Pistachio Cake

There’s nothing fake or artificial in this beautiful pistachio cake. Made from scratch with real pistachio and almond extract flavors, this rustic and chic layered naked cake is adorned with silky cream cheese frosting. Garnish with fresh berries, pistachios, and flowers for a truly remarkable dessert.

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

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 pistachio cake.

I’m often asked how to turn my pistachio cupcakes into a layer cake– your wish is my command! Let’s get started.

overhead image of pistachio cake on a marble cake stand

How to Get Real Pistachio Flavor Into Cake

For quality pistachio flavor, we’ll grind shelled pistachios into fine little chips and chunks and pour them directly into a vanilla almond cake batter. There will be some pistachio powder hiding in all those teeny pistachio pieces– that’s ok! Add it to the batter; it will tint it a whimsical light green! 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. A beautiful springtime cake.

The combination of real pistachios + almond extract results in a soft, light, and buttery pistachio cake made without artificial flavors.

slices of pistachio cake on green plates

Pistachio Cake Ingredients

We use my favorite white cake as a starting point for today’s pistachio cake. You’ll notice many similar ingredients, plus a few extras that turn white cake into pistachio cake.

  • Pistachios: Instead of relying on artificial pistachio flavor in today’s cake, 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. 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.
  • Cake Flour: Cake flour provides the cake’s structure. Cake flour is almost 30x finer than all-purpose flour. Using it is a surefire way to achieve a delicate and delicious texture. I use slightly less cake flour in this recipe compared to my white cake because of the pistachio crumbs. It’s sold in the baking aisle and you can use the rest of the box in any of these recipes that use cake flour. In a pinch, use this homemade cake flour substitute.
  • Baking Powder & Baking Soda: Use both leaveners to help the cake rise.
  • Salt: Salt adds flavor.
  • Butter: Butter adds moisture and flavor, and creates a tender crumb. Use room temperature butter.
  • Sugar: We use granulated sugar to sweeten this cake.
  • Egg Whites: Use ONLY egg whites. No yolks. Only using egg whites ensures that the crumb is not weighed down by the fat in egg yolks. Think about it: lighter confections such as marshmallows and angel food cakes only require egg whites. Same story here.
  • Sour Cream & Milk: Both keep the cake ultra moist. I recommend whole milk and full-fat sour cream for best taste and texture.
  • Vanilla & Almond Extracts: Use both pure vanilla extract and almond extract for truly outstanding flavor. Almond extract enhances the pistachio flavor, so don’t leave it out!
  • Milk: Milk creates an ultra moist cake.

pistachio crumbs in a food processor

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 in a glass bowl

Overview: How to Make Pistachio Cake

  1. Make pistachio crumbs. Use your food processor to break down the nuts. The 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.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients together. Include 1 and 1/2 cups of pistachio crumbs.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg whites, sour cream, and extracts.
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients together.
  5. Pour in the milk. Mix just until combined– the batter will be slightly thick.
  6. Bake. These cakes take about 21-23 minutes in the oven.
  7. Let the cakes cool completely.
  8. Make the cream cheese frosting.
  9. Assemble and decorate the cake.
  10. Refrigerate. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake keep its shape when cutting.
  11. Serve!

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

Pistachio Cake Frosting

There are many options for decorating your pistachio cake! I use smooth and tangy cream cheese frosting– it pairs wonderfully with the sweet pistachio cake. 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. If you want more frosting, make the amount of cream cheese frosting included in my carrot cake recipe.

Other delicious frosting options: vanilla buttercream, strawberry buttercream, lemon buttercream, or chocolate buttercream. Or for something totally different, use this cake as the base of my fresh berry cream cake. So good!

pistachio cake on a wood and marble cake stand

overhead image of pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting and berries and pistachio garnish

Decorating Inspiration

One of my loves? Decorating cakes and cupcakes just for fun. I never used to feel confident in my decorating skills because I was always comparing my creations to the beautiful cakes and cupcakes on my Pinterest and Instagram feeds. Whenever I began decorating, I felt discouraged. And it wasn’t fun.

So I practiced. And I practiced some more. And you’ve seen my skills as a cake decorator (can I call myself that?!) improve. No one begins as an expert. Don’t let comparison prevent you from doing what you love. Be confident and have fun!

Topping the cake with goodies is the best part. I decorated today’s pistachio cake naked cake style with fresh berries, fresh flowers, and crushed pistachios. For smooth sides, use a bench scraper— you can watch me using it in this video for vanilla naked cake. 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. 🙂

slice of pistachio cake on a green plate

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.

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

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


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!


  • 2 cups (260g) unsalted pistachios (out of shells)
  • 2 and 1/3 cups (265g) 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


  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.


  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. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Here are my pistachio cupcakes!

Keywords: pistachio cake


  1. I bought a jar of pistachio paste hoping I could make a cake with it. Do you know if it can be used in this cake? The cake sounds amazing.

