It’s my friend Jennifer’s 30th birthday today and she needed a special cake. Kyna and I decided that since she’d recently snapped a photo of a slice of pistachio cake and sent it to me, pistachio would do the job. I had a hard time choosing between two recipes: Bakeds and one from Smitten Kitchen. In the end, Bakeds won out only because it seemed like it would be easier and I had to bring two birthday cakes to work on the same day. I vow I will some day make the Smitten Kitchen Pistachio Petit-Four Cake. Someday when I have more time!
The cake I made is one and a half times the amount called for in the original recipe, was six thick layers and eight inches tall! Note that the below recipe is my slight adaptation. If you want the original recipe, click here.
- 1 1/2 plus 1/3 cups shelled pistachios
- 3 3/4 c. cake cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1 1/8 c. all-purpose all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 T. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 stick) butter, softened
- 3/4 c. vegetable shortening
- 2 5/8 c. sugar
- 1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 1/4 c. ice cold water
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 3/8 tsp. cream of tartar
- 2 1/4 c. sugar
- 3/4 c. all-purpose all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 c. whole whole milk
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 36 T. (4 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 c. honey
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread pistachios on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool.
- Grease 3 (8″ x 3″) round cake pans with butter or shortening. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease paper and dust pans with flour, tapping out excess.
- In a food processor, pulse 1/3 cup pistachios until chopped. Remove and set aside for garnish. Pulse remaining 1 1/2 cups pistachios until chopped; remove 3 tablespoons and set aside in a medium bowl. Process remaining pistachios just until finely ground to a powder. Sift cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into the bowl with the 3 tablespoons chopped pistachios. Stir in pistachio powder.
- In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, scraping bowl, about 1 minute. Add 2 1/4 cups sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. With mixer on low speed, beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. Beat in flour mixture, in 3 additions, alternating with the cold water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until blended, scraping bowl; then beat batter 15 more seconds. Scrape into a large bowl.
- In a stand mixer with whisk attachment (and a clean bowl), beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. With mixer on medium-high speed, add 3/8 cups sugar and beat just until soft peaks form; do not over beat. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold whites into batter just until no white streaks remain. This will take a significant amount of time.
- Divide batter between prepared pans and gently spread evenly. Stagger pans on oven racks so pans are not directly above one another. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around sides and turn cakes out onto racks. Remove parchment paper. Flip cakes again and let cool completely. If you’re not frosting immediately, wrap in saran wrap and freeze.
- In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk sugar and flour until well blended. Add milk and cream and whisk until smooth. Set pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool completely, at least an hour but probably longer. Stick it in the fridge to cool it down faster.
- In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in cream-flour mixture, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating until blended with butter. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in honey and vanilla. (As an aside, the original recipe would have called for four and a half tablespoons of honey. I kept adding honey thinking I could get a nice honey-flavored frosting. That never happened.) Refrigerate until buttercream holds its shape and is thick enough to spread, about 20 minutes.
- Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread top with 1 cup buttercream. Repeat with another cake layer and 1 cup buttercream. Add last cake layer, top-side up. Spread sides and top of cake with about 3/4 cup buttercream to crumb coat. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Frost with remaining buttercream. Garnish cake with reserved chopped pistachios. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before serving; cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days. If cake is refrigerated for more than 15 minutes, let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving.
I was super nervous about two things: transporting this damn cake to work (I normally drive like a Nascar driver) and the moisture level of the cake. When I was assembling the cake it seemed a bit crumbly and dry. I was terrified it was going to be dry.
I live in Portland, also known as Bridge City. To get to work I have to cross the Willamette River. There are several bridges you can cross up throughout Portland to get across this river and there are two that good options near me, one of which has been closed the last three days. The closure of this bridge has been a massive headache not only in my neighborhood but on traffic throughout the city. Gridlock has cascaded up and down the Willamette as drivers adjust to the loss of one bridge.
This morning, 5:30 am, I went my normal route to get across the river and got stuck in traffic that was not moving before I could even get near my bridge. One of the lanes was closed due to a police squad car searching for a man who jumped off the bridge some two hours earlier. (The man was later found deceased.) Unexpected lane closures and driving as slow as most Portlanders normally drive in order to keep my three cakes stationary, nearly made me late for work. But I got the cakes to work all in one piece.
As for the moisture, my fears were unwarranted. The texture of the cake was less dense than I’m normally used to but it wasn’t dry at all. Everyone was uber impressed by this cake. Kyna took half of the cake back to her area of the building where it was a balmy 79 degrees. A relative stranger messaged me to tell me the cake was fantastic.
As an aside, it’s my friend Sam’s birthday tomorrow, and I brought a six-layer cake in for her as well (and a three-layer “screw-up” cake for my department to enjoy). Sam got the German Vanilla Cake. I asked her to give one of our managing directors a piece because I know how much he loves when I bake. Not long after that word got round that there was a fantastic coconut maple cake somewhere in the vicinity. While the pistachio cake has show-stopping looks, the German Vanilla Cake usually wins in taste (unless you’re not a fan of coconut). Both cakes went over equally well.