally, this is gorgeous.  And delicious, I imagine!  We love pistachios and this just bumped to the top of the list for my next baking adventure!

    I completely relate to your ah ha moment.  My girls are six and three.  I have always been my toughest critic.  Even though life has been (mostly) kind to me, I have always been really hard on myself, especially with body image and expectations of what I can accomplish. After having my oldest, I had a moment like yours.  It has forced me to learn to be kind to myself and just live – without care for what others might think.  While I am still a work in progress, I have come leaps and bounds in the last six and a half years.  Kids can do some pretty amazing things to our lives.

    On another note, decorating cakes/cookies/cupcakes and creating baked goods is a passion of mine too.  I have come to realize that my happy place is the kitchen, creating delicious things for the people I love.  The bonus is my girls love to be there with me and are becoming quite the little bakers and helpers themselves.  

    Thank you for all your amazing and delicious recipes and for continuing to be so open and real with all of us, it’s very refreshing! You are an inspiration.

    1. I 100% agree with all your sentiments. Confidence is contagious and I’m looking forward to leading my daughter by example. Also, I’m excited for a little helper in the kitchen if she enjoys baking like I do! 

      Please let me know if you and your girls try this pistachio cake!

  2. I like that quote! I have noticed you are posting more cakes, and they are so gorgeous! I love how they are all not perfect, actually. Too-perfect cakes never look as appetizing IMO 🙂

    1. Hi Wendy! I’m not a floral expert, so I don’t know what they were called. Whenever you use fresh florals for decor, make sure to use flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Or just use edible! (These were not edible.)

  3. Sally I just honestly love how far you have come in terms of cake decorating. I like the mix of fruit and flowers that you used. And this cake looks heavenly. I will try baking it very soon.

  4. Sally,
    What a lovely cake and even more lovely words. I remember giving my 5 year old son a bagel and the container of cream cheese. He handed the bagel back and said asked me to put the cream cheese on for him because  “You do it better.” We talked about practicing to get better, that you can’t do everything perfect the first time. I try to remember that as I make make a new recipe, learn French. The first time I made cake pops I swore I would NEVER do that again. Of course now I have made THOUSANDS!

    1. I did! Whenever you use fresh florals for decor, make sure to use flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Avoid strong-smelling flowers as the smell may linger on the cake. And if you can find edible flowers, that’s even better. 🙂

  5. I love, and so agree with, the T. R. quote!! The cake is beautiful, what are the flowers?

    I find your decorations lovely, as I’ve always found my baking creations to be tasty, but not commercially pretty. But my pistachio cupcakes were spot-on!

    Thanks for the inspiration, hopefully I will try this and post a photo!

    1. Hi Mary, the flowers were just in a bouquet I found in my local store. And yes, that quote really resonated with me! Can’t wait to see your photo of what you come up with!

  6. Ok, wow.
    This cake is gorgeous.

    I’m sitting in upstate New York instantly
    filled with sunshine because of this beautiful cake.

    Thank you for inspiring beauty and helping regular, non-bakers like me
    believe I can do it too (with some practice).

  7. I am super stoked for this cake, I really really loved the cupcakes, they are some of my absolute favorites. I can’t wait to make it!!

  8. A lot of my baked goods may not look perfect and I suck at decorating but I make awesome desserts and cakes and when something doesn’t look exactly right I call it rustic! My cakes are not decorative but that frosting is spread on with an appealing look! You rock and motherhood is such an awesome, hard, constantly changing and learning challenge! Your blog is one of my favorites as I love your genuine character….. and your dogs! Also, everything I have made including the savory dishes has been delicious!

  9. You’ve have me hooked on making cupcakes for events for about two years now! I’ve mixed and matched flavors from your recipes and pistachio with white chocolate frosting is hands down the flavor of choice everywhere I take it! It’s so classic yet unexpected, even my non-dessert husband devours it! The semi-naked cake version will be perfect for Easter this year!! Cheers to sharing cakes and family, both of which seem more beautiful when they aren’t perfect 🙂

  10. I love the message of this post! Comparison really does hold us back from enjoyment, and with the somewhat obtrusive presence of social media these days, it is nearly impossible to avoid.

