A Green Zebra: Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cake

The birthday boy sheepishly asked if I’d make him a cake the other day. Sheepish because even though most years, I make a cake, last year I ordered cupcakes from a local cupcake shop. This year, with a little boy taking up most of our time, he wondered if that was the course we were on again.

But, of course I’d make him a cake. The question was, what cake. Chocolate of course–always chocolate, preferably dark chocolate. If you’re going to make and eat cake, it should be good cake…the best cake–this is something both of us agree on. A few weeks ago, I sent him a recipe for a Guinness and Whiskey chocolate cake. I thought he’d go for that. But he was nostalgic for a cake I’d made many years ago–a dark chocolate pistachio cake. The original cake was a take on a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe, a dark chocolate devils food cake with mascarpone cheese filling (note, I just learned how to spell that word! I’ve been spelling and probably saying it wrong for years!) and pistachio crunch (hers was hazelnut). A few years ago, I tried something a little different–a chocolate peanut butter cake–a Smitten Kitchen recipe. It was super awesome. 

This year, I decided to do a melding of both of these super tasty recipes. This recipe involves several steps (and a few hours):

  • A dark chocolate cake (Smitten Kitchen’s recipe)
  • A Swiss merengue butter cream it’s so much better than your average butter cream. The difference? American butter cream is basically butter and powdered sugar whipped up–so it’s a little heavy and super sweet. Swiss merengue butter cream involves whipping egg whites and sugar over a pot of water (aka double boiler) and then whipping the whites. It’s silky smooth and pillowy soft. 
  • A homemade pistachio paste (do yourself a favor and get pistachios that already have the shells removed. I tried but the store delivered the ones in shells, so queue a half hour of peeling to get 2 cups of pistachios. tiresome.)
  • Pistachio Crunch (I used this recipe)
Birthday cake!

The Cake: (thanks Smitten Kitchen for an amazing a moist dark chocolate cake recipe!)

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (500 grams) sugar
3/4 cup (about 65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (235 ml) neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup (240 grams) sour cream
1 1/2 (355 ml) cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.

Pistachio Paste

sure you could use store bought, no problem. but this is pretty easy, too. (and not sweet, like store bought)

2 Cups pistachios, shelled (trust me, you don’t want to be standing around shelling them) 2-3 cardamom pods, crushed (I just crushed them with a rolling pin, but you could grind them up)

Boil some water in a saucepan. Turn off the water. Pour your pistachios into the water and let stand for 2 mins. then peel off the brown skins. Why? you’ll end up with a greener paste.

Put the pistachios into a food processor and process until smooth. that’s it. it’ll take a few mins.

The Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I consulted lots of recipes and tutorials, including Liv for Cake, American Cake School, and Martha Stewart. I thought this was pretty helpful: https://livforcake.com/swiss-meringue-buttercream-recipe/ but in the end I used a combo of recipes

  • 5 egg whites (separate the whites and yolks ahead of time and keep in separate bowls). Use the yolks for something else
  • 4 sticks of butter, room temperature and cut into 1 Tbs pieces and then into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 T cinnamon

Note: you’ll need a whisk, a thermometer, and a stand mixer for this

  1. Heat water in a saucepan.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, put your egg whites and sugar.
  3. Place the bowl on top of the hot water (but make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of your bowl). Whip your egg whites and sugar over the hot water until it reaches 160 degrees.
  4. Remove from heat and whip in your stand mixer on medium to high until it reaches stiff peaks and cools down to room temperature, probably about 10 mins
  5. Now lower the mixture speed to low and add your butter one cube at a time (some recipes say 1 T at a time but I think it is too much. You’ll be at this for a few mins until all of the butter is incorporated
  6. then fold in the pistachio paste

The pistachio crunch: I used the one from this recipe: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/lemon-pistachio-crunch-cake-109405

  • 2/3 cup sugar (I used powdered sugar)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1cup natural unsalted pistachios (about 5 ounces)
  • cinnamon and vanilla
  1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper or foil
  2. Add the butter, sugar, and water to your pan. On medium heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat and stir constantly with a spatula until it reaches an amber color (think caramel).
  3. Add the baking soda (it’ll foam).
  4. Add the nuts, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir well
  5. Working quickly, dump out the contents onto the baking pan and spread out. Let cool and then crush up roughly (like toffee)

still with me? Here’s how this all comes together

A layered slice

Cool your cakes well. Make sure they are leveled (hint, a cake leveler when baking would help, and I need to get some!!). My cake had a wee bit of a lean.

Pile 1/3 of the pistachio buttercream onto the first layer. You could add on some crunch (I didn’t because i didn’t have shelled pistachios yet, the husband had gone out to get some but I think it’d be better). Add the second layer, and repeat the buttercream. Repeat the buttercream on the third layer. Refrigerate (i refrigerated overnight). I then decorated with the crunch and some chocolate ganache I had from another recipe. I put the crunch around the top and the sides


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About ds331

A lifelong vegetarian. A foodie. Can there be such a thing? Some restauranteurs don't seem to think so...but many of my veggie friends and family have a little something or two to teach them.
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