Cakes · Desserts

Pistachio Cake with Honey Buttercream (Aunt Sassy Cake)


I’ve heard many people say that they don’t like cakes. Perhaps it’s all that artificially sweet frosting and the overly fancy neon colored flowers, squiggles, balloons, bears, and sponge bobs that adorn cakes these days. Shhh, it’s just a way to fool the consumer in believing that a cake that looks pretty also tastes good. That kind of reminds me of Extraordinary Desserts….I shouldn’t have said that out loud, should I have? Why San Diego are you so obsessed with the not-so-extraordinary desserts?

Now this is a cake that may leave you puzzled with the combination of flavors and baking methods, but it is truly extraordinary. I have made it 3 times in past 2 weeks: for Mother’s Day, a lovely friend’s graduation, and to make my coworkers fat (I’m spiteful like that). I have leftover pistachios and if I weren’t out of sugar, there would be a fourth cake in the fridge…or maybe I’d be devouring it right now.

I have a boss that rarely eats my desserts (even the tiramisu). Something is terribly wrong with him aside from the fact that he lives in PB,  claims to not like desserts, needs to watch his manly figure, and works out obsessively at the gym. The first time when I brought a small tester cake into the office, he made a joke that he needed his own personal cake before he tried it. Deflection noticed but not forgotten. So now the challenge was on. Two days later, I left a personal-sized cake on his desk with a sticky note, “for your royal highness.”


One day later, my boss returns with the empty tupperware. His story? He had to go to the gym and play soccer before he ate the cake. After all that physical activity (I’m tired just thinking of it), he goes to the kitchen to just take one bite of the cake. Then there was another bite, and another, and he didn’t even sit down until it was gone.

I want to laugh evilly as I think about how I’ve ruined his figure for one day. I did put extra whipped cream and buttercream frosting on the cake too. Maybe two days.


Note: The cake recipe is written for a 3 layer cake. I made the recipe into one 9×13 sheet layer cake (stamped with round cookie cutters to make smaller cakes) and two 6-inch rounds. Adjust baking time appropriately.



  • 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

Whipped Cream:

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 Tablespoon cold water
  • 1 cup cold heavy or whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Honey Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 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
  • 3 tablespoon honey

Chocolate Ganache:

  • 0.5 cup heavy cream
  • 4.5 oz bittersweet or dark chocolate (I use Callebaut)


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 40-45 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 whipped cream: Fill a small bowl with the water and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let the gelatin absorb the water for about 10 minutes. Microwave the gelatin for 10-15 minutes until melted.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream until it gets thick and starts to form peaks.  Gradually make your way to high speed otherwise you will be wearing it.  And so will your counters, ceiling, floors, you get the idea. Gradually add in your sugar.  I used confectioners sugar here, but usually I am too lazy and use plain old granulated sugar.Add in the gelatin (if the gelatin starts starts to clump, microwave it for a few seconds until it is liquid again). Add in vanilla (use vanilla bean paste if you have it). Place the whipped cream back in the fridge to allow it firm up,

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 whipped cream on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for bout 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as the crumb coating and will help keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15-20 minutes to it firm up before serving.

Chocolate ganache layer: Place the chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot. When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

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 1 hours before serving.

Adapted from Baked Explorations


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