    I have been following your blog for years now, and I always thought your recipes are as beautifully photogenic as they are delicious; and this cake looks to be absolutely no exception! I can’t wait to find an excuse to make it 😀

  11. This cake looks SO stunning, Sally! Your creative decorating skills have really come a long way and it’s inspiring to see! This cake is a gorgeous Spring treat and I may use the batter to make cupcakes instead because I can’t pull off making the cake look anywhere near as good as yours 😉

    1. Thank you so much, Hayley! Cupcakes are equally as delicious but if you want to try the cake you can definitely handle it! There is no wrong way to decorate a naked cake 🙂

  12. Hey Sally!
    Your cake looks beautiful – I can’t wait to try it this weekend! I have one question – I only have one oven and I’m worried about trying to bake all of the layers at once because they may cook unevenly. I’m also worried about baking two at once and leaving the other batter out because I know that can cause issues with the baking powder. Do you have any recommendations regarding this?

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you!! Your batter will be fine sitting out for 20-25 minutes while the first two layers bake. I wouldn’t leave it out for hours though 🙂 You can also bake all three at once if they fit and rotate them half way through.

  13. Sally, not only are you a role model for your daughter but you are an inspiration to all of us, your readers. This cake is beautiful! I love how simple ingredients can become not only something to behold in terms of beauty but also something wonderfully delicious to eat.

    I also want to thank you for sharing your thoughts about comparison. I began baking/decorating as a hobby when my daughter was young. But when she started kindergarten and she would bring cupcakes or cookies that I had made to school, some moms would say to me, “You need to get a life.” This was solely because I took the time to make something pretty! I actually felt ashamed. I let them get to me. So, the comparison I made was that I was not busy enough, so therefor less-than, somehow. Sadly, I stopped my hobby for awhile. I wised up later, not just for myself but for my daughter. I realized I should continue to follow my passion regardless of the few outside voices that tried to shame me. I realize these days (with Instagram and other social media) that beauty in someone’s craft or hobby is more apt to be appreciated–or maybe, those women back then were just an early form of hater’s who voice their comments on Insta, haha. Regardless, everyone should pursue their passion! Shut out the outside noise and fill yourself with the joy of doing what you love to do! Sally, you keep doing what you do, girl! You do it so well! 
    Thanks for sharing!

  14. You are so gifted at what you love to do Sally, your cake decorating is one of the best around, another impressive cake, plus I love the flavors you put into this one…simply stunning work

  15. Hi Sally! I’ve been an avid reader of yours and your recipies never fail to impress! I wanted to ask what you think of making a brown butter cream cheese frosting instead?

    Thank you!
    Maryam 

  16. Beautiful cake, Sally!! I’m very excited to try it. Before I saw the light of baking from scratch cakes, I used to make this fabulous Chocolate Pistachio bundt cake that used a white cake mix as the base (like yours…only not as good because…cake mix) then added pistachio pudding and maybe sour cream and then to one cup of the batter, added chocolate syrup. Once baked and cooled, it was then topped with a fabulous chocolate (homemade) glaze. Any ideas/recommendations on how to recreate that but using your pistachio base instead of the boxed mix? I’m kind of equating the chocolate syrup to the “EW” of a boxed mix and don’t wanna mess up your wonderful cake. 🙂

  17. Hi, Sally! I have to tell you that your blog has made me love baking. I am making your classic chocolate cupcakes for my son’s birthday tomorrow. Thank you for sharing all your hard work with us!

    I wanted to ask if I could use regular flour for this cake. I live in France where pistachio desserts are everything, but cake flour isn’t easy to come by. Do you think it would yield a decent result?

    Thanks again!

  18. Looks delicious Sally as always
    I’m hoping to make this for a birthday cake for my dearest friendnext week.
    Im struggling to find what gram weight of the pistachios either shelled or just kernels from cups. Its seems varied.
    Can you advise please you’ve only put the cup measurement on.
    Absoultey loving naked and semi naked month

  19. I’d been planning on making a different cake today, maybe vanilla malt but saw this and changed my mind! It was really delicious and I actually liked it even more than I expected. I omitted the almond extract and all but a tiny splash of vanilla so that the pistachio flavor really came through. I also used roasted pistachios for a more pronounced flavor as well. Yummy!

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