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Lemon Pistachio Cake

(Serves 12)
Lemon Pistachio Cake
Lemon Pistachio Cake is a special occasion cake.  It consists of 3 layers of white, lemon-flavored
cake, separated with a tart lemon curd, frosted with white chocolate whipped cream, and topped
with a crunchy pistachio brittle.  It is an ambitious cake and requires a few of the components be
made ahead of time.  But it is a beautiful, flavorful cake and worth the time and effort.

Several of the individual parts of the cake, such as the lemon curd, the icing, and the pistachio
crunch may be utilized in other desserts as well.  Fill mini pre-baked tart shells with some of the
lemon curd, and top with meringue or fresh berries.  Use lemon curd as a topping on ice cream or
pound cake, or as a cupcake filling. It also makes a refreshing change from jam on toast, English
muffins or scones.  Use the white chocolate icing on your favorite chocolate cake or cupcake recipe.
Sprinkle the pistachio crunch as a topping on servings of ice cream or gelato.  Chop the nut mixture
into smaller pieces and dip the cream-filled ends of cannoli into it for some added crunch.

Lemon Curd: (Makes 2 cups)
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 large lemons)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt

Pistachio Crunch:
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup shelled pistachios

2 cups heavy cream, divided
8 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

3-1/2 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1-1/2 cups milk
8 egg whites


To make the Lemon Curd:
Whisk all the ingredients in a medium saucepan to blend. Cook over medium-low heat until mixture thickens. Stir constantly until a candy thermometer registers 170 degrees F, about 10 minutes. Pour curd into a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.

To make the Pistachio Crunch:
Line a baking sheet with foil; butter the foil. Combine sugar, butter, and water in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves and butter melts. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Stir constantly until the syrup turns a light amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Immediately add the baking soda (the mixture will foam up) and the nuts.
Spread the mixture onto the prepared foil, separating the nuts as much as possible. Cool completely. Chop the mixture into 1/2-inch pieces.
(Can be made 2 days ahead and stored airtight at room temperature.)

To make the Icing:
Bring 3/4 cup heavy cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
Add the chocolate and salt. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
Transfer mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.

To make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 3 (9-inch) round cake pans.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.  Set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Add 1-3/4 cups sugar and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk in 3 additions.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into the batter in 3 additions. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans. Bake cakes 30 minutes, or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes.
Transfer cakes to wire racks to cool completely.

To put the cake together:
Using a serrated knife, cut off mounding tops of cake layers to level.
Place one cake layer on platter, trimmed side up. Spread with half of lemon curd. Top with second cake layer, trimmed side up. Spread with remaining lemon curd. Top with third layer, trimmed side down.

To finish the icing:
Whisk remaining 1-1/4 cups heavy cream into white chocolate icing base to loosen. With an electric mixer, beat until icing holds stiff peaks. Spread icing over tops and sides of cake. Chill until icing is firm, about 2 hours.

Press pistachio crunch lightly into icing on sides and top edge of cake.
Keep refrigerated until serving.
Lemon Pistachio Cake
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Eggs and butter incorporate more easily into a batter when they are at room temperature. 

For butter: Remove from the refrigerator at least one hour or up to a day before using.  To help butter warm up, cut it into pieces. Or if you are in a hurry, microwave it on 20 percent power for a few seconds at a time.

For eggs: Remove from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before using.  For faster warming, soak whole eggs in a bowl of warm water until they are no longer cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.
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The outermost layer of a lemon rind is full of aromatic essential oil that can liven up dishes, desserts,and drinks.

To grate a lemon:
Rub a lemon against a rasp or grater with very small holes, rotating the fruit as soon as the white pith appears.  One lemon should yield 2 to 3 teaspoons of fluffy zest.
How to Zest a Lemon
Use lemon zest when baking sweets, making salad dressings or marinades, or for sprinkling on roasted vegetables.
If you frost cakes regularly you want to ensure that an extra-nice frosting job is done.  The advantage of having a revolving cake stand is that it gives you easy access to all sides of the cake for frosting.  The cake leveler insures perfectly even cake layers and the cake spatulas allow you to achieve super-smooth edges on both the crumb coat and final layer.
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