Honey Pistachio Cake

Slice of honey pistachio cake on a plate with the full cake and a mug in the background

Jordan: This is a good cake.

Kitra: I’d make this again on a non-Cake Day. It was so easy, so low stress, and so damn good.

One of the best effort-to-outcome ratios we’ve ever had for sure.

This all started with honey powder that we picked up on trip to New York over 2 years ago. As soon as we saw it, a pistachio cake with honey frosting was the goal.

Like baklava, but in cake form and without having to wrestle phyllo dough. The cake has a great pistachio flavor, nutty and not too sweet.

The frosting is so delightful, I’d like to put it on everything. The topping adds just the right baklava flair (and more pistachios!).

Honestly, we don’t know what else to say about this cake. We ate it in total silence: no critique, no chit chat. Just cake.

Top-down image of pistachio cake with honey-glazed pistachios on top

Honey Pistachio Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Notes

This frosting uses honey powder, which is essentially just dehydrated honey. We bought ours at Kalustyan’s in New York, but you can also order it online or check at specialty food stores near you. If you don’t want to seek it out, feel free to try one of the many honey buttercreams on the internet. Stella Parks’s Honey Italian Buttercream is probably great, albeit a bit more complicated than a standard buttercream.

We used a food processor for the cake itself, but you can also make this with a stand or handheld electric mixer and it won’t add much time to the process. We thought of it too late, but in the directions below we have you make the frosting in food processor before the cake so you only have to wash it once. We did our frosting in a mixer, but no one likes extra dishes.

Pistachios should be roasted, shelled, and unsalted in both the cake and the topping. If you want a fun green color and a boring task to entertain yourself, you could probably blanch the pistachios before using. If using a mixer, you’ll need to find pistachio meal instead; use 140g rather than trying to measure by volume.

Feel free to add some spices to the cake batter to really emphasize the baklava flavor. A bit of cinnamon and/or cardamom would be great here.

Ingredients

Frosting

  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup (70g) honey powder
  • 1 cup (120g) powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140g) pistachios (see note)
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (5 oz.) unsalted butter, cold is fine if using a food processor, softened if using a mixer
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (115g) flour

Topping

  • ½ cup (60g) pistachios
  • 2 ½ tablespoons (50g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • pinch of salt

Directions

Frosting

In a food processor: Add all frosting ingredients to the bowl of your food processor. Process until thick and fluffy, scraping down as necessary. Transfer to a separate bowl and scrape/wipe out the food processor as best as possible, but no need to wash.

With a mixer: Beat the butter on its own until it is soft. Sift in the honey powder and powdered sugar and mix to combine. Add the vanilla extract and beat until the frosting is thick and fluffy. Transfer frosting to a separate bowl and scrape/wipe out the mixer bowl and beater as best as possible, but no need to wash.

Cake

Preheat oven to 325°. Line the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper, then butter or spray the sides of the pan.

In a food processor: Add the pistachios, sugar, and salt and process until they are a very fine powder. Chunk up the butter, add it to the mix, and process until it becomes smooth and soft. Add eggs one at a time, blending in between and scraping the bowl down if need be, then blend in the milk and extracts. Add baking powder and blend again. Add the flour and pulse until everything is just combined.

With a mixer: Beat the softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between each, then add milk and extracts and beat to combine. Mix in salt and baking powder. Add flour and mix until just combined.

Both methods: Spread the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Move to a wire rack to cool.

Topping & Assembly

Once the cake has cooled fully, make the pistachio topping. Combine pistachios, honey, salt, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is slightly thickened and everything smells great. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you assemble the rest of the cake.

Carefully divide the cake into two layers. Spread frosting gently on top of the bottom layer, going all the way to the edges. Replace the top layer.

Once the pistachio glaze has cooled enough to no longer be runny, use a spoon to scoop the pistachios out and place them on top of the cake. Drizzle the remaining liquid over top. Serve.

Pecan Browned Butter Cake

Pecan browned butter cake, topped with whipped cream and strawberries and missing a slice

Jordan: Let’s start by saying that this cake was delicious.

