So my birthday was last week (the big 29!), and my wonderful mother-in-law offered to keep Caroline for the afternoon so I could have the day to myself. The way I saw it, I had 3 options: take a nap, go shopping, or bake a cake. After much debate, I ended up baking a cake. I'd had my eye on this pistachio cake from Baked: Explorations for quite some time, and since I had everything on hand, I was set to go.
The cake itself is a little more complicated than a standard layer cake, but not overly so. Some of the pistachios are ground to a fine powder, while some are only roughly chopped. This infuses the entire cake with pistachio flavor, and still gives you some crunch and texture. The cake is also lightened by egg whites, which results in a light, soft, and airy cake. It is slightly sweet, but the pistachios give it a bit of a savory note as well.
The real star of this cake however, is the frosting. The buttercream has a subtle honey flavor, which play off of the pistachios quite well. It is also made using an interesting technique that I had never done before. Milk, cream, flour, and sugar are boiled together, then whipped until cool. Butter is then added, and the frosting is mixed until it comes together. It is then flavored with honey and vanilla. I was a little concerned as I made the buttercream, as it was very thin and was an unappetizing gray color. However, after a few minutes, it magically thickened up and turned into the lovely off-white color you see here.
Not only was this cake fun to make, it was delicious as well. Definitely something a little different from your standard layer cake, and certainly a great birthday cake!
Pistachio Cake with Honey-Vanilla Frosting
- 1 cup shelled pistachios (plus 1/3 cup for decorating)
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon. vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
- 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup honey
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust parchment with flour and knock out excess flour.
In the bowl of food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons’ worth of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery- but not a superfine dust. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, together over the large bowl containing the pistachios mix. Stir to combine.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixture to low.
In a measuring cup, make 1 1/2 cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (You can do this by hand. Don’t be intimidated, it should only take 2 to 3 minutes). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.
Make the honey vanilla buttercream: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add milk and cream and cook over medium heat whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes at least 7 to 9 minutes of mixing) then add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bow over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.
Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving.
This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is humidity free. Otherwise, put it in a cake saver and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Let the cake sit a room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.