Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Spring is in the air. The sun is shining, the coats are coming off and all I can think of are the beautiful flowers that will soon come into bloom and because we are getting our backyard redone in about a month and I cannot wait! Spring is the inspiration for this cake, but these classic flavors pair together in a way that can be enjoyed in any season of the year.
Throughout this post are hacks, tips, and even some of my fails or shall we say missteps. Keep reading to learn some simple techniques and time saving strategies.
As a hobby baker, I love... no I live for making cakes for my family and friends. So when a dear friend of mine had a birthday, during a lockdown, I did not want to disappoint. I told (not asked) that I would make her a birthday cake and then asked her what flavor(s) she wanted. She immediately burst out, chocolate! And even though she isn't gluten free, you know I have to make a gluten free cake. I don't even own normal all-purpose flour!
Chocolate is classic. everyone loves chocolate. I get it. But truth be told, I secretly wanted to make something with fruit. I wanted color, tartness and sweetness. Chocolate and raspberry of course is my typical go-to, it's amazing. It's always a crowd pleaser. But I wanted to experiment and try something out of the ordinary.
Then it hit me. Green. What is green, pistachios of course! (Don't hate me, but I hate mint and chocolate together so no, I was not going to do a mint chocolate chip cake. Mint belongs in a cocktail or as a garnish on thai food with fresh cilantro. It does not belong with chocolate. Don't even get me started on thin mints, gross. I'll take those Caramel deLites any day)
Pistachios are that nut that everyone knows but it doesn't come immediately to mind when baking. Peanuts are popular in America, duh peanut butter is king. Here in Europe, hazelnuts are much more popular, because Nutella is clearly the most indulgent spread that was ever invented. Pistachios are my go-to nut. I have such fond memories of sitting with my dad in the kitchen, watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball and cracking open the shells so that these little green beauties could immerge.
Now that I'm baking and not sitting staring at a baseball game, buying pistachios that are already shelled will definitely help you save time.
This cake is simple and elegant, with just a few fresh ingredients and some technique, even a beginning baker can achieve success.
Here are all the elements:
3 Layers of Chocolate Cake (8inches)
American Pistachio Buttercream
White Chocolate Ganache (for the drip topping)
The decorative flowers were made with the same buttercream, but I scooped out about a cup of the frosting before adding the pistachios to it. This way, I could make the roses on the top of the cake from a standard American Vanilla Buttercream (which is basically the base of all buttercreams).
Making a chocolate cake is pretty standard. There are definitely a few different methods and I am all about adding some espresso powder to my boiling water and cocoa powder. I always find that coffee or espresso helps to bring out the natural flavor or chocolate even more. Trust me you can't taste the coffee at all! There is really not so much that we need to go over when it comes to making a chocolate cake, except for the fact that the entire house smells absolutely incredible.
I like to make my cake two days before it will be eaten. It just saves time. I make the cake layers two days before, then I put parchment paper in between each layer before putting it in an airtight container. The cake itself does not need to be refrigerated... yet. that comes much later. I frost and decorate the cake the night before and keep it in the refrigerator.
Time Saver: Also what you can do is make your cake layers weeks in advance. Once cooled, wrap in plastic cling wrap and then tin foil. Put them in the freezer. I have done this before and it works very well. If you are afraid that they might dry out a bit, you can also drizzle the cake layers with a simple syrup before you wrap with plastic cling wrap. Also, frosting a frozen cake is SO much easier. The crumbs don't fall off as much and if you are a beginning baker, I highly recommend doing this step.
I would have done this but I wasn't sure if I would be making my friend a birthday cake until just a few days before her birthday.
This pistachio buttercream frosting is out of this world bursting with pistachio flavor. Living in Germany, all of our ice cream shops are owned by Italians that serve gelato. We really only have regular ice cream in tubs from the grocery store. So when we do go out and treat ourselves, it is always gelato, and I always get two scoops of pistachio and chocolate. Italians pride themselves over their pistachio gelato and it is always about 50 cents more expensive than the other flavors. Because to achieve REAL pistachio flavor you must use REAL pistachios. You can not use extracts or syrups. It is the same with pistachio buttercream. I make a pistachio paste with a cup of shelled pistachios. This process is time consuming but worth it! You can also do it a few days ahead of time and just keep it sealed and refrigerated.
First you need to blanch the pistachios. Blanching is a fancy word meaning, soak the pistachios for 3-5 minutes in water that has reached a boil but has been removed from the heat.
Once soaked, remove the nuts and you can easily rub off the brown skin revealing a beautiful colored green pistachio nut.
This definitely took some time. So pop in your headphones and turn on your audiobook and settle in. Why is this step necessary? Well do you want the brown skin of the nuts tainting your beautiful buttercream? Yeah, me neither.
Next put all of the de-skinned, now gorgeously green nuts into your food processor. Add just a drizzle of warm water. You want to keep adding water until the mixture becomes paste consistency.
