This light and fluffy pistachio cake is flecked with ground pistachios and flavored with just the right amount of almond extract. It’s absolutely divine!
One bite of this pistachio cake is all you need. It truly is love at first bite! Buttery, nutty, and topped with a sweet and slightly tangy frosting. What’s not to love?? For more luscious layer cakes try S’mores Layer Cake, Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake, and Dark Chocolate Layer Cake.
A Flavor Match Made in Heaven
I made this pistachio cake over two years ago and I’ve been meaning to re-make it and photograph it for well, two years now!
I recently made it again for my kids and husband and fell in love with it all over again!
I originally made a vanilla bean honey cream cheese frosting but it wasn’t quite right. It was also fairly involved/time consuming, so I scratched that and went for something a little more fitting: mascarpone frosting. It’s a match made in heaven!! Simple. Easy. Delicious.
Ingredient Tips AND Substitutions
Pistachios: You’ll need 1 ½ cups shelled unsalted pistachios. You’ll pulse all but ¼ cup in a food processor until finely ground. Do not over do it or you’ll end up with pistachio paste.
- Can you use salted pistachios? If all you can’t find unsalted pistachios, then you can use salted pistachios. Just make sure to not include the kosher sea salt. That would be way too much salt!
- Can you rinse salt off of pistachios? Some people decide to rinse off the excess salt and then roast the pistachios to dry them back out. This will give you a roasted taste in the cake, but can be an option!
Sour cream substitute: If you don’t have sour cream on hand, you can use plain greek yogurt. This is a healthier option but it provides close to the same texture.
Cake flour substitute: If you don’t have cake flour, you can easily make your own substitution. You just need to measure out the flour cup by cup and each time take out 2 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour and add in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. This will provide the right texture and effect.
Cream of tartar substitute: Cream of tartar is very acidic and can easily be substituted by lemon juice or vinegar. Preferably you would use lemon juice because it isn’t as strong as vinegar.
How to Make Pistachio Cake
PULSE. First things first. You’ll need 1 ½ cups shelled unsalted pistachios. You’ll pulse all but ¼ cup in a food processor until finely ground. (Note: Do not over do it or you’ll end up with pistachio paste. Delicious, but not what we’re going for!)
MIX. You’ll add them to the dry ingredients and carefully mix them into the wet ingredients.
FOLD. Then you’ll fold in the whipped egg whites by hand so that they don’t get deflated. Use a very gentle hand.
DIVIDE. Once the batter is ready, divide it between three 9-inch cake pans. I always use a kitchen scale to ensure they are actually even in weight, however using a half cup measuring cup or an extra large cookie scoop can help as well.
(Note: I sprayed mine with non-stick baking spray and added a parchment paper round to the bottom. I highly recommend doing this to prevent sticking. Butter and flour works too, just don’t forget the parchment!)
BAKE & COOL. Bake the cakes until the tops spring back, then let them cool in their pans for 15 minutes, then remove them and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To Make the Frosting:
While the cakes are cooling, you’ll want to make the frosting.
Note: It’s made just like a traditional cream cheese frosting where you add it at the very end. Just be EXTRA careful not to overmix or you’ll curdle the frosting. I find mixing it for 10 seconds with the stand mixer, then folding the rest in by hand is best.
ASSEMBLE & GARNISH. When the cakes are cooled, assemble into a three layer cake. Use the reserved pistachios as a garnish on top, then sprinkle with a few flecks of sea salt.
Cupcake Version: Most cake recipes transition into cupcakes very well. Bake at the same temperature, but for a shorter amount of time. Since we are using a 9 inch cake pan, you just need to reduce the amount of time by 5-10%. This means that instead of baking the layers for 35-40 minutes you’ll be baking the cupcakes for about 25-30 minutes.
Other frosting flavors? We use a mascarpone frosting, but you can also use a cream cheese frosting or any simple flavored buttercream frosting, like our chocolate buttercream.
Store the pistachio cake in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Because of the mascarpone cheese in the frosting, I wouldn’t recommend storing it at room temperature.
Freeze: When trying to freeze a frosted cake, you need to leave the cake in the freezer on a tray until the frosting has frozen. At this point, you can wrap your cake in plastic wrap, and then again in foil.
Your pistachio layer cake will last for about 3 months in the freezer. When defrosting, you want to unwrap the cake and let it sit in the fridge overnight or on the counter for 6 hours. Make sure to take off the plastic wrap or you will get a moist and soggy cake.
Have you baked with pistachios before? What’s you favorite pistachio dessert? Leave a comment below and let me know!
For more pistachio recipes, try:
- White Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio Cookies
- Pistachio Pound Cake
- Pistachio Ice Cream
- Dark Chocolate Chunk Pistachio Cookies
Pistachio Cake Recipe
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 c. unsalted shelled pistachios - divided
- 2 1/2 c. cake flour
- 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. coarse kosher sea salt
- 1 c. unsalted butter - softened
- 1 3/4 c. granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp. almond extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 c. whole milk
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 3 egg whites - + ½ tsp. cream of tartar
For the frosting:
- 1 1/2 c. unsalted butter - softened
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. coarse kosher sea salt
- 6 c. powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 c. mascarpone
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or butter and flour three 9-inch round baking pans. Line bottoms with a parchment round, set aside.
- In a food processor, pulse 1 ¼ cups pistachios until a finely ground powder forms.
- In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the ground pistachios, flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on high until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and beat for 2 minutes on high. Add vanilla, almond and egg, mix until combined.
- With mixing speed on low, alternate adding dry ingredients and the milk and cream. Mix until a few dry streaks remain.
- In a medium mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, beat 3 egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold into the batter until incorporated.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top springs back when touched.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 15 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, to make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on high until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, salt and powdered sugar, mix until combined. Add mascarpone and mix on low for 10 seconds, then fold by hand until a smooth, creamy frosting forms.
- To assemble the cake, ¼ of the frosting between the first layer, a ¼ of the frosting between the second layer, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake. Chop the reserved ¼ of pistachios and sprinkle on the top edges. Add a pinch or two of large sea salt flakes before serving.
Hi, I’m excited to try this. I don’t have a food processor, could I use pistachio flour instead? If so how much should I use?
Hi Beatrice, do you have a blender? If so, you can use that. If not, yes pistachio flour is the same and you would use 1 cup of pistachio flour instead of creating your own from 1 1/4 cups of shelled pistachios.
This cake turned out fantastic!
Just finished baking. I used three 6″ wide pans (3″ tall). I put 2 and 1/2 cups of batter in each pan and had about 1/2 cup leftover that I put in a tiny little heart pan (chef’s treat). The 6″ cakes came out perfect after about 30 min in the oven. I’m planning to slice them each in half horizontally to make a 6 layer tall/skinny cake. I tasted the batter and the little heart cake and it is DIVINE! I can’t wait to assemble it all tomorrow! Thanks for this awesome recipe!!
I have one other question. I would like to have four layers of cake that are about 2 inches in height each. Would four 7x 2 inch round pans work for getting that? Thank you.
Hi Rachel, I’m not sure of the answer, but this may help: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/cake-pan-sizes/
I had to make this gf and convert to UK ingredients plus didn’t have tapioca starch so improvisef, not sure how 9 inch tins would work as doesn’t seemed ough mix for 3 layers of 9 inches or have I misread this. I’ve gone wrong somewhere as my texture not great but not tasted yet so time will tell
I am so happy to have found this recipe. Could you tell me how tall the cake layers bake in a 9-inch pan.? From the picture they look to be about 1 inch in height. Is that correct?
Hi Rachel, yes that is correct. About 1 inch.
Thank you so much!