Finally, a pistachio cake with a real, punchy pistachio flavour! I love pistachios and LOVE pistachio flavour - it's my favourite flavour of ice cream or dessert.
Unfortunately a lot the desserts and cakes out there that claim to be pistachio are either seriously lacking in flavour or they taste entirely fake. Or even worse, they're made by putting pistachio flavoured jello into the mix - please don't do this!
But this pistachio cake is made from actual pistachios! The soft pistachio sponge cake has both pistachio paste in the batter and chopped pistachios baked into it. Then the pistachio Italian Meringue Buttercream just makes sure you're getting multiple levels of pistachio yumminess in every bite. I think this may be my favourite invention so far!
How To Get a Seriously Flavourful Pistachio Cake - Use Pistachios!
This cake is so packed full of pistachios. There's nothing I hate more than being promised pistachio flavour and then being disappointed by the first bite! To test this, I didn't tell Chris what I was making, then I made him blind taste test the batter before I put it in the oven, and asked him what it was. Immediately he said 'oh wow, is that pistachio?!' So I was happy with that result!
There are three things that gives this pistachio cake its amazing flavour:
I bought some pistachio paste in a specialty food store here in Vancouver. But you can order it online if it's easier. Alternatively, if you can't get your hands on pistachio paste you can buy some raw pistachios and make your own paste. Here's a handy guide from Sweet and Savory by Shinee on how to make your own pistachio paste. Note: If you are buying it, make sure you buy pistachio paste and not pistachio cream - see below for more info.
Of course we have actual pistachios through the pistachio cake! The nuts soften beautifully in the oven so they give just a tiny bit of bite, rather than a crunch. Most stores will stock the roasted and salted pistachios. If you really don't want the salt in there you can shop around for unsalted ones. I actually used salted ones though and I loved how it tasted. You don't notice the salt at all, if anything it cuts through the sweetness a little which is nice.
This really shows off the pistachios and brings out the flavour. Pistachios don't have a naturally strong flavour by themselves. The almond extract kind of pulls it out and gives it a twirl around to show it off. Trust me, don't make pistachio cake without almond extract!
Pistachio Italian Meringue Buttercream
I actually baked the cake first before deciding what kind of frosting to put on this because I wasn't sure how it was going to taste. As soon as I tried a piece of the pistachio cake I knew I wanted to pair a pistachio Italian meringue buttercream with it. Firstly it's a very soft sponge, so an American buttercream or cream cheese frosting would weigh too heavily on it. Secondly, I wanted something which would take on the pistachio flavour well. Something like a cream cheese frosting would have competed with the flavour. Also, and maybe this is just in my head, but I feel like this pistachio cake is a classy dessert and deserves a fittingly classy frosting to accompany it! In my opinion, Italian Meringue Buttercream is about as elegant as it gets!
First, made a batch of my classic Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe. Then I added two tablespoons of Pistachio paste and a teaspoon of almond extract to it at the end. I could easily have just eaten this with a spoon! Silky smooth and pistachio flavoured - it was like room temperature pistachio gelato!
The Difference between Pistachio Paste and Pistachio Cream
If you are buying pistachio paste to use in this pistachio cake recipe, make sure you do pick up pistachio paste and not pistachio cream. The containers may look similar but they are totally different products. Pistachio paste is made from 100% pistachios - that's the only ingredient. They are just blended up extremely finely until the natural oils turn them into a paste. As I mentioned above it's really easy to make your own at home if you can't get your hands on the premade stuff - but I'm much too lazy for that!
Pistachio Cream is an entirely different product. Though personally I always buy some of this too because it's utterly delicious. It still has real pistachios in it but there are a few other things in the mix too. It tastes like a really creamy, delicious kind of pistachio nutella - that's the best way i can think to describe it! I use it in a few other recipes as a filling or topping and may have also spread it on toast once or twice... It is absolutely divine, but for this pistachio cake recipe, you definitely want the 100% pistachio paste.
Why Make Pistachio Cake
Okay so getting your hands on pistachio paste or making your own may make this slightly trickier than a standard recipe, but believe me this pistachio cake is worth it! It's a real showstopper and perfect for a special occasion or a really classy affair. When Chris tried the finished product, he so elegantly said 'It tastes like what rich people eat', which had me cracking up for a good ten minutes!
Ultimately, if you love pistachio ice cream then you are going to absolutely adore this pistachio cake. I promise you it really does deliver on that pistachio flavour that I am often fiending for!
For the Pistachio Cake
Make the Pistachio Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C and line two 8 inch cake pans
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
- Add eggs and beat until combined
- Add sour cream and beat until combined
- Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add a third of it to the batter, mix in slowly until fully incorporated
- Add half the milk and mix in until fully incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour
- Add the pistachio paste and extracts and stir in until fully incorporated
- If you want to add a touch of green colour to the sponge, add a drop of colouring now, though it's beautiful without
- Lastly, stir the chopped pistachios into the batter - make these as fine or as chunky as you'd like
- Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean
- Allow to cool completely before removing from the cake pan - this is a very soft sponge so be gentle with it
Make the Frostting
- Once the cake is cooled, start the frosting. Follow my instructions for Italian Meringue Buttercream
- Once the frosting is ready, whip in the pistachio paste and almond extract - add more or less according to taste
Fill and Decorate
- Level the cakes and cut each cake in half to make four even layers
- Stack the layers, filling an even layer of pistachio Italian meringue buttercream in between each one
- Cover the entire top and sides in buttercream and decorate how you like, I just used a palette knife to create little waves in the frosting - I like how that looks with Italian meringue buttercream as it's so glossy!
- Top with some chopped pistachios of varying sizes