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The simplest desserts are often the best ones to come out of my kitchen. When baking, I'm endlessly fascinated by the alchemy of transforming a few humble ingredients—flour, eggs, sugar, and so on—into something golden-crusted and moist-crumbed and utterly addictive.
Today's cake recipe is a perfect example of how impressive simplicity can be. The base of the cake is an equal mix of all-purpose flour and ground nuts, which gives the cake an incredibly moist and tender texture. I use half pistachios (which I grind in the food processor) and half almonds (in the form of already-ground almond flour), but you can easily use all pistachios or all almonds.
A bit of cardamom adds an extra depth of flavor, but beyond that, there's no spice or flavoring. The key to this cake is in small, clever techniques. First, you need to beat your eggs and sugar together until very fluffy and pale in color. The mixture should look mousse-like in texture, and it's this act of introducing so much air into the batter that will keep the cake light and delicate despite being so moist from the ground nuts.
Second, you will sugar instead of flour your cake pan. This tip was new to me as of last year, when I tried it out in this exceptional double vanilla butter cake. Sugaring your pan serves two purposes: It gives your cake a crunchy, caramelized crust and it helps it release easily from the pan. I do it all the time now, and I particularly love using this technique for banana bread and any riff on this plum torte. We've written about it here before, and if you try one new thing in your kitchen this year, let it be this!
This pistachio and almond cake is such a stunning dessert, and it happens to also be very versatile. As I mentioned, you can use all pistachios or all almonds. You can vary the spices by adding in rosemary or cinnamon or nutmeg. You could add citrus zest and citrus oil, or almond extract to dial up the nutty flavor. It freezes beautifully, so it's a good candidate for a make-ahead dessert.
I like a slice dusted with confectioners' sugar. It's good plain, and even better with some loosely whipped cream. You could double the recipe and sandwich the layers together with a lemon curd folded into some mascarpone or Greek yogurt. Once you master the recipe, you'll be glad to have it in your back pocket to trot out whenever you need a reliably delicious dessert.
- 50 grams (1/2 cup) shelled pistachios
- 50 grams (1/2 cup) almond flour
- 100 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3 eggs
- 200 grams (1 cup) sugar
- 120 milliliters (1/2 cup) good-quality olive oil
- 113 grams (1/2 cup, 1 stick) lightly salted butter, melted and cooled slightly