Pistachio cake made with real pistachios, no artificial flavors or colors, frosted with silky white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream and chopped pistachios between the layers.
Why you’ll love this pistachio cake
- It actually tastes like real pistachios, not like artificial flavors.
- The color is natural, no artificial dyes.
- You’ll only need basic cake ingredients and pistachios, nothing fancy.
- It’s frosted with a silky white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream.
- The recipe is very forgiving and allows for many substitutions and dietary restrictions.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Flour: I use cake flour here because it’s finer than all purpose flour and provides a lighter, more tender crumb. The pistachios can kind of make the cake feel more course and dense so I recommend using the cake flour.
- A common cake flour substitute is 1 cup all-purpose flour – 1 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp cornstarch. This works better than just replacing it with AP flour but it is a substitute, not the real deal.
- I recommend King Arthur Cake Flour.
- I HIGHLY recommend using a digital scale, as flour is so often over measured.
- Baking Powder: I use just baking powder because it’s more commonly available to people. If you replace it with baking soda, use just 3/4 tsp and add 2 tsp of vinegar to the cream/milk or replace it with buttermilk.
- Sugar: I used granulated sugar in the cake and the buttercream and I don’t recommend cutting any out as it affects the texture and the flavor of the cake. I also think this cake really isn’t that sweet.
- Pistachios: I used lightly salted pistachios and when measuring them out, make sure they’re already out of their shells.
- There are apparently a ton of different types of pistachios but I just got a big bag from Costco and it looks like a mix of different types, some are brighter green, some are purple-y, some more brownish.
- If you want a more bright green cake color without using food coloring, look for “green skinned pistachios” and I’ll teach you below how to bring out that color more in the cake.
- Butter: I like to use salted butter in my cakes but you can also use unsalted butter. Dairy free butter also works well.
- I use unsalted butter in the buttercream though.
- Oil: I recommend using a neutral oil like sunflower, vegetable or canola oil.
- Eggs: make sure to use room temperature, large eggs. I used only egg whites in this cake because I was trying to bring out the natural green color from the pistachios. The egg yolks would have made the cake more yellow/brown.
- If you don’t want to use just egg whites, you can use 3 large eggs instead.
- Pop them in hot water for a few minutes if they’re cold.
- See options for buttercreams with/without eggs below.
- Sour Cream/Milk/Half and half: I generally just use half milk and half sour cream in my recipes but for cakes that use just egg whites I like to increase the fat a little bit by using heavy cream instead of milk. However, since we’re also adding pistachios, which are high in fat, I settled on using a combo of sour cream and half ‘n’ half.
- This cake would totally be fine with milk or dairy free milk as well. The extra fat does keep it more moist for longer but it will be good either way.
- Vanilla: Since there’s only a subtle hint in this, make sure to use a good quality pure vanilla extract.
- I like to use vanilla bean paste for buttercreams and frostings.
- White Chocolate: I use melted white chocolate chips or even a white chocolate bar chopped up. Use your favorite white chocolate!
Step 1: Start by preparing the pistachios preferably the night before. Boil the pistachios for 2 minutes and then peel the skin off. Let them dry before proceeding. This step is optional but it will produce a finer crumb and a more green color.
Step 2: Make the cake by grinding the pistachios in a food processor with the flour, baking powder and salt until the pistachios are completely blended into the flour mixture.
Step 3: Cream the butter with the sugar for a couple of minutes and then add the oil and beat for another couple of minutes until it’s pale.
Step 4: Add the egg whites, one at a time and beat at medium-high speed for about a minute, until each one is fully incorporated.
Step 5: Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix just until they’re fully incorporated.
Step 6: Add half of the dry ingredients, stream in the half ‘n’ half followed by the other half of the dry ingredients, mixing just until the last streak of flour is combined.
Step 7: Distribute the batter evenly among the four cake pans. You should get about 12 ounces in four 6 inch cake pans.
Step 8: Bake for about 30-ish minutes. When the cake is done baking, it will release itself from the edge of the pan and spring back when you press on the center. Flip the cakes over onto a cooling rack or a tea towel right away. Allow them to cool to room temperature.
Step 9: Make the buttercream by cooking the egg whites with the sugar over a double boiler until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Step 10: Beat the egg whites and dissolved sugar for 5-10 minutes at full speed until they’re super fluffy and no longer warm. Then add the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, beating until it comes together. See my post on swiss meringue buttercream for troubleshooting.
