Goodnight Rose: Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Rosewater Frosting

By • January 28, 2011 35 Comments

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Author Notes: Pistachio and cardamom are a classic combination in Indian sweets. Growing up in a South Indian household, these flavors were everywhere, and they are near and dear to my heart (and palate). Rosewater is also common in Indian sweets, and it's often paired with pistachios. I came up with this recipe a few years ago when I was making a spread of Indian-inspired cupcakes. It has come to be my signature flavor and the most often requested from both my family (my dad can't get enough of it) and friends. The flavors are exotic but they're not overwhelming, and the presentation of a cupcake brings in a bit of the familiar, making these at once comforting yet transporting.

This cake perfectly epitomizes who I am, both in the kitchen and outside of it: thoroughly American but inspired by my Indian heritage, and also a woman who is creative and has a keen attention to detail - which, in this instance, results in a uniquely and intensely flavored yet delicate cake with a silky, ethereal frosting that always seems to end up lingering in peoples' memories. This is undoubtedly the perfect candidate for my signature and most memorable recipe.

[Note: this recipe makes the right amount of batter for an 8" or 9" cake, so you can easily convert this into a layer cake, as seen in the photos above.]

Makes 8 cupcakes or one 8" cake layer

Pistachio-Cardamom Cupcakes

  • 1/4 cup shelled raw pistachios
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (use 1/8 teaspoon if using freshly ground cardamom)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk, room temperture
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Heat your oven to 350 F and place a rack in the middle. Line 8 wells of a muffin pan with papers and set aside - OR - grease and flour an 8" cake pan.
  2. Put the pistachios in a mini chopper and pulse until very finely ground. Be careful not to turn it into a paste! Transfer the ground nuts into a small bowl and set aside 2 tablespoons for topping the cupcakes.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom into a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about three minutes.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat on medium speed until the mixture is uniformly smooth, about 30 seconds.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until just combined.
  7. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is uniformly smooth, about 15 seconds.
  8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl (can you tell I'm very particular about this) and add the remaining flour mixture. Mix on low speed until barely combined - it's ok if there is still some flour on the sides of the bowl.
  9. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the ground pistachios (except for the reserved 2 tablespoons) and mix gently to combine.
  10. Divide the batter among the lined muffin cups (or pour it all into a cake pan). Bake until the tops spring back lightly when pressed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 16 minutes. (An 8" layer will take 22-25 minutes.)
  11. Cool the cupcakes in the pan set on a rack for 10 minute, then transfer to the rack to cool completely. (Similarly for the cake, let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then flip it out onto a rack to cool completely.)

Rosewater Meringue Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water (NOT rose syrup!) - this can be found at Middle Eastern and Indian groceries and even at places like Whole Foods
  • 1 drop pink food coloring (optional)
  • 8 pink rosebuds (optional; available from tea shops)
  1. Bring 1-2" of water to a simmer in a saucepan that is wide enough for the bowl of your mixer to sit on top of it (but not so big that the bowl falls in).
  2. Add the egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl. Whisk well to combine, then place over the pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is opaque and thick, about 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and attach the whisk attachment. Start on low speed and over the course of 30 seconds, bring the speed up to high. Whip on high speed until the whites are thick and glossy and the bowl is cool to the touch, about 7 minutes.
  4. While the whites are whipping, cut the butter into tablespoon-sized chunks. It's important that the butter is not too warm, so if it's squishy, put it in the fridge for a while so that it's somewhat firm but still pliant.
  5. When the whites are cool, scrape down the sides of the bowl and lower the speed to 8. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and whip until combined, about 10 seconds. Continue with the remaining butter, waiting 10 seconds between each addition.
  6. When all the butter has been added, turn the speed to high and whip until the mixture comes together to form a thick frosting. This may take a while depending on how hot or humid it is, but don't lose faith - it will come together! After the frosting comes together, continue to mix on medium-high speed for another minute.
  7. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the rosewater and pink food coloring (if using) and whip on high speed for 10 seconds to combine.
  8. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.
  9. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes once they are completely cooled and top each one with a sprinkling of ground pistachios and a rosebud (if using).

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