3-Layer Pistachio Cake Recipe | Handle The Heat
Filed Under: cake | Cakes & Cupcakes | Dessert

3-Layer Pistachio Cake

By Melanie Dueck
March 6th, 2015
4 from 8 votes
4 from 8 votes

Welcome the spring with this delightful made-from-scratch 3-layer Pistachio Cake covered in silky smooth cream cheese frosting.

Yield: 12 -14 slices

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook: 47 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: Sweet, salty pistachio flavor, perfectly sweetened cream cheese frosting Texture: A light and tender cake crumb with tiny pieces of pistachios and a silky smooth frosting Ease: Medium. The frosting and assembling requires a little time.  Anyone can make it though!  Believe it or not but this was the first 3 layered cake I've ever made. Appearance: Beautiful, elegant... Pros: Tastes as good as it looks! Cons: You need to start making the frosting ahead of time (I suggest the night before). Would I make this again? Yes! It tastes delicious and is the perfect cake to welcome the spring season with.

Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

Please welcome back Melanie from Garnish and Glaze as she shares absolutely stunning cake recipe!

Spring is right around the corner!  I can feel it… well not really.  It’s still in the 20’s and 30’s here in Nebraska but I occasionally hear birds chirping and the sun has been shinning bright for the last few days. Gosh I just love even the thought of spring and how everything is new, fresh, and full of life.  Don’t you?

I have really missed the green grass and bushy trees so I get pretty excited about all things green in March.  One naturally green food that I’ve been into lately are pistachios.  I remember having so much fun when I was young sitting with my mom cracking open a handful of nuts to snack on.  She even taught me the cool trick to bust open the tightly closed and almost impossible to crack ones.  Just take a half shell from a nut you’ve already opened, poke it in the slit of the tightly closed shell, and give it a twist.  That stubborn pistachio will open right up.  Go give it a try!
Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

For this recipe you need a cup of shelled nuts for the batter plus more for decorating.  I bought pistachios that were still in the shell so removing them took awhile… especially since I kept eating every other nut that I opened.  You can buy pistachios already shelled if you want to speed up the process though.

The cake looks lovely decorated with pistachios but I also added them on the outside because it’s important that those with nut allergies are aware that they unfortunately can’t indulge in this cake for the sake of staying alive.  This cake is really good but probably not worth actually dying for.  I speak from the experience of my “tree-nut allergic” sister who was given a pistachio cake for her birthday and almost died.  Pretty sure that wasn’t one of her favorite birthdays.
Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

The frosting of this cake is a little different than your typical cream cheese frosting because it’s made with granulated sugar and must be cooked and cooled before frosting.  It takes more work but has the most amazing smooth texture and perfectly sweet taste.  By cooking the frosting you are able to add bulk using milk and flour instead of powdered sugar (which can make it too sweet) like most frosting recipes.

Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

This cake just screams “spring” to me.  The light texture of the crumb and the not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting are the perfect combo for spring, especially with the light green pistachios and fresh blackberries.  Such a lovely cake for a spring party with friends and family.

Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

Made-from-scratch 3-Layer Pistachio Cake

4 from 8 votes

How to make
3-Layer Pistachio Cake

Yield: 12 -14 slices
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 47 minutes
Inactive Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 7 minutes
Welcome the spring with this delightful made-from-scratch 3-layer Pistachio Cake covered in silky smooth cream cheese frosting.


For the Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup shelled roasted and salted pistachios
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

For the Garnish:

  • Blackberries
  • Pistachios


For the Frosting:

  1. Mix sugar and flour together in a sauce pan and then whisk in milk and cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thick and begins to boil (about 15 minutes start to finish, should be considerably thick). Pour into a bowl or Tupperware, cover with plastic wrap pressing it against the mixture, and then place in the fridge until no longer warm (if you leave it in overnight, let it come to room temperature).   Meanwhile, make the cake.  When the cake is cool and ready to assemble, finish making the frosting.
  2. Place cold frosting mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat on low speed using the paddle attachment. Add butter a tablespoon at a time and then cream cheese an ounce at a time. Turn up the speed and beat until smooth. Mix in the honey and vanilla until combined.