Step 11: Add the vanilla, melted white chocolate and salt and beat just until it’s well combined.
Step 12: Layer the cake with the buttercream and ground pistachio chunks. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes and then frost the cake (double the buttercream if you want to do fancy decorations/piping).
How to get a green color for pistachio cake
- Buy “green-skinned pistachios”.
- Prep the pistachios by placing them in boiling water for 2 minutes. Then drain and rinse them and peel the skin off. Removing the skin provides a finer crumb and a less brown/more green color.
- Use green food coloring if you please. I didn’t use any but I would start small with 1-2 drops of Gel food coloring.
The difference in the two cakes below is that I skipped prepping the pistachios. I used the same type and didn’t use any food coloring but you can see that the cake that was made with the skin has a slightly more earthy color and course crumb. It’s hardly noticeable but if you look closely lol.
I chose Swiss meringue buttercream because I wanted a really fluffy and silky texture and I wanted a white buttercream next to the green-ish cake. But since I also used only egg whites in the cake that means we’re using 9 egg whites in this whole cake and no egg yolks. That can be pretty inconvenient (you can make my pistachio cookies with egg just egg yolks if you need to get rid of some).
To help brighten the color
- make sure to whip the butter for 5-10 minutes, scraping the edge of the bowl every few minutes. This will significantly lighten the color of the butter.
- Using cheaper, low quality butter is much more pale in color than butters like Kerry Gold (granted they don’t taste as good lol).
- Using half or all shortening instead of butter will make the whitest color because there’s no yellow hue like butter (which certainly won’t taste better than butter).
- Add vanilla beans to the buttercream – the black speckles will give it a cool toned perception but it’ll be speckled up close.
- Add a TINY drop of purple food coloring to cool down the hue.
If you want to use up the leftover egg yolks from the cake, you can make a french buttercream but the color will be significantly more yellow.
If you just want to use whole eggs, you can download the guide below to get my whole egg buttercream recipe!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use dairy free butter, dairy free milk/buttermilk to make any of my cakes. You can also use dairy free butter and white chocolate to make the buttercream.
You can make this cake in:
Three (or four) round or square 6 inch baking pans – I used round
Two round (or three) or square 8 inch baking pan
Two round or square 9 inch baking pan (will be thinner than the cakes in the photo) – reduce bake time by 5-10 minutes
One square 10 inch baking pan – increase bake time by 10-15 minutes, look for ques.
A 9×13 inch pan – increase bake time by at least 10-15 minutes, look for ques.
Cupcakes – Should make about 23 cupcakes, bake for 16-18 minutes
Just like all the rest of my cakes, I test if it’s done baking by pressing gently on the tallest part of the cake. The cake will spring back if it’s done baking. If it stays indented, give it a few minutes in the oven, before testing again.
You can also insert a toothpick into the center of the cake (the tallest part) and make sure it comes out clean or with a few crumbs but without any batter on it.
You can double the recipe for the buttercream if you want to decorate the outside more than I did.
How to make ahead
To make the cake ahead of time you can make the cakes even a month in advance. When you remove them from the oven, let them cool for about half an hour and then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Then place them in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air.
You can frost them while they’re frozen but the buttercream may start to set so you’d have to work quickly. It’s best to let them sit out at least 30 minutes before frosting.
To make the buttercream ahead of time: I don’t prefer to make buttercream ahead of time as it can be temperature sensitive but this buttercream does work well. You can cover it and leave it at room temperature for 1-2 days or refrigerate or freeze it in an airtight bag or container for weeks. Make sure to bring it back to room temperature well before frosting the cake.
To prep the pistachios just follow the instructions and let them sit out at room temperature for a couple of days before using.
How to store finished cake
I usually just cover my cakes with a cake dome or place it in an airtight container and store it at room temperature for 1-2 days.
It’ll stay well covered in the fridge for 4-7 days but it dries out quicker than the freezer so I recommend freezing after 2-3 days.
To freeze the whole cake, refrigerate it until it’s firm. Then wrap it in plastic wrap so it’s completely covered. Then wrap it in aluminum foil and freeze.
To freeze slices, place the slices in an airtight container and then place the container in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air or do the above with each individual slice.
