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

385 Comments

  1. Hi Sally! I’ve been following recipes from your blog for a few months now, and very one of them were super delicious! This pistachio cakes also looks super delish. I saw something on Pinterest called “pie cookies “, and they looked absolutely adorable. It’s like a mini pie (any flavor) the size of a cookie. I was wondering if you could do a recreation! I would definitely make those. Even if you don’t get a chance to reply, thanks so much for all the delicious recipes you create!!!

  2. Hi Sally,

    Thanks for posting this recipe! If I don’t have three cake tins (and a large enough oven), will it be OK for the batter to sit around while I bake them in batches? Or perhaps bake it in a deep tin and slice the layers?

    Thank you,
    Jane

  3. Dear Sally,
    This is a must have this month! I just have one question, I have concluded the sugar I have here in Serbia is almost twice as sweet as the American one which makes it impossible to use as much as the recipe calls. What do you suggest I add if I half the sugar so i achieve the same consistency of the cake?
    Love,
    Ljubica

    1. You can certainly try it, but I can’t be certain since I’ve never baked with the sugar you’re familiar with. Let me know how it turns out!

  4. 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? 

    1. 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.

  5. Wow, what a beautiful cake! Thank you for always posting the best failproof recipes! Would it be okay to bake in two cake pans instead of three? 

    1. Hi Alaa! You can bake this pistachio cake as a 2 layer cake. The cakes will take about 25 minutes in the oven, same temperature.

  6. I love pistachio! If I wanted to make this cake in 2 small 6 inch cake pans would I need to just cut the recipe in half?

    1. Hi Kerah! I’m unsure how to exactly reduce this batter down to fit a two layer 6-inch cake. You can definitely try halving it though. Might not be quite enough, but let me know how it goes.

  7. 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

  8. Hi Sally!

    Making this for my husband’s birthday cake next month, can’t wait! Do I need to beat the egg whites before adding them, or are they fine to go in ‘flat’?

    Cheers!

  9. Hi Sally! I’m going to use this cake recipe for the March Baking Challenge! And BONUS- it’s green, so it will fit perfectly on my dessert table for my St Patty’s Day party this weekend! I do have a question for you: I am a huge fan of pistachio and I know that you said the flavor is subtle in this cake. I would like to add a pistachio pudding packet to the cake batter to up the flavor. Do you think this is a bad idea or a good idea? Would I need to reduce any of the other ingredients (I’m thinking specifically about the sour cream- I don’t want the cake to be soggy) Let me know!!

    1. Hey Angela! You can certainly add some pistachio pudding to the cake for added flavor. I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say for sure… but I would maybe reduce the cake flour down to 2 cups + 2 Tbsp. Please let me know how it turns out!

  10. SALLY, how did you know!?  My husband is a huge pistachio cake fan and his birthday is April 18th. I have to make this for him…looks like a great recipe!

  11. Easy and lovely, decorated with powdered sugar design, sliced oranges and scattered pistachios. Would post a photo but seems that’s not possible. Will make again!

  12. Hi Sally, this looks absolutely delicious. I love to use buttermilk and was wondering if it might be used in this recipe?

  13. Love your recipes so much! This looks delicious but I have some family members who aren’t big fans of cream cheese frosting. Do you think the cake would pair well with a vanilla buttercream frosting instead? Thanks!

  14. Hi Sally! So excited to make this recipe for Easter. Quick question: where did you find the flower garnishes? 

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Margaret! A local nursery. If you use fresh florals, make sure they aren’t treated with pesticides OR you can use edible flowers 🙂

  15. Hi Sally,

    I may be missing it, but do you have a video or a post about how to transfer an iced/decorated cake from a cake turntable to the cake stand? I’m nervous I’m going to have a beautiful cake and then totally mess it up in the transfer process!

    I love your blog and really appreciate how much I learn from it! The monthly baking challenges have been awesome! 

    Thanks,
    Katrina 

    1. Hi Katrina! You can transfer decorated cakes from your turntable to a cake stand by using these cake circles. I decorated the pictured pistachio cake directly on the cake stand and therefore didn’t use a turntable or cake circle.

      1. Thanks, Sally. I ended up decorating it on the cake stand and that worked out just fine. I made the lemon blueberry cake for my March baking challenge with a semi-naked frost. It received rave reviews!! These baking challenges are making me feel like a professional!

        P.S.- we went to college together! Congratulations on your sweet baby girl and wishing you continued success! 

  16. Dear Sally, 
    I love the style of your blog and the way how you arranged your content. I also have a blog and I think this “Shop the recipe” slider is perfect to combine a view affiliate links. I am also in this amazon partner programm, but how did you manage to arrange these links in a beautiful slider? Do you use a plugin for that? 

    I would be happy to hear from you !
    Greetings from Germany

    Joana

    1. Hi Joana! Thank you so much. I’m a member of rewardStyle to obtain the affiliate links. And I use the rewardStyle widget to display them.

  17. I was excited to see green on the picture because I’m looking for a key lime cake recipe, but it turns out it’s pistachio 🙁

    Sally, would you happen to have a key lime cake recipe hiding somewhere or needing to be perfected before posting anytime soon?? 🙂

  18. Sally this cake looks absolutely delicious! I too love decorating cakes and cupcakes but get discouraged sometimes. It takes practice and I know when I stop overthinking it always comes out great. I love the naked cake decorations and hope to get mine made soon! It can be so hard not to play the comparison game.  One thing I’ve been working on is to not compare my page 1 to someone’s page 20 and practice does make perfect! Thanks for sharing all these fabulous recipes! 

  19. Hey Sally! I finally broke and bought the salted pistachios. I really want to make this tonight and the stores were closing! I’ve done the conversions and maths and stuff. If you use Wonderful Pistachios Shelled Roasted & Salted (160mg sodium per 1/4 C serving) then you only need to reduce the regular salt by about a quarter teaspoon. Hope this helps anybody else in my position!

  20. Hello! This looks amazing! I wondered if you had a high altitude version of this recipe? Pistachio is my absolute favorite.

    1. Hi Meg, I wish I could help, but I have no experience baking at high altitude. I know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  21. 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. 

    Thanks!

  22. This is such a stunning cake! I adore the cream cheese frosting and the berry topping is so lovely for spring!

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