Implausibly green blanched pistachio batons have danced in my head from the moment I first saw the stunning photograph of Rose’s Sicilian Pistachio Cake With Golden Neoclassic Buttercream (via NPR). I only wish I had been able to find the same gorgeous pistachios, but next time (oh yes, there will be a next time for this cake) I will be sure to order premium model-worthy pistachios. Unwilling to do the multi-store gauntlet, I went to the best (and largest) store, and proceeded with what I was able to get, which turned out to be roasted, shelled pistachios. Delicious, but not beauteous.
I knew the flavor of the roasted nuts would be wonderful, or maybe that was just Shirley Corriher’s roasted nuts refrain from BakeWise stuck in my head. As with the Almond Shamah Chiffon (and many other nut cakes), the nuts are ground together with the sugar to distribute their flavor throughout the cake. As you can see, my batter was peppered with a few large pistachio chunks (and a few whole nuts) and the crumb of the cake was still downy soft. Unlike the Almond Shamah, the larger nut chunks worked perfectly in this cake (the batter alone was amazing).
The Golden Neoclassic Buttercream (egg yolk base instead of egg whites used in Italian/Swiss meringue buttercream) is bona fide with the Lyle’s Golden Syrup, but as I did not have the full measure for this recipe, I used molasses to come up to ¼ cup. Of course, I was concerned the flavor might be a bit strong, but this cake was going to be served to close friends, and I had a hunch molasses would play well with the pistachio. Also note previous refusal to go to a second store.
As you can see from the above photo, my cake was a bit domed as I forgot to encircle the pan with a cake strip. The golden buttercream was dreamy, and I sort of plopped it on in wavy stripes and placed some of the better-looking of my homely (but delicious!) bunch of pistachios in a 70s design to go with my groovy 70s-earth-mother plate. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) were added for their beautiful green color, (which came out more blue in my photographs).
This cake will definitely remain in my repertoire. I adore pistachios, and the dinner party (9) was unanimous in loving this cake: second slices were taken, and one person uttered the heart-fluttering “best cake I have ever had.” Next time I want the brilliant color on the outside! An edited version of the recipe appears below.
[Recipe via NPR, who reprinted this with Rose’s permission. I am happy to offer the edited version of this recipe as it has been published elsewhere online (and I always like to try an author’s recipe before investing in a book), but please buy a copy of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes for yourself. All you bakers will appreciate that the full version of recipes in the book have weight equivalents for all the measurements, a feat that took Rose a lot of time and effort.]
Serves 8 to 10.
2 large eggs, at room temperature, or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces)
2/3 cup, divided, sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup blanched pistachios
1 cup superfine sugar
2 cups cake flour, sifted into the cup and leveled off
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: One 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, encircled with a cake strip, bottom coated with shortening, topped with a parchment round, then coated with baking spray with flour
PREHEAT THE OVEN: Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F/175°C.
MIX THE LIQUID INGREDIENTS: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 3 tablespoons of the sour cream, the vanilla, and almond extract, just until lightly combined.
GRIND THE PISTACHIOS: In a food processor, process the pistachios with the sugar until finely ground but not to a powder.
MAKE THE BATTER: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, the pistachio mixture, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula.
BAKE THE CAKE: Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
COOL AND UNMOLD THE CAKE: Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cool completely.
Golden Neoclassic Buttercream
Makes 2 cups
about 3 large egg yolks, or 3-1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) golden syrup or light corn syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 drops pistachio essence (optional)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon blanched pistachio nuts, slivered or coarsely chopped
BEAT THE EGG YOLKS: Have ready a 1-cup heatproof glass measure, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, with a handheld mixer, beat the yolks until light in color. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, preferably nonstick, combine the sugar, golden syrup, and lemon juice. Using a silicone spatula, stir until all the sugar is moistened. Heat over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to boil around the edges. Stop stirring and continue cooking for a few minutes, until the syrup comes to a rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.
COMPLETE THE BUTTERCREAM: If using a handheld mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don’t allow the syrup to fall on the beaters or the beaters will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, with the mixer turned off, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks. Immediately beat on high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat on high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a silicone spatula to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure and scrape it off against the beater. Continue beating for 5 minutes. Then allow it to cool completely. To speed cooling, place the bowl in an ice water bath or in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally.
When cool, beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time on medium speed. The buttercream will not thicken until almost all of the butter has been added. Add the vanilla and pistachio essence, if using, and beat on low speed until incorporated.
Place the buttercream in an airtight bowl. Use it at once (it will have a slight crunch until it stands for several hours) or up to 4 hours later. If you are keeping it longer, refrigerate it and bring it to room temperature before using. To restore its texture, rebeat it, but not until it has reached room temperature, in order to avoid curdling.
TIP: The sugar syrup must be boiling all over the surface before pouring it into the eggs in order to thicken properly. Using a handheld beater makes it easier to keep the syrup from spinning onto the sides of the bowl. The egg and syrup mixture must be completely cool to the touch before you add the butter. For the finest crystal structure, be sure to use superfine sugar.
If the flavor of your pistachio nuts is on the mild side, 3 drops of pistachio essence added to the buttercream or even to the cake will do much to intensify the flavor.
COMPOSE THE CAKE: When the cake is completely cool, spread a little buttercream on a 9-inch cardboard round or serving plate and set the cake on top. If using the plate, slide a few wide strips of wax paper or parchment under the cake to keep the rim of the plate clean. Frost the top and sides with swirls of buttercream. Coat the top and sides with the slivered or chopped pistachios. If using the paper strips, slowly slide them out from under the cake.
From Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Copyright 2009 by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Published by Wiley. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.