Bring it back to room temperature by thawing at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
Thanks so much for reading today’s post, if you have any questions just comment down below. Make sure to leave it in the comment section because I can’t answer in the rating section.
If you make this lovely pistachio cake, I’d love it if you left a star rating for me. If it’s less than five stars, please let me know why! 🙂
As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!
- 3 cups (360mL) water
- 1 1/2 cups (6oz/175g) lightly salted pistachios (no shells)
- 2 cups (240g) cake flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 1/2 cups (6oz/175g) pistachios, finely ground
- 1 Tbsp (10g) baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (113g/1 stick/4oz) unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (59mL) vegetable oil
- 5 large (160g) egg whites, room temperature*
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 3/4 cup (170g) sour cream
- 3/4 cup (177mL/6oz) half and half, room temperature
White Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream**
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (6oz) white chocolate chips, melted
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Tiny pinch of sea salt
- 3-4 oz of lightly salted pistachios, finely ground
*This is optional but will give you a finer crumb and more green color.
- Start by bringing a small pot of water to a boil.
- Add the pistachios (without the shell) to the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain the pistachios, rinse them with cold water and then dump them on a paper towel to soak excess liquid.
- Peel the skin off the pistachios. This is tedious and will take some time but this will give you a finer crumb and more green color. Let the pistachios dry completely before grinding them up (if they’re wet they’ll turn into a paste).
- Preheat the oven to 350F (177C) convection (325F/163C conventional) and grease and line four 6 inch cake pan with baking spray and parchment paper.
- Place the fully dried pistachios in the bowl of a food processor and pulse at full speed for 2-3 minutes until they’re as ground as they’re going to get (don’t turn it into a paste).
- Add the cake flour, baking powder and salt to the food processor and let it run for a few more minutes at full speed until the pistachios just about blend into the flour mix.
- Place the room temperature butter and the granulated sugar in a large bowl and use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment to beat them for 2 minutes, scraping the edge of the bowl halfway through.
- Add in the oil and beat for another 1-2 minutes, at full speed, until it's pale and fluffy.
- Add the egg whites, 1-2 at a time, beating on medium speed between each addition for about 1-2 minutes, until each egg is fully incorporated and the batter is fluffy.
- Add the vanilla extract and sour cream and beat just until they're combined.
- Add half of the dry ingredients to the batter, turn the mixer up to low speed and stream in the half and half, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Spread the cake batter in the prepared cake pans and bake for 30 minutes, until it releases itself from the edge of the pan and/or springs back if you gently press on the center of it.
- Flip over onto a tea towel and allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
White Chocolate Buttercream
- Bring a small pot with 1/2 cup of water to a boil and lower the heat to simmer.
- Place the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place the bowl over the simmering water for 5-10 minutes, whisking intermittently until the granulated sugar is completely dissolved.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the bowl of egg whites from the heat. Use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites with the sugar. Beat for 7-10 minutes on high speed and then lower the speed to low-medium.
- Slowly add 2 Tbsp of butter in at a time. Wait for the butter to incorporate before adding the next chunk. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer up to high speed for a few seconds, until it comes together.
- Meanwhile, melt your white chocolate. I do 20 second intervals in the microwave, stirring between each interval until it’s melted. Allow it to cool slightly (not enough to re-harden).
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape the edge of the bowl of buttercream, add the vanilla bean paste (or extract), the melted white chocolate and the salt and beat until it's fully combined. (DON’T stream in the white chocolate while the mixer is running or you’ll cool the melted chocolate as your adding it and you’ll get little hardened bits of white chocolate chunks throughout the buttercream).
- Place the first layer of cake onto a flat surface and frost with a generous layer of buttercream.
- Push the frosting a little bit higher around the edges to create a little edge. Spread the ground pistachios on top of the buttercream, leaving the higher edge exposed so it sticks to the next layer of cake.
- Place the next layer of cake on top and repeat until all the layers are assembled.
- Refrigerate the cake for 20-30 minutes and then use the rest of the buttercream to lightly frost the outside (double buttercream recipe for fancy decorating).
- Top with more ground pistachios and serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
*If you don’t want to use just egg whites, you can use 3 large eggs instead.
**If you don't want to use just egg whites again, you can make my french buttercream or my whole egg buttercream (link for downloadable recipe is in blog post) but the color of the buttercream will be more yellow. You can also make American buttercream which will be more white but it will be much sweeter, if you like that!