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take this cake

Recipe: chocolate pistachio cake

Boy, I have been posting a lot of sweets lately. I try to mix things up, but I wanted to get this cake recipe up because it’s so pretty and a great dessert to serve for a holiday weekend. Tomorrow is the fourth of July – the quintessential summer holiday here in the States. My favorite part? The fireworks. I am a visual creature and nothing dazzles me like pretty colors and bright lights. I am drawn to lovely sparklies like Lite Brite (remember that toy?) and gummy bears and shooting stars and… fireworks! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

a mountain of dry ingredients

batter in the pan

But on to this cake. I served it at the tele betties barbecue last weekend. It’s my riff on Marcel Desaulniers’ White and Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cake from his famed Death by Chocolate. I have a signed copy only because my parents live near Trellis Restaurant where he is chef and co-owner. Mom gave it to me years ago, when I was too timid to even crack the book open – it was so intimidating then! My baking prowess has since been found and nurtured. In graduate school I even exchanged a few emails with Marcel on the doubling of his recipes. He’s such a great guy – so friendly and approachable.

skinning pistachios

whipping swiss meringue

I omitted the white chocolate from the buttercream frosting because I think it is too sweet and I just hate white chocolate in general. No one seemed to miss it. I also doubled his chocolate cake recipe so I could make a 4-layer deal instead of his prescribed 3-layers. And besides, I wouldn’t be able to eek out 3 decent layers from a single cake because our oven is crooked and the dome is always lopsided. I should level the oven, but I’m a bum and there wouldn’t be an overabundance of cake trimmings for Jeremy to snack on! Skinning the pistachios is the biggest pain in the ass. The only reason I do it is because I love pistachios so much… and because I forget what a pain it is until I start skinning them.

folding chopped pistachios into the buttercream

spreading the pistachio buttercream on the first layer

I debated adding a soaking syrup because I wasn’t sure if this cake would crumble apart if it got wet. I decided against it. Turns out if you serve the cake within 24 hours, it’s pretty moist without soaking syrup and is delightfully dense. If you have leftovers, they tend to dry out with time, so I recommend immediate consumption.

crumb coating

decorate as you see fit

I was planning to pipe some cute little standard stars around the edge, dotting them with pistachios, but I was too impatient for my ganache to set up because I had a gazilion other things to make for the party. So I drizzled rings all over and sprinkled the top with extra chopped pistachios and a flurry of whole ones in the center. Good enough for government work.

love the light and dark motif

The cake was a huge hit with our guests. I like the solid construction of this dessert as I don’t have to worry about it falling to pieces when I serve a slice. I also think the dark and light contrasts are striking and beautiful together, not to mention the awesome pairing of flavors: pistachio, vanilla, and chocolate. The dense chocolate layers play wonderfully with the creamy and light (ha! a POUND of butter?!) frosting and the nuts add a bit of crunchy texture. The chocolate cake is not overly sweet, which I love because buttercream is plenty sweet as it is. However, I enjoyed the little zing of rich and sweet that the ganache lends to the whole ensemble. All in all a great cake. Wow your friends and see your enemies driven before you.

now that’s real love, folks

Chocolate Pistachio Cake
[print recipe]
modified from Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

joe’s chocolate cake
makes ONE 9×3-inch round cake – I used TWO of these for my version, so double this recipe if you want a 4-layer cake

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
6 tbsps unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda (1/4 tsp at 8500 ft.)
1 tsp salt
4 oz. butter plus extra for coating the pan
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into 1/2 oz. pieces
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp red raspberry vinegar
1 cup water

[Note: I made TWO chocolate cakes to give me 4 layers instead of the three in Marcel’s original recipe. This results in plenty of leftover “dome”.] Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a sifter. Sift onto wax paper or a bowl and set aside. Coat 2 9×3-inch round pans with butter on the base and sides. Place circular parchment in the bottom and brush with more butter. Marcel says to dust with flour, which I apparently overlooked. I didn’t have any problems, but my pans are also non-stick. Gently melt unsweetened chocolate over water bath or on half power in the microwave – stirring to prevent burning. Set aside. Beat sugar and butter together in mixer fitted with paddle. Beat on medium for 1 minute, then on high for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and beat on high for 15 seconds after the addition of each egg (one at a time). Scrape down the bowl after each addition. Add vanilla and vinegar and beat on high for 20 seconds. Add the melted chocolate and mix on low for 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Boil water and operate the mixer on low while adding the sifted dry ingredients. Mix for 10 seconds. Add the boiling water (carefully!!) and continue to mix on low for 10 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat for 5 seconds. Pour batter into pans. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until toothpick test is clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

pistachio and vanilla buttercreams
this amount was just enough for the 4-layer cake

8 oz. egg whites
16 oz. sugar
1 lb. butter, room temperature
2 tsps vanilla extract
1.5 cups shelled pistachios

