Pistachio Layer Cake

This light and fluffy pistachio layer 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 layer 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

Pistachio Cake with a slice missing

A Flavor Match Made in Heaven

I made this 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I originally made a vanilla bean honey cream cheese frosting but it wasn’t quite right.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.

A slice of pistachio cake on a white plate with a fork

Ingredient Tips/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.

A bowl of shelled pistachios for pistachio cake recipe

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.

Ground pistachios for pistachio layer cake

Variations

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

Taking a slice out of the pistachio layer cake with mascarpone frosting| lifemadesimplebakes.com

Storage

Store the frosted 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.

Closeup of the pistachio cake layers

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:

 

A slice of pistachio layer cake on a plate with a fork. | lifemadesimplebakes.com

Pistachio Cake Recipe

This light and fluffy pistachio layer cake is flecked with ground pistachios and flavored with just the right amount of almond extract. It's absolutely divine!
4.58 from 145 votes
Pin Rate
Course: Cakes & Cheesecakes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 40 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins
Servings: 18
Calories: 1019kcal
Print Recipe

Ingredients

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 - + 1/2 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

Instructions

  • 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 1/4 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, 1/4 of the frosting between the first layer, a 1/4 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 1/4 of pistachios and sprinkle on the top edges. Add a pinch or two of large sea salt flakes before serving.

Notes

- I would recommend keeping this cake refrigerated.
Source: adapted from Baked Explorations.

Nutrition

Calories: 1019kcal | Carbohydrates: 141g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 104mg | Sodium: 249mg | Potassium: 371mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 103g | Vitamin A: 1224IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 123mg | Iron: 2mg

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About the Author

Natalie

Wife, mother, baker and photographer. Recipe developer & author of Life Made Simple. A self-professed peanut butter lover and fond of anything that involves pumpkin, cookie dough, or sprinkles

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Comments:

  1. This sounds amazing – would the batter work as muffins? With three kids, it’s just more convenient to do small, bite size cakes/muffins instead of a large cake. 

  2. Hiii Natalie….your recipe looks delicious!!!! I can’t find few ingredients incorporated in the recipe, can you please suggest substitutes for them..
    -Cake flour
    – cream of tartar
    -sour cream

  3. This looks delicious! I wanted to make a pistachio cake for St. Patrick’s day but didn’t want to use boxed mix. Can table salt be subbed for the coarse sea salt? If so, at what proportion? Thanks for the recipe.

    1. 2 stars
      Cake is good but not sure why butter was used in the mascarpone frosting. It does not hold well. I think the recipe should have called for heavy cream instead as its used by most other mascarpone frosting recipes.

  4. 5 stars
    Hi Natalie, your post is awesome. I made your cake and it was so delish I decided to blog about it. I linked back to you of course. Hope that is ok. Thanks

  5. Can this be made eggless? We do t eat eggs at all so if there are any subs for it . Can I use flax eggs ? 

    1. Personally, I have not tried. That would definitely change the recipe. If you are familiar with substituting something else, I would do what you normally use. I wouldn’t really know what to use in place. I know you can use applesauce, but I haven’t tried.

    2. I’ve had to make a few eggless cakes for a customer who cant eat them either. The method I’ve had most success with is substituting a baking powder, oil, and water mixture. I cant remember the exact formula, but it should be easy to find online. From past experiment i can tell you that the order you combine them is very important, even before adding to the actual cake batter. But it worked like a charm twice and uses super simple stuff you prbly already have in the pantry. Hope that helps, good luck!

  6. Hi! I am making this for my daughter’s virtual grad tomorrow. I just wanted to make you aware that between steps 4,5 and 6 you don’t say to add the milk and the cream to the wet ingredients. You say to alternate the dry ingredients with the milk and cream. At that point, my butter and sugar combo is on the counter wondering when it gets to jump in.

    1. You could use equal measure yogurt. I would google suggestions, if you don’t want to use yogurt. Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Natalie,
    This looks devine and will be my first pistachio cake that I’ll make. I’m really excited to make it. However, I only want to make it for my little family, so a 9” pan would be too large. If I half the recipe, what size pan do you think would be sufficient? Thanks so much! 

