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.
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.”
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.
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:
- Vanilla Buttercream
- Salted Caramel Frosting
- Strawberry Buttercream
- Lemon Buttercream
- Chocolate Buttercream
You could also use this pistachio cake recipe as the base for my fresh berry cream cake!
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.
More Baking Recipes You Will Love!Print
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 22 minutes
- Total Time: 5 hours
- Yield: 12 servings
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
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.
- 2 cups (260g) unsalted pistachios (out of shells)
- 2 and 1/3 cups (275g) cake flour (spooned & 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
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make the frosting: Prepare the cream cheese frosting (see note below).
- 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.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Food Processor | 9-Inch Round Cake Pans | Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk | Cake Turntable | Straight Icing Spatula | Bench Scraper | Marble Cake Stand or Serving Platter | Cake Carrier (for storage)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Here are my pistachio cupcakes!
Keywords: pistachio cake
Reader Comments & Reviews
My oldest turns 5 in a month and has asked for this cake AND your strawberry cake (his 2 favs, he also loves your banana cake but we had that for his 4th bday;) I’m wondering if I could checkerboard the two cakes or layer them. Is that crazy? Do you think it would work?
Hi Sarah! Love that idea and I can’t see why that wouldn’t work! The layers will be thicker since both cakes make a lot of batter. Here are my checkerboard cake instructions. 🙂
I was so excited to make this cake for my husbands birthday, but it completely fell apart. It started cracking when I turned the layers out of the pans, and it tore to pieces when I tried to frost it. I followed the directions to the letter, except I made two layers instead of three. I baked it a few minutes longer because the center don’t seem done. What did I do wrong?
Hi Kate! It sounds like the cakes were too thick and the baking time was thrown off by the larger cakes. I recommend sticking to 3 layers if you ever decide to try it again.
I will do that next time. Even though it looks like a bit of a mess, it was still edible and actually delicious. I paired it with the strawberry frosting which is my family’s new favorite thing. It’s amazing!
This was the first cake I ever made it was REALLY good! I couldn’t believe it! I’m now fan! Thank you, and apologies for all that exclamation marks! 🙂
I can’t wait to try this Pistachio cake recipe. I’m sure it will be amazing just like your red velvet cake recipe that I made for my birthday sometime ago. Everyone was full of praises of the cake.
I only have 2 9 inch pan, can I bake this recipe using only 2 pans if I adjust the baking time?
Sure can! Baking time will only be a couple minutes longer.
Hi Sally – my housemate and I made this cake this week for a work bake-off and she won! I would like to make again for a tea party this Sunday and wondered what modifications you would recommend should I want to make 2x loaves with 2lb tins instead? (I will still pile high with your delicious frosting of course – just wondered about bake time…) Thanks so much!!
Hi Leanne! I’m so so so happy to hear this pistachio cake was a hit! Unfortunately, I’m unsure about the bake time for the loaves. Keep your eye on them and use a toothpick to test for doneness.
Can I make this as a sheet cake?
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.
I used this recipe to test out my first attempt at a layer cake, it turned out so delicious! I was a bit off on the even-ness of the layers because I could only do 2 tins first but when it was all stacked up it didn’t show.
Thanks Sally your recipes never disappoint!
I made this cake this morning, and it’s just simply scrumptious! The smell of the ground pistachios was incredible, the texture of the cake is but there’s also JUST a bit of “tooth” there, oh it’s just so good!
I broke up the batter into smaller cakes – one 6″ round and one 10″ round (plus a teeny tiny “tasting cake” for myself). The bigger one is going to my Church coffee hour, and I’m going to serve the smaller one as part of a casual bbq, along with strawberries.
What an epic recipe! Such a beautifully moist cake. I received amazing comments from all my family members!
I actually paired this cake with a white chocolate buttercream and it was incredible 🙂
Thanks for the fantastic recipe
Sally, this recipe is amazing! I had some trouble with it but entered it into our office baking competition and won 1st place! On top of wining a catered breakfast/lunch for my team, I got a lot of compliments on the cake. The only thing I changed is the cream cheese frosting – I always use half cream cheese and half mascarpone. Scrumptious! Thanks so much!
