This Simple, Fragrant Cake Is Half Flour, Half Nuts (But That's Not Its Only Secret)

February  9, 2018

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.

Photo by Posie Harwood

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.

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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.

Photo by Posie Harwood

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marikris
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Maria
  • T
  • George H
    George H
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Marikris August 29, 2020
I made this yesterday and commented on the other page with this recipe. I made a few changes: added a little more cardamom, added the peel from one whole navel orange and squeezed half of the orange for the juice. I also omitted the melted butter and subbed it with an additional 1/4 c olive oil. So the total olive oil was 3/4 c in my cake. The cake is delicious. I used a tart pan since I don’t have a cake pan. The extra batter I put in a ramekin. Put the pan and the ramekin both in the oven at the same time. The pan was done at 30 min and the small ramekin finished 4 minutes later. I put half the cake in the freezer. The first half went fast! Today I put the frozen half on the counter and in about an hour I ate some of it and it was as delicious as yesterday. Great flavor! Will make this again. The only change I will make for next time is to cut the sugar to 3/4 c. It’s a bit too sweet right now, plus I added powdered sugar on top.
Rosalind P. February 15, 2018
i'd like to hear the answer about eliminating the butter and using all olive oil.
Maria February 15, 2018
Can you double the olive oil and cut the butter?
T February 15, 2018
Can you swap out the AP flour, for coconut flour? Thank You.
George H. February 10, 2018
Seems clear the almond flour makes the cake denser. But surely that's on purpose.

What's the effect if you replace the almond flour with all AP flour (150g)? It will be different. But why is it not better (lighter)?

Also suggest you cut the sugar by half.
Mary February 15, 2018
Yeah, just reading the recipe I'd cut the sugar. Whew!
Anonymous February 15, 2018
Question: Does cutting the sugar in half simply make it less sweet, which I am good with? Or does it alter the texture and overall quality of the product?
Barbara February 15, 2018
I’m not an expert but an expert once told me that sugar not only sweetens but due to the oven heat, turns to liquid and effects the crumb and density of the cake. I made this cake a few days ago as written. It is just so so in flavor. The texture is wonderful. If I make it again I would double the spice flavoring. I have made the double vanilla cake the author mentions, several times. It’s a real winner.
Robert A. February 16, 2018
If you use AP flour, you've just made a regular sponge cake. That recipe already exists.
Anonymous February 20, 2018
Regarding whether you can cut back the sugar in a cake, here is a source I just found: