A Perfectly Sweet + Salty Pistachio Cake Recipe

Some cakes are more memorable than others, for example this wonderful homemade pistachio layer cake! Boasting fluffy, pistachio-dotted layers and rich, “you’ll-want-to-eat-it-by-the-trough” cream cheese frosting, this is a cake that you’ll never forget!

Finished, cut pistachio cake

Photos via CakeSpy

The light layers have a luscious flavor thanks to a pistachio batter, and the rich frosting is crowned with an all-over drizzling of dark chocolate, crunchy pistachios and a sprinkle of sea salt. This pistachio cake recipe is sweet (and slightly salty) heaven! 

Finished details of the istachio cake

Pistachio cake recipe

Yield: One two-layer 8” cake

Ingredients for the cake: 

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1½ cups chopped toasted pistachios (measure un-shelled pistachios) 

Ingredients for the frosting: 

  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • Milk or cream, to thin (if needed)
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, melted and slightly cooled 
  • ½ cup chopped or whole toasted pistachios (measure un-shelled pistachios) 
  • Pinch of sea salt

Step 1:

Place two oven racks on the middle level of your oven; preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease, flour and line the bottoms of two 8″ round cake pans with circles of parchment paper.

Step 2:

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Step 3:

whisked egg whites

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until becoming light and fluffy. Transfer the egg white mixture into a separate bowl and set aside for the moment. 

Step 4:

cake batter with butter and sugar

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a rotary beater. Cream the butter and two types of sugar. Mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until fluffy. 

Tip: Using the same bowl that was used for the egg whites is totally fine because everything is going to be mixed together anyways.

Step 5:

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Stir in the vanilla.

Step 6:

Thick cake batter

Add the sour cream and flour mixtures alternately, in 2-3 additions each. Mix until the batter is smooth and lump-free, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The batter will be fairly thick, as pictured above. 

Step 7:

adding pistachios into cake batter

By hand, fold the egg whites into the batter, stirring gently and only until no streaks of white remain. Fold in the pistachios.

Step 8:

pistachio batter in 2 round 8' pans

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating at the 15 minute mark. Insert a cake tester or toothpick in the center of the cake to determine when they are done. It should come out mostly clean.

Step 9:

baked cakes on cooling racks

Remove the cakes from the oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. Then, run a sharp knife around the perimeter of each pan, to loosen the edges. Turn the cakes upside down, onto wire racks, gently peel off the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cooled, level the cakes if necessary.

Step 10:

buttercream cheese icing

Make the cream cheese frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, or until very smooth. Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar and the salt, and stir to combine, first on low then on a higher speed as the sugar is absorbed. Continue adding the sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the frosting has attained your desired spreading consistency. Stir in the vanilla. If at any point the frosting becomes too thick, add milk or cream (1 teaspoon at a time) until the consistency has thinned out to your preference. 

Step 11:

To assemble the cake, stack one of the layers on a platter and apply a generous amount of frosting on top, spreading it evenly all the way to the edges of the cake surface. Place the second cake layer on top; if you have leveled the cake, place the cut side down so that the flattest surface is facing up.

Apply a crumb coat (a thin coat of frosting that is meant to contain crumbs and doesn’t have to look pretty), and let the cake chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Once the crumb coat has set, use the remaining frosting to ice the top and sides of the cake. You can pipe designs or take any liberties with cake decorating that you like! Drizzle with the melted chocolate (I used a crisscross pattern), then sprinkle with the toasted pistachios and a dash of sea salt. Let the chocolate set briefly, then serve in nice big slices! 

Finished, whole pistachio cake

Can’t finish the whole thing in one sitting? Store the cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days.

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