    1. I substituted half the milk for pistachio paste and it definitely made a difference in flavor and color and it was delicious

  2. I loved this recipe! Cut the sugar by half (and it still works) and also reduced the almond essence. It was overpowering. Perhaps it’s the brand I use… anyway, super love the texture and aroma of the nuts! Thanks! I recently also reduced the sugar in your cream cheese frosting (I prefer it with the slightly sourish cheese tinge) and my guests responded by eating my spare frosting. Sinful!

  3. Do you know how much batter per pan? Do you bake the layers on different racks? I ask because I know my oven will only hold two pans, not 3. Thanks!

    1. I actually don’t– I just eyeball it or use my scale. You can bake the cakes on different racks. Rotate them halfway through bake time.

  4. Hi sally,
    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?

    1. Sure can! Baking time will only be a couple minutes longer.

  5. I made this cake for NYE and it came out amazing!! Everyone loved it, it was the perfect balance of sweet and nutty!

    Thank you!

  6. I couldn’t find unsalted pistachios anywhere. I found some lightly salted ones. Are these okay to use?

    1. Yes, I would just leave out the salt in the recipe!

  7. 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! 🙂

  8. Hi Sally,

    This might be a stupid question, however on the recipe you say to measure your pistachios shelled, do you take them out of the shells before putting them in the food processor, or do they go in whole?

    I’m guessing you take them out of the shell as the shell would be too hard for a cake, but just wanted clarification.

    Love what you do.

    1. Hi Matt! Shelled means removed from the shell, so definitely remove the shell before pulsing in the food processor.

  9. Dear Sally,
    I am planning to make this cake tomorrow for my niece’s first birthday. Please help me with this query. Does the cake need to be soaked in sugar syrup before frosting? Or is it moist enough?

    1. I’ve never needed a simple syrup on this cake!

  10. Sally,
    Do you have any advice for trying to make this cake Gluten Free? It looks delicious and really want to try it out for my SIL’s Bday soon. Her son cannot have Gluten, though.

    Thanks for any help you can give!

    1. Hi Stephanie! I really wish I could help! I’m not the best baker to ask about GF baking because I have very little experience. Sorry! Let me know if you try anything though.

    2. Hi Stepahanie,
      I only bake gluten free and have made this cake for my little girl with Celiac disease gluten free by simply swapping out the flour for gluten free flour. I used Steve’s gluten free sake flour but basically you can use any gluten free all purpose flour by replacing two tablespoons of flour with corn starch per cup to make it gluten free cake flour.
      The cake itself is decadent and classy but it is supermoist and hard to work with. I didn’t want to wait but it would have helped if I had refiregated the cake layers for a few hours. Someone else also is talking about the cake crumbling apart.
      Icing the cake was difficult too because of how delicate the cake was. I used strawberry buttercream recipe from Sally’s website but the overall recipe and cake is amazing.
      Thanks Sally.

  11. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  12. Sally, I made this cake. Tasted delicious. The cakes were too soft and when I turned them out they crumbled into pieces. the sponge came apart. I baked it in 3 x 9″ pans and followed the recipe to the T. I’m wondering where I went wrong. Kindly assist!

    1. Hi Janki! Did you use parchment paper rounds? They are extra insurance to guarantee the cakes slide out seamlessly without crumbling or falling apart.

      1. No! I didnt use parchment! Since the recipe asked to grease & flour, I didnt realise, I had to line them! Thank you very much! I’ll line them next time!

  13. Hi Sally, I made this pretty cake for my dad’s 82nd birthday today. Everyone love it. Taste very nice light & soft. Thank you for the recipe.

  14. I want to try this recipe but I prefer to use whole eggs and not just the whites. Not worried about yellow color -but do think it will affect anything else? I also ordered pistachio extract on-line as not so fond of almond.

    1. Hi David, for best taste and texture, I recommend following the recipe as written using only the egg whites. The cake will taste heavy and denser with the yolks.

  15. grace mario says:

    can i use 3 pans of 8 inch cake pan to get thicker layered????this cake look delicious and fluffy…can’t wait to try it

    1. Absolutely! The bake time may be a minute or 2 longer.

  16. Your cake is gorgeous!

    Can you expound a bit of the floral decorations? Are they fresh flowers or artificial? Either way, what flower is this?

    Thanks, Sally!

    1. Thank you! These are fresh flowers and fresh berries. I wish I wrote down the variety of this flower. I can’t remember, I’m sorry!

  17. 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?

    1. 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. 🙂

  18. Sally, just so you know, something is off on the printing option. When I click it, the desing is different and thats okay, but the notes tend to change to a bigger font and it looks weird. Im making this cake for mi boyfriend´s birthday dinner and I just happened to notice it.

  19. Hello! Would this go well with white chocolate buttercream? 🙂

    1. Yum, absolutely!

  20. Can I use a pound cake pan with this recipe ?

    1. Absolutely!

  21. Hello! I have two questions (and apologies if they’ve both already been answered, I tried to search through the comments, but there are so many!). The first is that I am hoping to make a smaller (but still 3 layer) cake using the 6-inch pans you posted about once- how would you scale the recipe down?

    Second, I wanted to ask if there are any alternatives to breaking down whole nuts in a food processor, as I don’t have one. I do have a fairly strong blender (not a vitamix, but a good regular one!) and wondered if that would work, or if I could just break the nuts down by whacking them with a rolling pin (would the pieces be too big?)

    Thank you in advance!! Hoping to make this cake as a spring birthday cake with lemon frosting.

    1. Hi Kate! Glad to help!

      1) Use my pistachio cupcakes recipe for a 3 layer 6 inch cake. Cupcake recipes yielding about 12-15 cupcakes translate nicely into 6 inch layer cakes. Follow the bake time and temperature for my 6 inch cake.
      2) A blender should work for the nuts. Pistachios are a softer nut, so it should be easy for your blender.

      1. Thank you so much!!

  22. You can’t mess this up! I generally scale down recipes for a couple of individual servings, since we are only two seniors and don’t require leftover cake. I will shamelessly admit that while preparing my cakes, I kept losing track of whether I had decided on cutting the recipe by 2/3 or 3/4, so I played fast and loose with proportions, as long as it looked and felt right. I also balked at the idea of shelling all those pistachios, so I substituted chopped pecans (mistakenly adding the entire batch into the batter–so much for reading ahead!), and I went totally rogue and added some sugar-free instant pistachio pudding mix to the batter. Baked in greased ramekins for about 25 minutes. They came out gorgeous, and after frosting with a different online recipe (I wanted one that incorporated more of the pistachio pudding mix), I had enough for two nights’ worth of desserts. My husband, with whom I split the first cake on St. Patrick’s Day, absolutely gushed over it, and I had to agree that it was just delicious. This one definitely goes in my keeper file.

  23. Hi Sally I want to make this cake but I don’t have almond extract and I don’t think I’ve seen it in the stores, is there anything I can replace it with?

    1. Hi Abeer! Almond extract is where most of this cake’s flavor comes from. Search for it online if you’d like or you can leave it out and replace with a little more vanilla extract.

  24. Amazing cake! So delicious and soft, I made it for my daughter’s 13th Birthday and the guests loved it. No trace of it left. Thank you so much for the recipe! Can you please tell me the name of the lovely flowers you used on top, are they edible?

    1. I’m so glad it was a hit and I hope she had a great birthday! I wish I wrote down the name of the flower, but I do not remember what they are called. They are not edible.

  25. I made this cake for a family gathering and it was a hit! Thank you so much for your recipes. Everything I make from your site always comes out great.

    1. I’m so happy it was a hit!

  26. Hi Sally!

    I made this cake for a gathering and was so excited about it. But, they didn’t rise! And they threatened to crumbled to pieces as I was wrapping them to rest overnight, so I had to piece them together and hide it with frosting. What did I do wrong?? (They taste amazing, just are a bit flat)

    1. If it didn’t rise, check your leaveners. Are you baking soda and baking powder fresh?

  27. Hi Sally
    I made this cake today for my daughter-in-law’s birthday. I made a two layer 9 inch cake plus 5 cupcakes. The recipe is very straightforward and turned out beautifully! We have only eaten the cupcakes so far and they are delicious. I did make the cream cheese frosting although I could not get the brick of cream cheese but only soft – it came out more like a whipped topping but still tastes great!

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your wonderful site and recipes. My family and I thank you!


  28. Hi Sally! What are your thoughts on using a mix of walnuts and pistachios in this recipe? I have a lot of walnuts on hand right now. Also to use 2 9” cake pans instead of 3 would you recommend making 2/3 of the recipe? Thank you!

    1. Hi Salix! You can use a mix of pistachios and walnuts in this cake. For a 2 layer cake, use the batter as written– no need to reduce the recipe– and divide between the two pans. Bake for a couple extra minutes until baked through.

  29. Hi Sally,
    I am so excited to make this cake tomorrow for my mom’s birthday! Quick question, I have two 8″ rounds with nice straight edges, and two 9″ rounds that are slightly angled edges – I am torn on which pans to use! Also, if you don’t have three to bake at once, do you just wait for two to cook and then do the third? Any harm in the batter sitting around for a bit before baking?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Stephanie! I recommend using the 8-inch straight cake pans. Bake 3 layers. While two cakes are in the oven, keep the remaining batter covered at room temperature until a cake pan is ready again.

  30. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe! I made this cake for my boyfriends birthday tonight. It was just as beautiful as it was tasty. They loved it with the berries on top. I will definitely be coming back to try more!

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally