pistachio cake

I have fallen hard twice today on the wintery mix plastered on the sidewalks and streets.  It’s turned me into a vision of myself 50 years from now – clutching my purse and tip-towing across the crosswalk, so slow I’m still mid-street when the light turns.  First fall I landed on my left wrist, now swollen and purple.  Second fall I landed on my tail bone.  No swelling there yet, but it protests as I awkwardly lower myself into my desk chair. 

And guess what?  NPR says more snow on Friday.  Followed by rain of course.

Bruised, battered, and still achy from all the shoveling, my January tolerance  just officially expired.  

All I want to do is move somewhere warmer, and as that’s not happening any time in the next two and a half months of winter ahead, I’ve turned to cake.  So much for my string of whole grains and lentils.

I’ve been on the look out for something not-crazy-sweet, simple, winter appropriate, and above all delicious to make for an upcoming dinner I’m hosting.  Flipping through the pages of the A16 Cookbook I spied what looked like a lovely pistachio cake next to a pile of sliced oranges.  Having just such a pile of oranges on my counter in need of some cake therapy, I turned the page to find the recipe which turned out to be for Chocolate and Sea Salt Shortbread.  I flipped a page back and found a recipe for Baked Peaches with Zabaglione.  I flipped through the whole dessert section.  I checked to see if two pages were stuck together.  Then I looked in the index – page 257.  Ok, here we go, page 254, 255, 256…259.  On careful inspection, I found that page 257 has been ripped out, so someone, somewhere, had stolen my cake recipe.  Must be a good recipe.

More determined then ever to have my cake (and eat it too), I began consulting various pistachio cake recipes.  The most common ingredient?  Not pistachios, no.  Apparently it’s Jell-O pistachio pudding, people.  Sometimes featured alongside green food coloring and/or a Hershey’s chocolate syrup swirl.  Yowza.

Not really the pistachio cake I had in mind to sit next to my oranges, I turned to this recipe featured in an old issue of Gourmet, and gave it a bit of a tune-up.  The result is a cake both insanely fragrant (pistachios, butter, almond extract, cardamom, and orange zest) and silky textured (buttermilk batter lightened with whipped egg whites.)  It combines all the lightness of a genoise with the rich buttery depth of a pound cake into one happy little loaf.

We plated it for dessert with some sliced cara cara oranges* tossed with a little Grand Marnier and some honey sweetened whipped cream.  I liked it this way sure (John loved it), but it’s also good (maybe better) all on its own.  If you for something plated, keep in mind you can always bake it in a 9 inch round pan or ring mold for a more formal presentation.  Crème fraiche or thick yogurt would be perfect alternatives to the cream.  I can also imagine this making a great base for a layer cake – maybe with some rose water scented meringue, or citrus curd (Meyer lemon would be great), or chocolate. 

*If you haven’t already had these, they’re worth seeking out.  Pink like a grapefruit, they’re the sweetest, juiciest oranges I’ve ever tasted.  Something fresh and refreshing in a notably stale month.

Makes 1 large loaf, enough to serve 8.  Keeps well wrapped up to 1 week at room temperature and freezes well. 

For the Cake

  • ¾ cup, 115g shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 cup, 140g all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup, 113g buttermilk
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • ½ cup, 113g (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup, 226g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp finely grated orange or lemon zest (from about 3 oranges or 4 lemons)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a loaf tin and line the sides with parchment paper.  Place the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment.  Pulse until finely ground.  Be careful not to over do it here as the nuts will turn to nut-butter eventually.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom to the food processor and pulse to combine.  Set aside. 

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and almond extract.  Set aside. 

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Place the yolks in a separate small bowl and set aside.  Whip the whites until stiff peaks form and transfer to yet another small bowl and set aside. 

Wipe out the mixing bowl, and switch to a paddle attachment.  Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and citrus zest and mix until well combined.  Scrape down the bowl. 

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix well after each addition and scrape down the bowl as you go.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the whipped egg whites half at a time using a rubber spatula.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes until golden and set.  A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean when it is fully cooked.  Remove from the oven and cool at least 20-30 minutes before slicing and serving.