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This Pistachio Cake Wants to Be Your Valentine

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Would you like a piece of cake right now? For Goodness Cake is here for you. Every week, we'll be sharing recipes that prove why cake should be its own food group.

Today: This cake will make a better Valentine's Day date than any of your other options -- and that's a promise.

I asked my first potential valentine to tell me what kind of cake I should write about for the most romantic day of the year. This person answered ice cream cake. Downright rude. What was this blatant disregard for my strict definition of “cake”? Where was this person’s respect for my job? I eliminated candidate 1 immediately.

My second possible suitor thought I should write about a cake made of canned tuna and seasoned with Nepeta cataria. I remembered that candidate number 2 is a cat. This option was out. 

With those two crossed off my shortlist, I turned to cake -- reliable, understanding, and accommodating -- instead. After making this cake twice in 48 hours, I realized I had come to the right decision. Here’s why this cake proved itself to be my worthiest Valentine’s Day companion: 

1. It’s romantic without being too mushy. 
If I were forced into a situation in which I had to eat molten chocolate cake at a candlelit table while listening to John Legend, my face might be fixed in a cringe for the rest of my life. No, I won’t scoff at jewelry or chocolate or Taylor Swift concert tickets (hint! hint! hint!), but drippy, sticky, glittery romance makes me feel awkward and vulnerable -- more like I’m with my dentist than someone I love.

This cake strikes the right balance of sentimental and subtle. The rose water makes it special but no, it does not turn it pink. The lemon glaze and the sprinkling of pistachios create a glistening topping without any of the fuss or frou of piped frosting. This is the type of cake that’s never over or underdressed; if this cake were a woman, it would definitely have that “natural glow” we’re all cleansing for. 

2. It plays just the right amount of hard-to-get. 
This cake is not a low-maintenance, cooking-in-your underwear dessert. You’re more likely to make it for a civilized dinner rather than after a drunken hookup. That’s because you’re going to have to track down rose water, to juice Meyer lemons, and to shell and grind pistachios (or bribe your valentine to). 

But once you’ve secured and prepared your ingredients -- once you’ve done the cake equivalent of chatting with the annoying friends and pretending to care about workplace gossip -- it will open up quickly. All you’ll do is cream butter and sugar, add eggs, ground nuts, lemon zest and juice, and rose water, and then fold in flour. Cake is now one hour away from being cuddled (I mean, consumed). 

3. It’s an optimist.
Let’s say -- speaking strictly hypothetically, of course -- that this cake is your sole companion this Valentine’s Day. Or that this cake is not your only companion, but the only one you’re remotely interested in. One taste of this cake will remind you that there is hope yet -- if not for love, then for the warm days of summer when you’ll feel as bright as this cake tastes. Because for all of the times that I tune out my sadness with chocolate, on Valentine’s Day, I like to lift my spirits with lemons (and cardamom!). 

4. It’s beguiling.
Romance is about intrigue. Yes, Twitter and Instagram make it possible to know your love’s most minute thoughts at every hour of every day, but where’s the fun in that? This cake keeps you on your toes with the mysterious addition of rose water. Does it add a subtle floral fragrance that you’d otherwise miss? Does it do nothing at all? You'll never know -- and that's just part of the sexiness. 

Pistachio Cake with Lemon, Cardamom, and Rose Water

Lightly adapted from Julie Powell, who adapted it from Nigel Slater

Serves 10 to 12

8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, slightly softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
3 eggs
1 cup finely ground pistachios
1 cup almond meal
1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon rose water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cardamom, depending on your preference
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 cup confectioners' sugar

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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Tags: Cardamom, Lemon, Pistachio, Dessert, Valentine's Day, Bake, Long Reads, Comfort Food