Combine egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk constantly over a bain marie until 140°F is reached. Place on mixer with balloon whisk and whip until stiff. Turn down whip speed to 3rd and whip until cool to the touch (this takes a while – should be cooler than your hand). Change to a paddle and gradually add soft butter by tablespoon pieces. Mix to emulsify. Once desired consistency has been reached, add vanilla. Blanche the pistachios in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and place the nuts in a cotton towel. Fold the towel over the nuts and rub vigorously to loosen and remove the skins. Toast the skinned pistachios on a baking sheet for 15 minutes at 325°F. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Reserve a few whole ones for garnish. Finely chop the remaining pistachios. Take 2/3 of the buttercream frosting and fold in the pistachios. Save the remaining third of the buttercream for frosting the cake.

6 tbsps heavy cream
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Bring the cream to a boil and remove from heat immediately. Pour over the chocolate (making sure to cover all of the chocolate) and let sit for a minute. Stir until the ganache is smooth and evenly mixed. Put in the refrigerator until firm enough for piping.

Assembly: Cut off the dome tops of the cakes. Slice your cakes into two layers. Place the base of one cake on the serving plate or a cake board. Spread 1/3 of the pistachio buttercream over the layer. Repeat twice more. Top the cake with the other base slice (upside down, so base it facing up). Crumb coat the sides with the vanilla buttercream (a thin layer spread around the entire cake). Then frost the entire cake with the rest of the vanilla buttercream. Decorate the cake with chocolate ganache however you like and garnish with whole pistachios and/or any extra chopped pistachios. Serve at room temperature.

49 nibbles at “take this cake”

  1. Cynthia says:

    The Swiss meringue photo is brilliant. I watched a show where Marcel made hamburgers once, and, I have never forgotten it. I envy the signed book. My late great dog Babette would have loved the pistachios, and with her cute face, she would have conned you into giving her half of your stash. Magnifico Jen!

  2. Amy says:

    I think you make the prettiest layer cakes. They are always breathtakingly beautiful. The layers, frosting, and decorating are just perfect. Have a happy fourth! :)

  3. Mandy says:

    ohhhhhh…….this is my kind of cake! I wish I could have the slice on the last pic. :)

  4. manggy says:

    Hee! I feel exactly the same way. “Whip the buttercream until light.” Watchatalkinbout LIGHT?! We’re talking 4 sticks o’ butter in here! Ha ha ha. The cake looks dense, just the way I like it. I like Swiss Meringue as is, maybe I can save a few calories that way, but it would be screwy to fold chopped pistachios into plain meringue, wouldn’t it? (Hey, it would be like a raw pistachio macaron.)

    My oven heats unevenly so I get the same problem sometimes, even if we don’t live in a mountain, sigh. I’ve been eyeing Desaulniers’s book for some time now, but Payard just released his Chocolate Epiphany so I’m conflicted again. (Or maybe I should be saving up my money, haha!)

  5. peabody says:

    Marcel is my ultimate inspiration. I own every single cookbook he has ever put out…many of them signed as well.
    And his restaurant the Trellis, is where I had my best meal ever in my whole life.
    The cake looks fantastic and reminds me I need to go and make something from one of his many books.

  6. joanne at frutto della passione says:

    That cake is unbelievable! It looks just perfect. I can well believe that it was a hit. Looking at it almost makes me want to turn my oven on, but then again, I’m sitting in an air conditioned office right now, the minute I leave it not even thoughts of this cake could intice me to turn on the oven!

  7. Rosa says:

    I want a slice of that gorgeous cake!!! Wonderful and ever so perfect! Better than at the baker’s!



  8. Ann says:

    There is something so iconic about a tall majestic layer cake! Love the drizzled chocolate on the top with the pistachios!

  9. Jyotsna says:

    Wow!! You’ve made an amazing cake and I just love your photos!!! And I adore the combination of pistachios with chocolate cake :) You’ve just got a fan!!!

  10. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says:

    Jen: That cake sounds fantastic and it looks absolutely gorgeous (especially the decoration on top!). Those tele betties sure are lucky. What kind of soaking syrup would you use?

  11. Judith says:

    Oh God, don’t apologize for *that*! And I love that cookbook, by the way. I stumbled across it in the library once and found it oh-so inspiring.

  12. Jenny says:


  13. Ginny says:

    Lite Brite!!! I havent thought of that in years! :) Cake looks amazing, as always!

  14. Mrs Ergül says:

    Neat! If 2 years of practise brings you up to such a professiona level, I don’t think any time is wasted. I mean, look at your own work, it’s amazing and inspiring! Can you PLEASEEEE give us some tips on how to achieve equal thickness when slicing for making layers? Thanks in advance ;) And it takes someone with an eye for beautiful things to decorate the cake the way you did. I keep gazing at the photos, they are so pleasing to the eyes, the same way how looking at the greens from nature helps one’s eyesight, you get what I mean, right? I’ll be honoured to be served a slice of this artpiece. When’s my turn? hehe

    How’ve you been? Feeling better as days go by? I hope you are :)

  15. JacqueOH says:

    Simply gorgeous!! pistachios look SO good with chocolate. Your cake rocks!

  16. amanda says:

    I love the simple decorations on top of the cake. It looks so elegant and sophisticated. And who doesn’t love pistachios, right? I will definitely have to try this cake out. I like your layers, so clean cut and thin. My layers never turn out like that. I try to level mine, but I obviously am not a baking goddess :)

  17. jennywenny says:

    Wow, that is so pretty! I love how beautifully neat the cake looks. I wish I had that skill. I somehow take the time to do everything an then at the last minute just cant be arsed and end up with a lopsided ‘rustic’ cake. Happy 4th of July and all…

  18. Sonya says:

    Your cake is……….Magnificient !! bravo

  19. Patricia Scarpin says:

    I love the contrast of colors, too, Jen. And pistachios!!! Oh, I could get addicted to this cake. Seriously addicted.

  20. Candace says:

    Fantastic… just fantastic. That is one gorgeous cake!

  21. Antonio Tahhan says:

    I still have pistachios that I brought over from Syria that I’ve been meaning to use!! I also love using raspberry vinegar in chocolate cakes… I do the same when making red velvet cakes and just love the fruity touch that it adds!

  22. Eileen says:

    WOW! Does this ever look good! And it’s beautiful!

  23. lauren says:

    Your cake looks amazing! I love the decoration on the top! It looks so elegant!

  24. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Hey Jen, do try the fried rice vermicelli. Real comfort food and don’t forget that dollop of chili paste with it. Bean sprout is really the secret ingredient in this recipe…:)

    As for your sinful creation here, I will have to say that you really do great justice to real butter (pun intended). ;)

  25. Hannah says:

    Wow, now that’s a show-stopping cake! I sure hope those lucky enough to get a slice enjoy it. :)

  26. Tartelette says:

    I know you made Pea happy with this one! Looks fantastic! Girl, you are posting faster than Wonder Woman…I can’t keep up!!! But I can surely eat with my eyes! Perfection!

  27. Debbie Green says:

    Beautiful cake! I can’t imagine ever making one that looks so perfect! Wow!

  28. Dana McCauley says:

    I’ve just zipped through three of your posts and have to commend you on your photography skills. Your shots are so lovely! I think you must know quite a bit about lighting and spend considerable time on getting the light just right. Nice work!

  29. Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy says:

    That is one of the loveliest cakes I ever seen! It really is a work of art. You’re right, the contrast of dark and light is so striking. Beautiful job!

    How in the hell do you cut your slices so perfectly? Mine always crumble. :(

  30. Chocolate Pistachio Cake « FP Daily says:

    […] pm Filed under: Use Real Butter | Tags: aww nuts!, baked, cake, pastry cheffin’, pretty things Chocolate pistachio cake which is a modification of Death by Chocolate by Marcel […]

  31. jenyu says:

    Cynthia – thanks! Marcel is awesome, and such a great person. Sorry to hear about your pup. They are wonderful companions and have a way of hypnotizing us into feeding them all sorts of goodies, no?

    Amy – aww, you’re sweet. Thanks and I hope you are having a great weekend too!

    Mandy – you should have come over for the bbq, because I was forcing everyone to take extra slices home!

    Mark – I like Swiss meringue too, but I don’t think it would work on this cake without the butter part. The buttercream really makes it silky and amazing (of the whole cake, I only ate 1/2 slice). It’s hard to know which books to get. I don’t have the $ to get them all :)

    Peabody – I didn’t know you were in the ‘Burg! That’s a funny thought for me – you in my hometown having the best meal of your life! Can’t wait to see what you bake up next, chica.

    Joanne – yeah, the baking is the hardest part in summer. I want to serve a nice cake for entertaining, but it gets downright HOT during the prep.

    Rosa – thanks! You’re really too kind :)

    Ann – I think I love making cakes pretty more than eating them!

    Jyotsna – thanks :)

    Kristin – thank you so much! I think if I were to use a soaking syrup it might be a simple syrup (sugar and water in equal parts boiled) with Godiva chocolate liquer added? Something like that… I’m not overly creative with the boozy flavorings.

    Judith – Isn’t it great? Lots of neat ideas in that book (a classic!)

    Ginny – I loved Lite Brite as a kid :) Thanks.

    Mrs Ergul – oh hon, it wasn’t 2 years, more like 10 years! When I slice cakes, I set the cake up high on a rack (I don’t have a cake stand – poo!). Then I view from the side and use a sharp 12-inch serrated knife to cut a shallow line across the top where I want to remove the domed part of the cake. I rotate the cake around holding the knife steady so it just cuts the perimeter of the cake. I eyeball this to make sure it is relatively even all around. Then I insert the knife into the pre-cut line and begin to carefully slice around the cake, maybe 1-2 inches in, following the pre-cut line, then I cut across – making sure I stay within the pre-cut line. Now you have a “flat topped” cake to work with. I repeat the process when I cut that cake in half or thirds. It’s not always perfect, but I find it is consistent for me. I am definitely feeling better these days, although it’s hard to know when it is me improving or the help from the steroids ;)

    JacqueOH – thanks!

    Amanda- Oh, I’m not a baking goddess, my dear! I’m just really detail oriented and a little OCD ;)

    Jennywenny – I hope you had a great 4th too! Sometimes I get lazy and don’t want to make a dessert “pretty”. I don’t blog those ;) ha ha ha!

    Sonya – thank you!

    Patricia – it’s a lovely cake to become addicted to :) Marcel is an inspiration, to be sure.

    Candace – thanks.

    Tony – Mmmm, pistachios! I love not just the flavor, but the wonderful color!

    Eileen – thank you :)

    Lauren – you’re very sweet.

    Bee – I will definitely give it a try – your food always looks awesome :) ha ha ha – thanks for the compliment!

    Hannah – they sure did :) Thanks so much!

    Tartelette – Isn’t Peabody a riot? I know, I have been cooking and dining out and all of that stuff… if I don’t blog it, I will fall behind and forget something ;)

    Debbie – oh, I’m sure you could do this too!

    Dana – thank you!

    Susan – I love the dark and white, I don’t know why – I just do :) I think the trick to keeping the cake from falling apart (and I’ve had this happen with other cakes) is to find a good base-cake recipe. Marcel’s cakes are nice and solid, which lends well to a good tall construction. That’s just my guess :)

  32. Erin says:

    Excellent photographs! Layer cakes can be so difficult to shoot. I’m in love with pistachios right now. This sounds heavenly.

  33. Clumbsy Cookie says:

    Real love indeed! This is such a gorgeous cake and your pictures make it even more beautifull! Pistachio, chocolate, buttercream… I’m in love!

  34. Tarah says:

    Oh my god! Your creations never cease to amaze me! This cake is beautiful and looks absolutely delicious! I’m definitely bookmarking this!

  35. Robyn says:

    That is truly impressive and deliciously tempting! Your photos are wonderful.

  36. My Sweet & Saucy says:

    This is utterly delicious looking! So beautiful too!

  37. sunita says:

    Wow! That is one stunning cake..the layers look perfect :-)

  38. Kevin says:

    That cake looks really good!

  39. jenyu says:

    Erin – thanks!

    CC – glad you like it. The flavors and colors together are soo great!

    Tarah – oh, I hope you’ll try the cake, it’s awesome :)

    Robyn – thanks!

    MSS – thank you.

    Sunita – not perfect ;) Shhh! don’t tell anyone!

    Kevin – thanks!

  40. teresavigil says:

    I am beyond in love with your blog! thank you so much for being online.

  41. sana says:

    Wow this looks so beautiful! This is the perfect dessert to amaze the family for Eid.. btw, is there any substitute for the rasberry vinegar? Can I just leave it out? I dont want to buy a whole bottle and I am not even sure I will get it out here.

  42. jenyu says:

    Sana – I think I’ve used red wine vinegar before as a sub.

  43. Stephanie says:

    I made this cake for my friend’s birthday, it was delicious!! Do you have any tips for making the ganache drizzle so pretty?

  44. jenyu says:

    Stephanie – Just make sure it’s still warm enough to flow freely, and put it in a piping bag with a plain thin tip. I just swept out big and little circles that overlapped.

  45. Samantha says:


    Not sure if you’ll get this in time, but I just found your amazing cake and plan on attempting to make it for my partners birthday tomorrow. What typr of sugar do I use for the buttercream?! Icing sugar? Caster? or normal granulated!

    Thank you very much… so please I stumbled accross you’re blog! :o)

  46. Whole Wheat Lemon Sweet Rolls | Tuna Toast says:

    […] the process lose its charm, or more the more likely scenario was I just got distracted by a shiny, glossy photo of something else delicious-looking and moved onto making whatever that was.  Fast […]

  47. Mary's Pastry Lab says:

    what a beautiful cake :) so simple and yet so good.

  48. Pistachio Cupcakes | Annie's Eats says:

    […] that the recipe includes no chemical leaveners.  These would surely be wonderful topped with a pistachio buttercream but personally I just can’t pass up the combination of pistachio and dark chocolate so I […]

  49. 15 Chocolate Cake Recipes says:

    […] Recipe and Photos credit to […]

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