Girl Eats Pistachio Cake

I’ve had a very hard time trying to put this cake into words.  So I’m just going to introduce it to you bare bones. Dick and Jane-style.  Ready. Set. Go.

Girl sees pistachio cake. Girl orders carrot soup.  Girl takes a bite of boy’s cake he has ordered.  Girl does this sort of thing from time to time. Girl recognizes this behavior is probably annoying. Never mind. Girl tastes pistachio cake.  Girl will never be the same.

I first had this cake in 2010 at Rose Bakery in Montmartre. Though I was pretty involved in my bowl of soup at the time, I cannot live on soup alone.  At least not well. And certainly not well when in Paris. 

Admittedly, I had a simple meal at Rose Bakery. But it was a meal to remember. Particularly the cake.  It didn’t matter that I only had a taste of it off my patient travel companion’s plate. It was enough.  

And recently one bite was all it took to bring me back to the stark white walls of Rose Bakery. To see their square-shaped tarts.  And remember the wine at lunch which painted the rest of the day in a verre de vin rouge-colored tint. 

Flash forward to 2012. I was in my pajamas in my apartment in Beacon Hill, reading food52, when I came across a recommended cookbook.  Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery.  I thought about buying it for all of 6 seconds. 

You probably aren’t shocked by this: as my first order of business, I made pistachio cake.  And it’s a charmer. Don’t be alarmed if the batter initially portrays itself as a bit of a waif, despite its heavy reliance on nuts, eggs, and butter.  And after the ingredients get creamed and folded, it presents with an almost soufflé disposition, which is a tad worrisome for a loaf cake with such unapologetically rich building blocks. 

In fact, there is potentially a lot to question here.  It uses only a 1/3 cup of flour.  It requires an aggressive amount of rosewater.  The pistachio nut glaze is called in to cover the cake after the cake has cooled.  No matter.  The slightly sticky syrup, laced with lemon, seeps down into the cake’s middle and helps keep it moist and glistening.  And it manages to do all of this without coming off as heavy or overdone (despite all that rose).  Which is all so very French.

Once cooked, it morphs into the cake you might expect.  Or the cake that you might remember, if you’ve been to Rose Bakery.  The memory of it traveled quite easily, across the Atlantic, and a little down the coast.  And it tasted just as it had in Paris.  

So in the end this is a very happy story, kids.  Girl eats cake.  Girl bakes cake.  Girl eats cake, again.  Girl plans to bake cake again, immediately.  So girl can be transported back to Paris whenever she damn well pleases. Girl is going to get a folk.

Pistachio Cake
Adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery


For the cake

1 cup butter, softened
1 generous cup caster sugar (see note)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp of rosewater
Splash of vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground pistachios
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the pistachio topping

½ cup pistachios, whole
¼ cup caster sugar
1 lemon, juice and zest
Pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the sides and bottom of a loaf pan and then line it with parchment paper so the paper fits snuggly in the pan without crinkling too much (it will need to be a little shorter in length than your cake pan to do this).

Beat the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy (a few minutes) and then mix in the lemon zest, rosewater, and vanilla extract.  Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Fold in the ground almonds, ground pistachios, flour, baking powder, and salt and pour into your prepared pan.  Bake until a knife comes out clean after being inserted into the center of the cake.  (The recipe states this should take about 40 minutes, but it took me a good 90 minutes, so you may want to keep that in mind.  I was getting a bit nervous, until I remembered Molly posted a similar recipe ... and she recommended a similar bake time.)  When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack.

After the cake has cooled, heat the ingredients for the topping together in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is just melted; pour over the cake.

Makes 1 loaf.

-Instead of using caster sugar, I ground up granulated sugar in the food processor until it was powder consistency. (You’ll likely be using a food processor anyways for the nuts, so you can avoid this speciality item if you don’t have it.)

-The recipe called for 2 (!) tablespoons of rosewater.  I love rosewater, but I was a bit nervous about all that perfume.  1 tbsp worked out fine, though you could always experiment with less.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend more.

-I ground the almonds and pistachios in a food processor, being careful to watch that they didn’t start to turn into nut butter.  You want them as finely processed as you can get them.

-This cake kept quite well in a ziplock bag for a number of days (at least 3).

-This girl just so happens to be going to Paris in less than a month!  This girl is very excited.


  1. Wow, that cake looks amazing! I would also be pretty wary of all that rosewater, though. Floral does not = food to me. On the other hand, pistachios embedded in tender cake definitely sound great! I will just have to give it a try and see how it works out. :)

  2. What a sophisticated cake! I always want to buy rose water but never know what to use it for besides cocktails.

  3. Girl shares cake with some lucky ladies. This cake was AMAZING!!!

  4. pistachios are criminally underused. i'm pretty sure they're my favorite type of nut, and i would LOVE this cake!

  5. Oh my, what a lovely looking cake. I haven't been making nearly enough everyday cakes to go with afternoon coffee for quite awhile, and I'm sure my boyfriend would agree. Though I'm not usually one for floral flavours--at least not on their own--I'd like to know how rose and pistachio play together. (I'm sure I've had them together before in baklava without realising it. I just need to get over associating the flavour of roses with air fresheners from my childhood.) I'm putting this cake on my to-make list!

  6. Such a beautiful cake! Have fun in Paris!!

  7. I think this cake looks fabulous. Pistachios are one of my favorite nuts and I wish I had a piece!

  8. I just wanted to say a big thank you for the recipe. I had a similar pistachio cake and been looking to re-create it for a long time. Just made it today and it was great! Thanks again!

  9. Anonymous-I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Was a fond memory found for me as well. Cheers! -Emily