Kitra: It tastes like pralines, and that wasn’t even the intent. It’s that lovely.

Think nutty, buttery, and lightly caramelly. We ate more than half the cake in one sitting.

Added bonus: no wheat! Which generally is… not a bonus. But it’s good here.

That said, we failed at one part of this cake. Or rather, I failed at it. (Kitra was just along for the ride.) The original cake included cornmeal, but in an attempt to make it kosher for Passover, we swapped that out. We also swapped out the small amount of all-purpose flour (which also makes it gluten-free)… Unfortunately, I remembered too late that rice flour, which we used, is still kitniyot, just like corn is.

It’s totally doable to make this work though if that’s your goal. Just don’t arbitrarily pick rice flour like we did.

It wasn’t arbitrary! It was recommended by the people in the comments as a gluten-free swap, and I already had it in my pantry. It was, however, not fully thought-out. Fun side story: I’ve also done this in the other direction. I once used a kosher for Passover recipe to make cookies for a gluten-free friend and realized as they were going in the oven that matzo meal is, you know, decidedly not gluten-free. Cookies were good though.

I enjoyed them.

I’ll also note that this cake is kosher for Passover if you eat kitniyot (corn, rice, legumes, etc.), which as far as I can tell is mostly a matter of how strong your feelings are about tradition, unless you’re Orthodox.

Jordan has done a lot of research and needs more outlets for it. I just like cake and know I should eat less wheat because it doesn’t always make me feel great but I’m in denial.

In my defense, there are a lot of topics I have done unnecessary research on but this is not one of them. It just comes from being the only non-Jew at my boyfriend’s mother’s Passover seders. Ask me about World War I facial surgery and then we’ll get into some unnecessary research.

We should end on something other than facial surgery. So: this cake is great and you should eat over half of it in 20ish minutes. No regrets.

Pecan browned butter cake topped with whipped cream and a pile of sliced strawberries

Pecan Browned Butter Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Watt’s Grocery

Notes

We made some significant changes here, the biggest of which was swapping the cornmeal for more pecan, which Deb Perelman does in another nut/cornmeal recipe of hers. This has the added benefit of eliminating the three-hour resting time in the original recipe and allowing it to be made entirely in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you’ll want to swap in an equal weight of ground nuts (pecans or other) and simply combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the butter, eggs, and vanilla.

If you want to make this rice-free, you could probably swap the rice flour for about 2 tablespoons of potato starch. (Fair warning that we haven’t tried this ourselves.) If you don’t cake about it being gluten-free and don’t want to buy another type of flour, feel free to use 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, as in the original recipe.

Finally, we found this cake to be a little on the sweet side, so we’ve marked a bit of the sugar as optional.

Ingredients

  • 9 tablespoons (4.5oz) butter, cold is fine
  • 1 cup (100g) pecan halves, toasted and cooled
  • 1 cup (120g) powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup (35g) rice flour (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • lightly sweetened whipped cream and berries of your choice, for topping (optional)

Directions

First, brown the butter. In a small pan, melt the butter and cook it over medium-low heat until it begins to turn brown and smell nutty. Watch it carefully once it starts to get foamy, stirring frequently, as it can burn easily. Once it’s nicely browned, pour it into a small bowl and put it in the fridge or freezer to cool.

Preheat your oven to 325°. Line the bottom of a 9-inch tart, pie, or cake pan with parchment paper (don’t skip this!) and generously butter the sides.

In a food processor, pulse pecans and sugar(s) until finely powdered. Add rice flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse again until combined. Once the butter has cooled to room temperature, pour it into the food processor along with the egg whites and vanilla, and blend until thoroughly combined.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. A toothpick won’t tell you anything useful here, so bake it until the edges are golden and the center is set. If you lightly tap the center, it shouldn’t leave much of an indentation in the cake once it’s done.

Let cool completely before topping with whipped cream and berries. Eat in one sitting (optional, but encouraged).