    1. I haven’t halved it before, but you can’t get a whole lot smaller than the 9in. There are 8in pans, but maybe you can just make a single layer cake & not have 3 layers.

  8. 4 stars
    Hello! I made this cake today, two years after trying pistachio cake for the first time. I am fairly new to baking and still trying to learn the ropes. I baked the cake for 35 min, when it sprang to the touch and there was no batter that came out on a toothpick. When I flipped my cake pans, one layer fell apart. I’m also notic ing that the inside is much more dense while the outside is light and and airy and wonderful. Also, what is the right consistency for the frosting? It wasn’t though mine was runny, but it does not look as solid as the photos in the recipe. Is there such a thing as too warm butter? Finally, I found the frosting to be very sweet. Is there a way to cut the sweetness without jeopardizing the frosting? All in all though, the taste is divine and I hope to keep getting better!

    1. I am glad you tried this! I am sorry the one layer fell apart. Not sure why it did or the middle was more dense. The frosting is not runny. Butter should be softened, not melted. That will change it. Not sure what you could do to make it less sweet. You could try regular cream cheese.

    1. So, 3, 6in pans? I haven’t used that size, but I would use less for sure. 3/4 of the amounts, sounds right.

  9. Hello!
    This looks delicious. 😋 My hubby loves pistachios and I am planning to bake this for his upcoming birthday.
    I only have one 8 inch pan. Is it ok to bake the batter in one go? How long would you recommend for the bake time?
    Many thanks!

    1. It needs the 3 pans. It definitely won’t fit in the one. You don’t have to make it a layer cake. I haven’t made it in one pan, but it could possibly fit in a 9×13 or a sheet pan.

  10. 5 stars
    My hubby loves all things pistachio, so I think I need to make him this cake! It’s so pretty, love the layers, & so tasty!

  11. 5 stars
    Yummy! This was so good. LOVE the mascarpone cheese frosting takes it to the next level. DON’T CHEAP OUT and use cream cheese. You’ll LOVE the recipe if you follow all the instructions. SO SO good!

    1. It definitely won’t fit into one, so you would still only need to put the same amount in the pan, as if you were dividing it. It would be the same time.

  12. 5 stars
    Can’t wait to try it for my daughter’s birthday coming up.
    It looks divine! Could I use oil instead of butter ?

    1. Thank you..it is! I personally haven’t tried, so I don’t want to say yes or no. With the butter you mix until creamy & the oil won’t get creamy, so not sure if that will change the outcome.

      1. Thank you. I will give your cake recipe a go, looks lovely. I will use roasted for the cake and raw for the top dressing. What did you do?

        1. I hope you like it! I use either raw or roasted for the whole thing, but I think having both would taste great!

  13. 5 stars
    I made this today for a cafe. It went very quickly! It all worked but I did think the frosting was a but claggy so I added 1 tblsp of boiling water to loosen it. It’s delicious and I will do it again. 

  14. QUESTION
    1 1/2 c. unsalted shelled pistachios – divided How much is this measure in grams?
    2 1/2 c. cake flour- How much is this measure in grams?
    3/4 c. all-purpose flour- How much is this measure in grams?

    1. You will need to find a conversion calculator online, as I don’t have the measurements in grams. Hope you find something 😉

  15. 5 stars
    Excellent recipe and very well structured instructions,thank you for expanding my cake library. A truly memorable cake,devoured so quickly.

  16. Would the taste be altered too much without the almond extract? I just loathe the taste of it and feel it’s so overpowering. Otherwise I’m excited to give this a try this weekend!

    1. It would alter the taste of the cake somewhat but it would probably alter the taste in your favor since you’re not fond of almond extract. There’s two things you can do: You can leave it out all together or try adding about a 1/2 teaspoon more of the vanilla extract and see if that boosts the flavor a bit. Let me know how it turns out. I’d love to hear!