Pistachio Cardamom Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream
This super simple one-layer cake has a rich and creamy texture flavored with roasted pistachios, a generous amount of cardamom, and a thick layer of cream cheese buttercream. It’s somehow both casual and elegant, rustic and refined, as appropriate for a dinner party as it is for an afternoon snack.
The idea for this cake came from a recipe in one of my favorite baking cookbooks, Pastry Love by Joanne Chang. The book includes a recipe for Syrian Nutmeg Cake baked atop a shortbread crust. I baked the cake a few months ago and fell in love with the idea of a cake with a tender, buttery bottom crust.
The crust makes slicing and serving the cake a piece of cake (😂) and the crispy crust and soft cake creates a delicious contrast. It’s almost like eating cake served over buttery shortbread cookies. It’s not a technique you’d want to employ for a layer cake… but it’s perfect for a simple one layer cake that somehow manages to be as equally suited to a dinner party as it is for a casual snacking cake.
In this pistachio cardamom version of Chang’s nutmeg cake, the bottom crust is made by simply blending brown sugar, whole wheat and all purpose flours, and some melted butter, and pressing 1 cup of the mixture into the bottom of a cake pan. The rest of the butter-flour-sugar mixture forms the base of the cake batter.
This is the kind of casual cake that’s simple, dense, rich and creamy.
I love how much variety there is in the category of pastry we call “Cake”. A cake can be a grand multi-layered affair or a casual snack, eaten with your fingers. They are frosted, unfrosted, filled, plain, stacked, and decorated.
Even more impressive are all the excuses we give ourselves to eat cake. All around the world, in nearly every culinary tradition, cakes are used to commemorate and celebrate every kind of event from weddings to birthdays to anniversaries, graduations, and retirements. I, for one, am a fan of all the many reason there are to bake and eat cake. There’s a cake for every tastebud and every occasion. Cheers to that.
This pistachio cardamom cake is of the rich, creamy, casual variety. The texture is dense and incredibly moist, studded with roasted pistachios, and flavored with a hearty dose of ground cardamom. The tender crumb is accentuated with a shortbread crust and covered with a thick layer of cream cheese buttercream.
It’s the kind of cake you might want to make when…
- You’re hosting a dinner party
- You want to thank your kid’s teacher
- It’s your neighbor’s birthday
- You need something to bring to bookclub
- You want to impress your coworkers
- You had a good day.
- You had a bad day.
- It’s Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or any day.
Why it’s important to use Greek yogurt in this cake.
What makes Greek yogurt unique is a straining process that removes the whey – the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled. This straining process is what makes Greek yogurt thicker than other varieties of yogurt, with a lower water content and slightly less sugar.
In this recipe, the acidity in Greek yogurt tenderizes the cake’s crumb and adds a slight tang to the flavor that helps to balance the sweetness. While this can be achieved with other varieties of plain, unsweetened yogurt, the lower water content in Greek yogurt is important to the overall chemistry of this particular cake recipe.
You can use 2% or full fat Greek yogurt, but stay away from non-fat Greek yogurt. The little bit of fat contained in the yogurt is important to the cake’s overall richness and tender texture.
Bake this one layer cake in a tall cake pan.
There is quite a bit of variety in the depth of round cake pans. Some can be quite shallow – with sides that are no more than 1-inch tall while others can have sides that are 4-inches or higher. In many layer cake recipes, where the goal is to bake several thin layers, the height of the sides of the cake pan you use doesn’t matter.
For this cake, it’s important to use a cake pan that is at least 3-inches deep. The cake bakes up nice and tall and you don’t want any of that delicious batter spilling out over the sides of the pan and making a mess in the bottom of your oven.
I used this 8-inch Wilton Cake Pan for this cake, which is 3-inches deep. Two other good options are this 4-inch deep cake pan from Fat Daddio and this set of three 3-inch tall cake pans from Aunt Sharon’s Kitchen.
Other popular cake recipes:
- Coconut Cream Cake
- The Most Flavorful Vanilla Cake
- Creamy Almond Plum Cake
- Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Pastry Cream
- Sinfully Rich Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake
- Lemon Berry Snack Cake
- Perfect Red Velvet Cake
- Super Moist Spice Cake
- 1 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup salted butter, melted
- 1 cup plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt (not non-fat)
- 1 cup roasted, lightly salted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/4 - 2 tsp ground cardamom (*See note)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
For the Cream Cheese Buttercream:
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a deep 8-inch round cake pan by coating the inside with vegetable shortening or butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper, grease the parchment paper, and then coat the inside of the pan with flour. (Here's how to prepare a cake pan so the cake won't stick.)
- Add the brown sugar, both flours, and melted butter to a bowl and stir by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed, until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
- Remove 1 cup of the crumb mixture and press it into the bottom of the cake pan in an even layer.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl with the rest of the crumb mixture and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth. Scoop the batter into the cake pan, spreading evenly it over the crumb layer.
- Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out without any raw batter on it. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then gently turn it out onto a wire rack to allow it to cool completely before frosting.
Make the Cream Cheese Buttercream:
- Add all the buttercream ingredients to a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until completely smooth and fluffy - about 5 minutes. Spread the buttercream over the top of a completely cooled pistachio cardamom cake.
Unfrosted, this cake will stay fresh, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to 2 days. Once frosted with creawm cheese butterceam, it should be refrigerated. Frosted, the cake will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
It’s important to use a cake pan that is at least 3-inches deep. The cake bakes up nice and tall and you don’t want any of that delicious batter spilling out over the sides of the pan and making a mess in the bottom of your oven.
Greek yogurt tenderizes this cake’s crumb and adds a slight tang to the flavor that helps to balance the sweetness. While this can be achieved with other varieties of plain, unsweetened yogurt, the lower water content in Greek yogurt is important to the overall chemistry of this particular cake recipe. You can use 2% or full fat Greek yogurt, but stay away from non-fat Greek yogurt. The little bit of fat contained in the yogurt is important to the cake’s overall richness and tender texture.
The intensity of cardamom can vary quite a bit depending on the brand and on how fresh it is. Start wtih 1 1/4 tsp cardamom then taste the batter and add more if you want a more pronounced cardamom flavor.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 slice (1/8th of the cake)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 544Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 103mgSodium: 555mgCarbohydrates: 64gFiber: 2gSugar: 41gProtein: 8g