Dreamy Pistachio Cake + 31st Birthday

Is it really your birthday if you haven't had any cake?

That's right! It's my birthday! Or rather, it was my birthday on Monday (27 January '89, for the record). I turned 31, which, honestly speaking, feels like a weird age -- in the words of my twin sister (who also turned 31, naturally) it's "sort of random, neither here no there," and I kind of get what she means. After all, there was such a lead up to turning 30, aka the entrance into a new decade and chapter in life; and turning 18, 21, and 25 for example had a similar sort importance (a legal adult, legal drinking age, halfway through my 20s, respectively). Thirty-one -- an odd number for starters, is it just me or do 30 or 32 seem more complete? -- is a bit fuzzier, the next baby step in to a decade that has so far treated me well but still contains much to be seen.  

Hazy-age or not, I celebrated turning 31 for four days straight (!!!) kicking off the celebrations with an elaborate dinner at my new favorite restaurant, Colline Emiliane, followed by an evening at the ballet with my sister, the next day heading to a very Roman lunch with friends, and then capping it all off with a magnificent milanese meal prepared by my friends Julia & Pino
As you can imagine, there was -- unsurprisingly, of course -- a lot of food involved, including, and going back to my initial opener: cake

If today's recipe seems like an odd choice of birthday cake, you'd be right -- after all, it's very unlike the layered, frosted, decorated cakes I celebrated with growing up in the U.S. Having said this however I'll remind you that my favorite sort of cakes tend to be simple, versatile and understated, just like this chic Dreamy Pistachio Cake (note: in the recipe as written, this is simply called Pistachio Cake -- but I feel that this is an excessively plain name that does not do justice to what is a spectacularly special cake). Contrary to its unassuming appearance -- at first glance a golden-brown loaf, nothing more! -- this cake is most certainly a celebration sort of cake. It's moist and rich and buttery with a dense crumb and an incredible (incredible!) hit of  intense, pure pistachio flavor; deliciousness aside, its a stunner, a pale, statement-making emerald green, and a slice of it is perfect not only to celebrate being a year older but also as dessert, or with a cup of tea, or even as an indulgent breakfast the day after your birthday, because hazy-age or not, you only turn 31 once, right? I'm quite certain you're all going to be making this cake anyway -- it would be a crime not to -- but I'd also like to point out that you can whip up this cake entirely in your food processor, meaning there's no softening of butter or mixer or eventual washing of multiple bowls involved. 

Did I mention this cake is dreamy? 

A couple of notes: I bet you could also make this with hazelnuts or almonds or even pecans, if you want to take this cake in a different direction (I will be experimenting with this). This cake is great on the first day but even better on the second, as the ingredients and flavors settle in. This cake keeps at room temperature for several days, wrapped in foil, and also freezes well. Finally, feel free to dress this up with whipped cream, powdered sugar, or berries, if you'd like. 

Looking for other simple cake recipes? I've got this Lemon Ricotta Cake, this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake, this Brownie Ciambellone, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Ricotta Pound cake, this Mimosa (orange and Prosecco) cake, this Triple Orange Pound cake, and this Lemon poppyseed loafLooking for other pistachio-centric recipes? I’ve got this pistachio semifreddo, this pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate fudge, this pistachio shortbread, and this pistachio pesto.


Serves 8-10. Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as adapted from Yossi Arefi's recipe from Sweeter Off the Vine.

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140 grams) roasted, shelled, and unsalted pistachios
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
10 tablespoons (5 ounces or 145 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
3 large eggs
1/4 (60 mL) cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (115 grams) all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (162 degrees Celsius). Line the bottom and long sides of a loaf pan with a parchment paper. Coat paper and exposed short sides of loaf pan with butter and set aside.

Option 1: making the cake with a food processor! In the bowl of your food processor, grind pistachios, sugar and salt together until as powdery as you can get them without it turning to paste. Cut the butter into small chunks and blend with pistachio mixture. It’s going to be lumpy at first, and then balled for a minute, but keep running the machine until the mixture loosens up into a frosting-like consistency, i.e. smooth and shiny. Add eggs, one at time, blending briefly between each, scraping down sides as needed. Add milk, blend to combine. Add extracts and baking powder and blend to fully combine, scraping down the bowl. Add the flour and pulse just until it disappears.

Option 2: making the cake without a food processor! You’re going to want to start with 140 grams pistachio meal or flour and softened butter and can proceed as with a traditional cake. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in milk, then extracts until smooth. Beat in salt and baking powder until fully combined, scraping down bowl well. Add flour and mix just until it disappears.

Whatever method you've used, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread top smooth. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes; look for a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake to come out clean and then, do a second check near the top. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around cake and transfer to cooling rack. Let cool completely before eating. 

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