Make Ahead

Goodnight Rose: Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Rosewater Frosting

April  4, 2021
10 Ratings
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Makes 8 cupcakes or one 8" cake layer
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.] —raspberryeggplant

What You'll Need
  • 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
  • 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. Pistachio-Cardamom Cupcakes
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom into a medium bowl and set aside.
  5. 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.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat on medium speed until the mixture is uniformly smooth, about 30 seconds.
  7. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until just combined.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the ground pistachios (except for the reserved 2 tablespoons) and mix gently to combine.
  11. 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.)
  12. 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.)
  1. Rosewater Meringue Buttercream Frosting
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.
  10. 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).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Elizabeth M
    Elizabeth M
  • Kerilyn Marina
    Kerilyn Marina
  • Nancy
  • LouLou
  • kumalavula

66 Reviews

Lmar May 9, 2022
I made this cake, having wanted to for years, for my daughters 50th birthday. I made 6x the recipe for the cake, and 4x for the frosting, and it was perfect. Everyone loved it very much. Delicious and a sensuous experience to see it and eat it. We were 14 people for the party, and there was a nice amount of leftovers for the next day. I am sure it would be even better with butter and flour and milk as per the original recipe but for our crowd, I made it with almond and paleo flours, and earth balance butter and oat milk. Divine. It will be requested from now on and I will be happy to make it.
Lmar May 9, 2022
I should add to the above note that I made 6x the recipe in two batches. And that we felt that the rose water in the frosting could have been a tiny bit stronger. Also 4x the recipe made an ample, abundant even, amount of frosting but did not leave enough for piping on additional decorations. And not being able to find rose petals anywhere, next time I'd order them online in advance, and not have to use the tiny pink hearts that were the substitute decoration.
Elizabeth M. April 4, 2021
Fantastic. My meringue turned to water (carton egg whites to blame probably) so I tossed the mixture and made a rose whipped cream frosting instead. It was deliciously light with the super moist sponge.
Kerilyn M. May 1, 2019
My mother and I made this cake and it was delicious! Mom baked the cake and the texture and flavor were spot on. I made the frosting and it was silky smooth and just right for the cake. I decorated with pistachios and candied rose petals. So pretty! One of my favorites.
Tummypen6 April 2, 2019
Itried this recipe for a second time and failed. This time I made 3 times the mixture and divided it in to 3 8” pans but it still didn’t cook properly. The very top of each layer seemed to gain a little sponge like texture but the rest was like rubber. The only thing I can think now is that my conversions of the recipe to grams are wrong. Are you using cup measurements or grams? The mixture before baking is runny. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I’m desparate to get this right!!
Tummypen6 April 1, 2019
Has anyone converted this recipe into grams? I’m struggling to get it right. The cake just turns out rubber like.
Nancy April 2, 2019
Google ounces to grams and empower yourself!
Tummypen6 April 2, 2019
Yes I did do a conversion as detailed in the thread below but something just isn’t right.
Kris November 11, 2018
I tripled this recipe for the cake to make 3 layers. I lessened the amount of sugar and used half of the almond extract so as not to take away from the pistachio flavor. It turned out great! The layers were a little dense and crumbly but ultimately, with the frosting I made (I made a cardamom American buttercream), it turned out alright. I don't think I'll be making it again since I like it a little lighter and more moist but everyone else seemed to enjoy it!
Jenn July 29, 2018
Can you pls advise the height of the 8" pan you used? 1"? 2"? Thank you
Nancy July 29, 2018
This cake is very thin I imagine a 1" would probably be fine. In my previous review I said that in order to make the cake look like the picture you'd need to make three 8" cakes. Raspberryeggplant confirmed this as well. I love these as cupcakes!
Jenn July 29, 2018
Thanks Nancy. I will definitely try them as cupcakes. I was looking for a confirmation of height to save time, because pan height does make a difference but most recipes I encounter don't specify height for some reason. I am curious of the former case. As you indicate that the 1" height pan would work, if you use a 2" height, whether this would affect the results since the cake would not rise above the rim in that case. I only have 3"H pans and was curious which height was used as I was going to buy shorter cake pans.
raspberryeggplant July 30, 2018
Hi Jenn,

I've never encountered a cake pan with a 1" wall - I use 2" pans, sometimes 3". A 2" pan should absolutely suffice here.

As the recipe notes, this makes enough for one 8" layer, so you will need to triple this for a three-layer cake.

Hope that helps!
Lmar May 9, 2022
I used supermarket EZ foil cake pans, rectangular, 12.25"x 8.25"
x 1.25" Three batches worked well for two trays- making the layers about a half inch high each. The oven temp seemed okay but baking took longer- and be careful to use a good shortening to grease and flour the pans since there was a tendency to stick in the middles, but it was not a problem once the cake was assembled.
Nancy April 6, 2018
I'm thinking the problem is your pan! You say you made it in a loaf pan and that would NOT work, it's too thick to cook properly. Try again as cupcakes or you need to double the recipe and make three 8 inch cake pans in order to get the layers in the picture. This looks like its a square cake but its not, the picture is just how she sliced it. The layers are very thin. I hope you try again this so worth it.
raspberryeggplant April 6, 2018
Thanks, Nancy! The single cake layer is indeed thin - I prefer baking thinner layers rather than torting a thicker cake. You'll need 3-4 of these for a layer cake, or you can double this recipe and put it into three 6" pans.
Tummypen6 April 1, 2019
Hi Nancy. So I just tried this again failed. This time I made 3 times the mixture and divided it in to 3 8” pans but it still didn’t cook properly. The very top of each layer seemed to gain a little sponge like texture but the rest was like rubber. The only thing I can think now is that my conversions of the recipe to grams are wrong. Are you using cup measurements or grams? The mixture before baking is runny. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I’m desparate to get this right!!
Tummypen6 April 5, 2018
Hi. I’m hoping someone can help! I tried making his cake today and failed miserably. I had to convert into grams and milliletres as I’m in the uk and am wondering if my conversions are wrong. The cake didn’t cook inside at all. It went into and almost rubber like texture.

I converted the recipe into the following:

25g pistachio
85g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
57g butter
100g sugar
1 egg
125ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

I then doubled the recipe and baked in a 2lb loaf tin.

Have I gone wrong with the ingredients or does it need to be baked only as cupcakes or layer cake?

Any help would be much appreciated...the flavours are amazing so I’m very keen to get this recipe sorted.
raspberryeggplant April 6, 2018
It's the pan! This needs to be baked in an 8" cake pan, either round or square. A loaf pan is just too thick so it was certainly not cooked inside after even 25 minutes. Try it again in a cake pan and it will be full baked after the specified time :)
Nancy April 16, 2017
So I finally made this. Twice. As a cake I felt that the layers were way too thin. You'd need to make 4 in my opinion. I tried cupcakes and for me they are perfect! The cake is moist and has an amazing flavor, the pistachios and cardamom are fantastic together. This frosting is simply ethereal. So light and melts in your mouth. I used 1/4 teaspoon of Nielsen-Massey Rose Water, it's strong and any more would be far too much. I made the cupcakes 2 days ahead and kept in an air tight container room temp. Frosted a day ahead and refrigerated. They were perfect. I did not bring to room temp to serve.
raspberryeggplant April 17, 2017
So glad you liked it! This is definitely my favorite cake.

The recipe does make thin layers - I make three or four of them instead of two thicker layers that I need to divide.
Nancy April 6, 2017
It looks like you have a four layer cake there, did you double the recipe making two eight inch cakes? I'm gonna do that because its super pretty. I hope this will work!
Nancy April 6, 2017
Hmmm looks like you did that from reading your notes.
hessa March 5, 2017
I made this cake it's so yummy!!! Turned out moist and fluffy as i wanted. I increased the quantity of pistachio to 3/4 cup- 1 cup for a richer flavor and a bright pistachio green color- always my favorite color! Thank you for the best cake recipe! Just what i was looking for!
Tip: Can use as well Pistachio cream spread to layer the cakes or as a toping for the cupcakes.
LouLou February 6, 2017
I can't rave enough about this cake!! I had my doubts when it came out fairly dense. However, after frosting it (and trust me, don't skimp on the frosting - the flavors of both cake and frosting blend beautifuly) and then eating it (best part), I was sold on what a wonderful cake this was. I did add more a bit more cardomom for the flavor.
raspberryeggplant April 17, 2017
Thank you LouLou! So glad you like it. I usually use a light hand with the cardamom as I have found that some people don't love it as much as I do, but I agree that the recipe can take a bit more than what's written here without being overpowering to a cardamom-lover!
Meflan June 10, 2016
This cake is everything. EVERYTHING!!!
raspberryeggplant April 17, 2017
Thank you! It's my favorite and am so glad you like it, too :)
kumalavula April 30, 2016
i love anything with cardamom so ended up almost doubling the cardamom amount this recipe called for and it still didn't seem overpowering. i, also, made a different buttercream frosting but added rose water which accented the pistachio-cardamom pairing nicely. i would echo another comment below that the amount of batter was scant and i'd double it when making again. otherwise, a complete winner!
raspberryeggplant April 17, 2017
Glad you liked it! This is indeed a small yield. I usually double or even triple it but I like having the base recipe make a smaller quantity as I find it easier to scale up than scale down :)
Dedairyfy May 11, 2015
Jessica September 2, 2014
Excuse typos/punctuation errors I must need coffee and can't see how to edit hehe.
Jessica September 2, 2014
Thanks for sharing. I was wondering if you use green or black cardamom in this recipe? I assume green but want to check. Would you say this is what people usually refer to when not specified in recipes in general in your experience. I've only tried my hand at some traditional savory indian dishes which have specified in my limited experience. Thanks for your time :).
raspberryeggplant April 17, 2017
Green cardamom! Black cardamom has a more earthy flavor that's better for savory dishes, I find.
Dhanush P. March 18, 2014
i love the taste of it
Basha March 8, 2014
I loved using this recipe, but had to make 4 batches worth to make a two-layer cake. The flour measurement might be a giveaway, but it took me making the first batch to realize I had to triple the next!