Pistachios that have been blended to fine crumbs infuse every bite of this cake with pure pistachio flavor! A whipped honey mascarpone frosting finishes off the pistachio cake beautifully.
This cake really packs in the pistachios! Roasted and salted pistachios are ground into fine crumbs before being whisked into the cake batter. A few drops of optional green food coloring subtly color the cake layers without turning them bright green.
In addition to the pistachios, I used vanilla and almond extracts in the batter for added depth of flavor. The cake is topped off with a whipped mascarpone frosting sweetened with honey and powdered sugar.
This pistachio cake recipe is also made completely from scratch, no instant pudding mixes or shortcuts here! It’s a very easy recipe to master and is an elegant layer cake perfect for any occasion.
To make a pistachio cake from scratch, you’ll need a few special — albeit very easy to find — ingredients. Here’s what you need to stock up on:
- Pistachios: I used shelled, roasted, and salted pistachios for this cake. My favorite brand is Wonderful pistachios.
- Cake flour: I highly recommend cake flour for a softer, lighter cake. If you don’t keep any on hand, you can make your own using cornstarch and regular flour.
- Almond extract: Adds a subtly sweet nuttiness to the cake batter. The cake won’t taste like almond extract, it simply complements the pistachios.
- Buttermilk: Creates a tender crumb and keeps the cake moist. If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can make a substitute in about 5 minutes.
- Green food coloring: Optional, but recommended to lightly color the batter.
- Mascarpone: Similar to cream cheese, but much richer! Make sure your mascarpone is cool but not fridge cold when you make the frosting.
- Honey: Honey sweetens the mascarpone frosting and also adds some flavor. I do not recommend substituting the honey with another liquid sweetener.
How to Make a Pistachio Cake
Although easy to prepare, this pistachio layer cake has a few extra steps than your average cake recipe. Here’s an overview of how the cake and frosting are made:
- Prepare the cake pans: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray before lining them with parchment paper.
- Grind the pistachios: Add the shelled pistachios to a blender or food processor and process until they’re the texture of fine crumbs.
- Whisk the dry ingredients together: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, pistachio crumbs, baking powder, and salt.
- Whisk the wet ingredients together: In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and food coloring (if using).
- Cream the butter and sugar together: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Add the dry and wet ingredients: To the butter mixture, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture. You’ll need to alternate between the two, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
- Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks: In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until the peaks stand straight up when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.
- Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter: I recommend folding in half of the egg whites to lighten the batter, then gently folding them in the remaining egg whites.
- Bake the cake layers: Divide the batter between the three prepared pans, then bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool the cake layers: After about 30 minutes, you can transfer the cake layers to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Once the cake layers have cooled completely, you can make the mascarpone frosting:
- Whip the heavy cream: Using a stand mixer or an electric handheld mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream until medium peaks form. Store the whipped cream in the fridge while you make the rest of the frosting.
- Mix the remaining ingredients together: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the mascarpone, honey, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix at a low speed until just combined.
- Fold in the whipped cream: Remove the whipped cream from the fridge. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture, a little at a time. The mixture may seem soft at this point, this is normal!
- Mix until thick and creamy: Return the bowl to the stand mixer and mix using the whisk attachment just until it’s thickened and creamy. Make sure not to over mix, otherwise, it can cause the frosting to curdle.
- Frost and decorate the cake: I’ve given more detailed instructions in the recipe card on how to frost your cake.
Can the Mascarpone Be Substituted?
The closest substitute would be full-fat cream cheese, but I recommend using mascarpone. Mascarpone has a much higher fat content than cream cheese and results in a richer, creamier frosting.
If you’d like to use cream cheese instead, you can try my cream cheese frosting recipe. I recommend doubling that recipe to have enough to frost and decorate the cake.
Can the Cake Be Made in Advance?
Yes! You can bake the cake layers 1 to 2 days before frosting and assembling the cake. I don’t recommend preparing the frosting too far in advance, but the entire cake can certainly be assembled the morning you plan on serving it.
- I used salted pistachios in the cake batter. If you’re using unsalted, you’ll need to increase the amount of salt in the batter to 3/4 of a teaspoon.
- Make sure not to process the pistachios for too long! If you have a high speed blender, keep a close eye on the pistachios as you’re crushing them. They can quickly go from crumbs to pistachio butter.
- Avoid using room temperature mascarpone as it has a tendency to separate. I usually remove mine from the fridge about 20 minutes before I need to use it, so that it’s still cool and not too warm.
- Make sure not to over mix the frosting! This can cause the frosting to curdle and it won’t be quite as pretty.
- If adding pistachios and honey on top of the cake, I recommend doing this right before serving. Otherwise, the pistachios will soften and the honey will dissolve into the frosting.
More Layer Cake Recipes to Try!
- 2 cups roasted and salted shelled pistachios I used Wonderful Pistachios (275 grams)
- 2 ¾ cups cake flour spooned & leveled (315 grams)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ⅓ cups buttermilk at room temperature (320 ml)
- 2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 3 to 4 drops green liquid food coloring optional, but recommended
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened (2 sticks; 230 grams)
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (350 grams)
- 5 large egg whites at room temperature
Whipped Honey Mascarpone Frosting
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream cold from the fridge (480 ml)
- 16 ounces mascarpone cheese cool, remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before (452 grams)
- 1 cup powdered sugar (120 grams)
- ¼ cup honey (80 grams)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Chopped pistachios
- Honey for drizzling
- To make the pistachio cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, and set aside.
- Place the shelled pistachios into a food processor or blender and process until it resembles fine crumbs. Make sure not to process the pistachios for too long! If you have a high speed blender, keep a close eye on the pistachios as you're crushing them. They can quickly go from crumbs to pistachio butter.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the pistachio crumbs, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and green food coloring in a separate mixing bowl and stir together. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, then slowly mix in the granulated sugar. Once all of the sugar is added, increase to medium speed and continue mixing for another 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar in three additions alternating with the buttermilk mixture (begin and end with the dry ingredients) on low speed. Make sure to only mix in each addition until just combined to avoid over mixing the batter.
- In a separate clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff peaks form (when you lift up the beaters, the peaks should stand straight up). Gently fold half of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans, then use a spoon or spatula to spread it around into one even layer.
- Bake for 23 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 20 to 30 minutes (or until cool enough to handle). Remove the cakes from the pans and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the whipped honey mascarpone frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, add the heavy whipping cream. Start mixing on low speed. Once the mixture starts to increase in volume, increase the speed to medium-high and mix until medium peaks form (almost stiff peaks, but the tips fold over when you lift your beaters up out of the bowl).
- Transfer the whipped cream to the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the frosting.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, add the mascarpone, powdered sugar, honey, and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Do not mix past low speed to avoid over mixing the mascarpone because it can break or become watery.
- Remove the whipped cream from the fridge. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold ⅓ of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture until just combined. Then, fold in the remaining whipped cream. The mixture will be a little soft at this point, this is normal!
- Return the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and mix on low-medium speed until the mixture is thick and creamy. Do not over mix or the mixture may separate.
- To assemble the cake: Level the tops of each cake layer with a knife or cake leveler.
- Add a tablespoon of frosting to the center of a cardboard cake round, a cake stand, or a large serving plate to help the cake stick to the surface.
- Place the first layer of cake onto your work surface. Scoop ¾ cup of frosting onto the first layer of cake and spread it around evenly with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
- Place the second cake layer upside down on top of the frosted cake layer. Spread ¾ cup of frosting onto the second layer of cake and spread it around evenly.
- Place the third cake layer upside down on top. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the outside of the cake to catch any crumbs. If needed, refrigerate or freeze for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. If you want to pipe some decorations on top, I recommend reserving 1 to 1 ½ cups of frosting.
- If desired, add chopped pistachios and a drizzle of honey right before serving.