I just made this cake for a birthday celebration that was yesterday. It was the best cake I have ever made, so I can’t wait to try your other cake recipes.
I baked the cake on Thursday and kept the three layers wrapped in the freezer until frosting it on Saturday. Then it was cut and eaten for the party on Sunday.
It was so moist and tender! Was this just from the sour cream, or do the pistachios also help to make it moist? I had never made or even heard of a pistachio cake before.
Also, I chose to use raw pistachios vs. roasted. What do you recommend using? Does it make a difference?
Finally, I copied your decoration for the cake, as it was undeniably pretty.
Thank you Sally!
Yay! So glad it was enjoyed at the celebration! The sour cream is the moist maker in this recipe 🙂 And you can use either raw or roasted pistachios, whichever you prefer!
There’s no mention of whether to use roasted or unroasted/raw pistachios. I have both! Which one is best? Thanks!
Whichever is your preference.
Hey, can I use pecans instead of the pistachio nuts?
I haven’t tried it, but I can’t see why not.
Hi Sally! I have only 2 of the 8″ tin, but i think i will give it a go with the two tins first and cover the batter until at least one layer is baked & cooled. Then remove the tin and re-use one of the tin to bake the 3rd layer. I was thinking the extra batter could go for cupcakes or so. What say you?
Yes! Any extra batter will be wonderful for pistachio cupcakes. About 19-22 minutes at the same oven temperature.
made the cake and it was a huge hit! a little sweet for my liking but I will cut back on the sugar next time. I am having trouble when I lift the cake out of the pan, it tends to break on me which makes it messy when trying to layer it. does that happen if the cake is too warm? and also what would be the proportions if I wanted to make this like a loaf cake because the texture of this cake is incredible!
Hi Irma! I’m unsure about a loaf cake as I’ve only tested as a layer cake, but the cake may be breaking because it is still warm when removing from the pan. I personally always cool my cakes completely in the pans just to be safe.
Just made this today for Easter and it was so good and a big hit with the family! I paired it with the white chocolate buttercream you used on your White Wedding Cupcakes!
Hi Sally, this recipe sounds amazing and I love pistachios so much. I really want to try it, however I am not a fan of almond extract at all. I’ve tried, I just can’t get past it! Is it possible to leave it out or replace it with something else? Lemon extract maybe? Thanks for the help!
Hey Caitlin! Lemon extract would be fantastic or you can replace with more pure vanilla extract.
Hi Sally – This cake looks ridiculously good. I absolutely love how you’ve decorated it! Do you think the batter would fit into a standard bundt pan or would there be too little to fill it up?
Hi Jessica! Yes, this cake batter will fit in a Bundt pan, but I’m unsure of the bake time.
My friend made this last night and it was to DIE FOR. Holy crapppp!!! I need to give this a shot myself, it was phenomenal
Do you do a crumb layer of icing before icing it for decorating purposes? I always have crumb issues and that’s what I’ve read is the solution.
Hi Ryan! I don’t typically add a crumb coat to my cakes, but you certainly can!
Hi, if using raw pistachios, do I need to toast them prior to grinding? Thanks!
No need to, unless you want a roasted flavor.
Looks great, Sally! Question for you: might this recipe be a good candidate for Easter nest cake??
Thanks Annie! Yes, you can definitely bake this pistachio cake in a Bundt pan to make the coconut Easter nest cake, but I’m unsure of the bake time.
Hi Sally, could I use egg whites in a carton as a substitute for the fresh eggs or could that add unwanted sugar to the recipe? Thank you
Hi Donna! The carton egg whites should be fine to use in this pistachio cake recipe.
Hi Sally! I am a big fan of your recipes. I have been searching for a good almond cake recipe. This cake looks so good I was wondering if I could swap the pistachios for almond meal?
Hi Stephanie! You can try, but I haven’t tested it yet. I’d be worried almond meal would dry out the cake too much. But please let me know how it turns out.
Oh yum! You absolutely cannot go wrong with a brush of simple syrup on the cooling cakes. A little almond extract mixed in would be fantastic.