Now I will say I probably added just a tablespoon too much of water. I wished it was a tad thicker but this consistency definitely still worked. When added to the buttercream it created a silky smooth and soft buttercream that was a dream to spread onto the cake. Remember, you do not need a stiff, thick buttercream. You will not be piping the pistachio buttercream for you decorations. If you do want this to be pipable, do not add so much water to your paste mixture.
When you are making your buttercream here is an awesome tip that I learned just this week. I have a Kitchenaid Mixer (I LOVE IT) and I have a shield guard that is of hard plastic that I can put on top to help with splatter. However, when I use it I still get a powdered sugar cloud going all over my kitchen counter. This tip is so simple you'll laugh.
Add in about a 1/3 of your sifted powdered sugar. Then put a tea towel on top, set your mixer to low and OMG no powdered sugar cloud.
Also fun tip that I didn't know. American Buttercream, while deemed the easiest to make, actually has some technique. You want to really whip your butter for a crazy long time before adding in your powdered sugar. You want the yellow butter to turn white. You want to whip it so much to make it light and fluffy. This also helps so that the butter will absorb the powdered sugar not making it gritty. And don't get me started on people who use shortening in their buttercream for stability. Unnecessary. And yes I am judging. If I see a buttercream recipe calling for shortening or corn syrup I steer clear.
Here you see the picture of the butter just 30 seconds after I beat it.
And here you see it after about 10 minutes. After each 2 minutes I stopped my mixer and scraped the bowl with a spatula.
Look at how white and silky the butter is. This is just PURE butter. I hadn't added the powdered sugar yet.
Time to Assemble:
This takes just minutes to do. I like to dab a small spoonful of frosting onto my cake board and I tried using a piece of parchment paper as well. I thought this might help keep things a bit cleaner. It worked but the paper is not necessary. The dab of frosting on the cake board will act as a glue and keep your cake from sliding.
Then you want to spoon on a bunch of frosting to go in between the layers. Smooth it out with an offset spatula. You want somewhere between 1/4-1/2 of frosting between each layer.
Once you start to go along the outside of the cake a bunch of crumbs might come off. Especially if your cake is not cold. Try your best to trap the crumbs underneath the frosting. You are making a crumb coat which is a thin layer of frosting going over the entire outside of the cake.
The White Chocolate Drip Ganache
A ganache is super easy! Seriously it is my favorite because it uses 2 ingredients and it is quick to come together.
Once the heavy cream just starts to simmer with little bubbles along the edges of the saucepot, you are ready to pour it over your chocolate. Let it sit without stirring for about 5 minutes. Stir until smooth and BAM you are done! How great is that?!? If you want it thicker just let it cool longer.
So while I was stirring, I actually forgot and took a whisk instead of a wooden spoon. (this is me shaking my head disappointedly). I ended up whisking it too much, even though the thickness was where I wanted it, then I, without thinking, added little bubbles.
Here is how I fixed it:
I blasted some heat from a hair dryer and it very easily popped all the little bubbles.
Right away I should have used this as my drip. But for some reason I thought it was too thin.
I will say that I struggled a bit on this. I love making ganache but it had been more than 6 months since I had done a drip cake. I couldn't quite remember what type of consistency I wanted.
Instead I popped it into the fridge for 10ish minutes to thicken. Then this happened.
NOOOOOOO! My ganache was thick and gloopy and I was devastated. I needed to save it. So I wiped it off. I popped the ganache into the microwave for 10 seconds and it was perfect. In the end I wish that after I wiped off the drip that I went over my cake one more time with frosting, however I didn't have enough. When in doubt make extra frosting. You'll be so happy that you did.
But once I achieved the consistency of the ganache, I was ready to drip. You can do a few things here. Some people like squeeze bottles (I am one of those people) and others just like to spoon it on. The great thing about a drip cake is that it is not supposed to be perfect. Enjoy the small imperfections and let it drip.
For the flowers I was so excited to try out a new technique. I'm definitely still learning but since this was my first time I was very pleased with myself.
I bought these icing flower nail set on Amazon. These tools are really quite necessary for piping buttercream flowers.
You also need special piping tips that look like this.
And now you are ready to pipe. Take your metal stand and dab on some frosting so that the square of parchment paper sticks. Pipe on your flower and then use the plastic scissors to help you remove your flower and lift it onto your cake.
The frosting needs to be pretty stiff here. I did realize that my window was closing and buttercream was becoming soft. However, I still managed one more flower.
And then I added a few little green leaves. I thought just 5 roses on one side would be elegant and classy.
And then I added a few shelled pistachios to go under the Happy Birthday sign.
This cake was a huge hit. Loved by adults and kids. The brightness of the nuts also helped to cut the sweetness of the chocolate cake. Is this cake absolutely perfect. No. I know it has some imperfections and flaws. I know my flowers are not perfect and that I still need to work on smoothing out my buttercream along the side. But this is a learning journey. I just started trying out new techniques.
The richness of the chocolate and the sophisticated taste of the pistachios won over the heart of my dear friend and that was enough for me.
And that we could keep a few slices for my family to have at home!