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 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 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.

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

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.

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 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.

Ground up pistachios for pistachio cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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

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!

Silky smooth cream cheese frosting on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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, chocolate buttercream, and the frosting recipe included in my lemon cupcakes with blackberry cream cheese frosting.

If you want more frosting than today’s semi-naked cake style, 1.5x any of the above frosting options.

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

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. 🙂

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

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.

Print

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 pistachios (out of shells)
  • 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, 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

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

499 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. Boy oh boy… made this cake for easter/my birthday and wow !! ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!! I had been looking forward to making this cake for a couple of months and was afraid I would be disappointed (not because I doubted Sally but because my expectations were so high) but it did not! Everyone raved about it. Followed the instructions exactly, took about 27min in the oven. Cream cheese icing also delicious.

  3. Hi Sally,
    I was wondering if there’s a huge difference in texture if I use pistachio paste? Have you ever tried or any other nutty butter?

    1. I’m replaced late to this but..I made the cupcake recipe of this and I processed my pistachios a bit too much and basically had butter. I used anyway and honestly they couldn’t have turned out better. I imagine the paste will work great. Beautiful texture and the taste w the blackberry cream cheese icing was simply amazing!

    1. I haven’t tested this in 6 inch pans but if you cut the recipe in half it should work! Let me know if you try it!

  4. Love this cake, a new family favorite. My husband who dislikes cake couldn’t get enough of it!! Making it again this weekend for Mother’s Day.

  5. Thank you for this amazing recipe! The cake was moist and soft. The cream cheese icing is a perfect compliment to the nuttiness of the pistachios.

    I flavored my icing with rose extract instead of vanilla, omitted the vanilla from the cake batter and added pistachio slivers between the cake layers. The rose added a really nice and exotic flavor.
    I decorated the top with more pistachios and edible rose petals. It was fantastic!

  6. Thank you for this recipe. Pistachio cake has long been a favorite of my husband. This was the best version he has ever enjoyed. Your recipe was concise and easy to follow. The cake flour gave this cake an especially nice texture and delicate appeal. I used your linked frosting recipe, one portion using only the 3 cups of confectioners sugar- ( I will try the 3 1/4 cups next time) and it perfectly covers the layers, top and sides of the cake, even going a heavier layer at the top.

  7. Hi Sally,

    Excited to try this cake given all the positive comments! May I know if it is okay to use carton egg whites?

    1. Hi Cassandra! You can use carton egg whites if needed. The carton should give instructions for replacement quantities.

      1. I have tried to replace the 5 large egg whites with 150g of carton egg whites. It is so good!!!!!! The pistacchio is so rich, combined with the rich almond flavour. Oh my. Thank you for the recipe, Sally!

  8. Hi Sally I will be trying out your recipe soon. But I have only found unshelled pistachios that are salted and roasted. No luck yet with unsalted. Would this greatly affect the finished product? I definitely don’t want mess this up.

    1. It really won’t. The cake is sweet regardless if the pistachios are salted or not. In fact, I love making the cake with salted pistachios– it adds extra flavor!

  9. I’m thinking of doing this cake for my granddaughter communion. I’m using a 12in pan, do you think if I double the ingredients it comes high enough. Than I decorate it with fondant. Thanks.

    1. Will it be 3 12-inch layers? If so, making the batter twice should be plenty. I don’t recommend doubling the recipe all at once.

  10. Made this for my husbands birthday, he loves pistachio 🙂

    It turned out WONDERFULLY! I didnt have vanilla extract so I just used a little extra almond extract and it was still so delish. We even froze a few pieces and it was still tasty weeks later.

    1. Hi Claire! You can try those substitutions as well as a dairy-free butter alternative (do not use margarine) or even solid coconut oil.

  11. Can I use store bought cream cheese frosting? If so, do I need to think it out a bit to pour onto bundt cake? How would you thin it out?

  12. Hi sally l tried this cake yesterday and the outcome was brilliant.i halved the pistachios with roasted almonds and I even roasted the pistachios. Thanks for your receipe it’s great.

  13. Hi Sally, could I bake this in one cake tin (8 inch) and cut in half? How long would I need to bake for and do you think it will change the cake texture?

    1. Hi Linda! Unfortunately, there is just too much batter for one pan. The cake would be so tall and could collapse in the center.

  14. Hi, followed recipe and it turned out great. But the cake was breaking up when removing from the pan. I might have added a extra scope of sour cream. Could it be because of that it was too moist that it breaks? Also, i like firmer cakes, this was very light and fluffy. Would using all purpose flour make it more firm? Also, wonder why use only egg whites instead of whole eggs? Otherwise, the taste was great. Thanks a lot for the recipe.

    1. Hi Sam! It’s a very fluffy cake indeed. Make sure you grease the pan extra well– and line the pans with parchment paper rounds if you want, too! Try using my vanilla cake recipe as the base next time. It’s still soft, but may be closer to the texture you are looking for. Try reducing cake flour to 3 and 1/3 cups and adding 1 cup of pistachio crumbs. Add almond extract too.

  15. Hi Sally,

    Baked this cake last night. It turned out delicious but a tad bit sweeter. I used the grams mesasurements as i prefer it that way. Only half he pistachios were needed to make 1 and 1/2 cups of crumbs. Is there any way to increase the pistachios? Can I reduce the flour amount and increase the pistachio crumbs?

    It was a super hit and very easy!

    1. Hi Janki! Try using salted pistachios. You can try slightly reducing the flour to make room for more pistachio crumbs, though adding a BIT more pistachio crumbs without changing the flour amount should be fine. Let me know anything you test.

  16. Looking to make this delicious looking cake within the next few weeks, but was wondering where a good location to find bulk shelled and unsalted pistachios would be? Thanks!

    1. Hi Taylor! You can check your local bulk stores or search for Diamond of California brand in the baking aisle or your grocery store– those won’t be sold in bulk though.

  17. This cake looks delicious.. I plan on making it for my brothers birthday as he is a huge pistachio fan.. The only problem is he specifically requested a whipped cream topping.. Do you think it would go well on this cake.. ?

    1. I think whipped cream would be delicious! Definitely lighter than cream cheese frosting but I think the flavors would pair wonderfully 🙂

  18. Oh I am looking forward to try this. Can I replace sour cream with curd? Also I am looking for alternate frosting. Does whipped cream or chocolate ganache go with it? White chocolate ganache might b too sweet right? Looking forward to ur reply

      1. Great thanks Sally for the response. I shall try with ganache or whipped cream. Hope we can add almond extract to the whipped cream or vanilla extract? What do u recommend.

  19. Hi Sally looking to try this recipe for a birthday cake. Wanted lemon and pistachio would substituting lemon juice for the almond extract work?

  20. Hi sally,
    Your presentation and positive reviews motivates me to try this recipe for my daughter’s birthday .. I would like to bake in 10inch *10 inch square pan.. (guests are more )How should i increase this recipe .. Please give me a solution ..

    1. Is it a 10 inch layer cake? If so, you can use this recipe as written for a 2 layer 10 inch cake. The bake time will be about the same.

  21. I just discovered your lovely site from Debrajoy at Youtube, and I’m thrilled! Cannot wait to try your recipes. I did want to ask where you found the very pretty cake stand you are using here? Pistachio cake-yum! Love love love how you decorated this cake.

    1. Hi sally
      I have a bag of salted shelled pistachios.
      Can I use salted pistachios or Will the cake become too salty?
      Please let me know!!
      Thanks

      1. Hi Humera, see recipe note. I usually use unsalted pistachios. However, the cake is still sweet even if you use salted pistachios. Salted actually adds extra flavor!

  22. Hello, thank you for answering-Sally. I actually did find the stand online at Crate and Barrel and ordered one.
    I’m making your vanilla sheet cake today.
    Thank you, again-
    Carla

    1. Hi Eileen! I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I’m not really sure. You can try adding about 1/2 cup to the batter and leaving out the ground/chopped pistachios.

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