For the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if using a dark colored pan, preheat to 325 degrees F). Grease the bottom and sides of 3 (8-inch) cake pans with shortening and then dust with flour.
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Puree pistachios in a food processor or blender until coarsely chopped and then take 2 tablespoons and add it to the dry ingredients. Continue to puree the rest of the nuts until it becomes a powder. Mix into the dry ingredients.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, whip the butter for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the whole egg and the vanilla until just combined.
  5. In 3 batches, alternate mixing the dry ingredients and milk into the butter. Mix completely before adding each additional batch. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  6. In a separate mixing bowl, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until it reaches soft peaks. Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter until combined.
  7. Pour batter into 3 cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 28-32 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Assembling the Cake:

  1. Using a large serrated knife, cut off the tops of cakes to make them evenly flat.
  2. Place one cake round on a plate or cake platter and then frost the top of it. Top with another cake round and frost again. Add the last cake round and then add a thin layer of frosting (crumb coat) to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes and then frost the cake with the remaining frosting (save some of the frosting in a piping bag if you wish to decorate with frosting). Garnish with extra frosting, pistachios, and/or berries as desired.
  3. Store cake in the fridge until ready to serve.

Recipe Notes

White tender cake made with fresh ground pistachios and decorated with a silky smooth cream cheese frosting, pistachios, and blackberries.
Adapted from Eats Well with Others
Course : Dessert
Cuisine : American
Melanie Dueck
Author: Melanie Dueck

Hi! I'm Melanie, from Garnish and Glaze, momma of one (almost two). I love making delicious food and sharing it with others. Moderation is what I live by so you'll find both healthy and indulgent recipes on my blog (nutrition facts included for all!).

Tessa Arias

About Melanie...

Hi! I'm Melanie, from Garnish and Glaze, momma of one (almost two). I love making delicious food and sharing it with others. Moderation is what I live by so you'll find both healthy and indulgent recipes on my blog (nutrition facts included for all!).

Find Melanie on  

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Recipe Rating

  1. #
    Michelle — January 16, 2023 at 7:46 am

    the cake was fine. the frosting was a mess -runny and lumpy. I think either the proportion of custard to butter is wrong or the instructions are backwards. if I was to try again I would whip the butter first and then slowly add the custard. but I’ll probably just look for a different recipe.

  2. #
    Paulina — March 26, 2021 at 10:36 am

    I have been using this recipe for years and I always get rave reviwes from family and friends! By far THE BEST pistachio cake I have ever tried

    • #
      Tessa — March 29, 2021 at 10:04 am

      I’m absolutely thrilled you love this pistachio cake!

  3. #
    Diane — June 1, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Can cake flour be used in this recipe instead of all purpose flour? I have an entire box of cake flour.
    This is my favorite cake ever! I’m making it for my sister who is coming to visit.

  4. #
    Sim — March 7, 2020 at 6:03 am


    If I add the Jello Instant Pistachio Pudding to the final mixture – how do you reckon it would turn out?

  5. #
    Donna — January 16, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Why did my cakes fall in the middle? Everything was room temp and oven temp gauges confirm 350.

  6. #
    Sharon — June 7, 2019 at 6:04 am

    If my oven is not big enough to hold 3 pans, can i bake the cakes one at a time? My fear is that the egg white might be deflated by the time i bake the 3rd pan as that will be at least 1hr later when it goes into the oven. Or alternatively, should i bake the 3 layers in 1 pan but bake longer – say 1.5hrs? I’m not sure if there is too much batter to fit 1 pan. My oven can only fit 1 eight inch pan. Thanks for your advice!

  7. #
    Lina — December 29, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    Made this cake for Christmas Eve. The cake was tasty but very dense.
    I used a mascarpone icing instead because the cake was heavy. It was good

  8. #
    Maria — November 14, 2018 at 12:19 am

    I made the icing as instructed and it came out perfect. The taste was amazing, not too sweet and my friends loved this cake and they all commented on how good the icing was.

  9. #
    lea — November 13, 2018 at 7:31 am

    Hi what cream is meant to be used here ? heavy cream? whip cream ? what do you mean by cream ? In my country, we do not have anything is sold as just cream. Please help ! thanks


  10. #
    Lisa — October 4, 2018 at 8:41 am

    I have made this cake a few times and has become a favorite with the girls in the office! I have not used the cooked icing on it but I have used that recipe for frosting before. One of the other ways to be sure the flour mixture is lump free is to pass it through a sieve before adding it to the cream cheese mix. I use a regular buttercream frosting but have added a cream of pistachio liquer to it. Amazing!! This recipe is definitely a keeper!!

  11. #
    Lourdes — July 28, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    I absolutely love this cake! It is so delicious and light. The frosting as been a big hit with my family as well. I made additional frosting and used it on cupcakes. We were on vacation in the Bahamas and I made the frosting again and smothered the cupcakes. To quote one of the children, “This is bestest thing I ever ate.” I couldn’t agree more!

  12. #
    Kathryn — April 28, 2018 at 8:47 am

    I agree with all the comments shared about the cake being delicious but the icing not measuring up. It was runny and lumpy even with following the instructions (which are very confusing, by the way – chill the milk mixture overnight and bring it to room temp but it should be added cold?). I used a whisk attachment after the paddle, which helped get rid of some of the lumps, but it mixed in too much air. This made the runny problem worse. A simple buttercream or cream cheese frosting would have been better, and I’ll probably do that next time or omit the frosting altogether. This recipe is not unique – my mom sent me a very similar one that my grandmother used, and I’ve pasted it below.

    Cook 3 Tb flour with 3/4 cup milk to custard consistency.

    Chill thoroughly.

    Soften one cup butter to room temperature in large mixing bow. Add chilled custard and beat 10 minutes. Add one cup granulated sugar and beat 10 minutes. Add 1 tsp. flavoring and approximately 1 cup powdered sugar and continue to beat until stiff.

  13. #
    Kasey — March 11, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    The cake itself is good, but the icing recipe is a disaster. To say it is better after refrigerating overnight should have been a big warning bell, but I tried it as written anyway — always like to give the original cook or baker an honest chance. Regardless, it would have been much better with a traditional light vanilla buttercream icing and maybe a touch of tartness, like a swirl of blackberry syrup with the actual fruit. I will probably make it again with some changes.

  14. #
    Ashleigh — February 17, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Tried this recipe today at work and I must say, this is one of the best cakes I have made! I did add Orange zest to my battery to give it some flavor and it came out great! Had trouble with the icing so I just made regular cream cheese icing. Wish I could upload a picture of the outcome.. will definitely be making this again, delish!

  15. #
    Jennifer Campbell — January 27, 2018 at 9:19 am

    This is an amazing cake! I have some tips for people having problems. If you cake is crumbling you need baked it too long. If you icing is too thin you did not reduce the Milk, cream sugar for a long enough time in the beginning or at a high enough heat. If you get clumps it is because you did not read the directions which say to take it out of the frig and let it come to room temperature. I agree that was a little unclear however these ingredients must always be at room temperature when you combine. This way when you bring the mixer to high the clumps will go away. I made my icing a little too thin but my cakes are still amazing. I also substituted a mix of gel vanilla bean and real vanilla bean for the liquid vanilla.
    I thought it might not be enough nuts but using the recipe I found I was wrong. This cake is soo amazing! lots of great rise and such amazing flavor!

  16. #
    Maria — October 15, 2017 at 5:42 am

    Is that a typo in your frosting recipe? Should it “16 ounces cream cheese” instead of only “6 ounces cream cheese”? That would certainly explain everyone’s trouble with it turning out too thin, including mine.

  17. #
    Nz — August 22, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Hi! I’m planning to make this cake later and I just want to know, can I ssubstitute milk with buttermilk?

  18. #
    Lisa — June 20, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I was wondering about the saltiness of the nuts. I bought slightly salty pistachios and plan to omit the salt in the recipe.I did not find unsalted pistachios.

  19. #
    Liz Basileo — April 15, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I sort of combined Tessa’s frosting with the one Arden posted:
    I made the flour/milk/sugar/cream mixture as printed in the original, but only used about 3/4 of it. (Next time I will work out the smaller quantities!) I used 16 oz. cream cheese and 1/2 cup butter. I let everything come to room temperature before mixing. The frosting is creamy smooth and so delicious. I refrigerated it before frosting the cake, which baked up beautifully. Although, I did wonder about using salted pistachios. Doesn’t the cake taste salty? I used unsalted.

  20. #
    Realtoughchick — March 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I just made this cake for my boyfriends birthday. We used the raspberries instead. It was amazing BEST birthday cake he’s EVER had! Thanks for the recipe!!!

  21. #
    Rosana — January 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    May I use cake flour? Thank you

  22. #
    Beth — December 23, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I’ve made this cake twice – second time at the request of my husband for his birthday. It’s been a hit both times and I love the taste of the frosting! It’s the only 3 layer cake I’ve ever made, and while it does take some time it’s not actually difficult. Two questions: I have only 9 inch pans, so the cake is not nearly as tall as pictured. Anyone know a simple way to increase and convert this recipe for 9 inch pans? Also, both times I’ve made it the frosting is a little too soft and slowly slides does the sides of the cake, even while refrigerated. Makes it difficult to do any decorating on the top. Suggestions? Am I whipping it too much to get all the lumps out? I’ve whipped it until very smooth.

  23. #
    Sunita — October 10, 2016 at 12:09 am

    HI, I want to know why have you use cream of tarter.
    Also can I use pastry cream frosting?.

  24. #
    Arden — August 18, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    For everyone struggling with the icing, here is a recipe that is very similar, but doesn’t have the lumping and thin problem. With this icing, the cake is amazing. I love that it’s moist and not too sweet.

    16 oz. cream cheese, room temp
    1 stick of butter, room temp
    0.25 cup flour
    1 cup white sugar
    1 tbsp corn starch
    0.25 tsp salt
    1.5 cups whole milk
    3 tbsp honey
    1 tsp vanilla

    Whip the cream cheese and butter together in a stand mixer on medium for about 5 minutes, until very smooth
    Remove and place in a different bowl

    Sift the flour
    Add sugar, salt and cornstarch together with the flour in a sauce pan
    Pour in the milk while stirring
    Heat over medium high heat until the mixture starts to get thick and pasty. Boil while whisking constantly for about a minute

    Add to the mixing bowl and whisk on about 6 for 10 minutes or until the mixture has cool to about lukewarm to room temperature
    Slowly add in the cream cheese butter mix, waiting for it to be incorporated before adding more
    Add the honey and vanilla
    Place in the fridge to cool and set up overnight

  25. #
    Arden — August 14, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    The frosting is a disaster! I followed the instructions exactly. It’s clumpy and very thin. I’ll be using the America’s Test Kitchen cream cheese frosting recipe if I make this again.

  26. #
    Habibeh Alikhan — August 13, 2016 at 10:26 am

    The frosting doesn’t hold its shape and so how can one decorate with any flowers. It also drips down sides obviously. Followed instructions correctly!

  27. #
    Diana — July 31, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Hi! I baked the cake and it’s really delicious! But the cake seem break easilly.. Anyone facing this problem?

  28. #
    Anna — June 18, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    What an IDIOTIC icing recipe. Totally logical to throw a freezing cold frosting mixture into room temperature butter. Very smart. Now I have a lumpy frosting and a dinner party of 15 people that are going to have no dessert.

  29. #
    SHAUNALEE OTTEY — April 21, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Your recipe states that the frosting requires sugar. Is this confectioner’s sugar or granulated sugar?

  30. #
    Katya — April 20, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Melanie, I want to make this cake over the weekend, it looks gorgeous! Can you please tell me by how much I need to increase ingredients for a 9 inch pan.?

  31. #
    Linda — March 11, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Aww thanks Tessa that’s great, much appreciated. Xx

  32. #
    Linda — March 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Melanie, am going to make this cake, it sounds wonderful. But is there any possibility of having the recipe in grams? I’m struggling to convert the cups…..
    Thanks xx

  33. #
    Carol K — January 21, 2016 at 2:11 am

    Thank you so much for this amazing recipe. I’ve made this cake 3 times and each time it comes out perfect and is a huge hit with my friends and family.

  34. #
    Shakir M — January 5, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    I make it today for my husband birthday. very delicious !
    My husband really liked it.
    Thank u very much!

    I also got the same problem with lumpy frosting. Is it ok to mix the butter and cheese before putting it in the fridge ?!

  35. #
    Donald — December 9, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Can I make this cake and assemble it and put it in the fridge for the next day? or is it better to make it the same day?

  36. #
    Christy — August 14, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Hi! So excited to try this recipe, but I just moved to Denver and am unsure about making this in a high altitude environment. Do you know if there are any changes I should make before attempting? Thanks and beautiful cake!!!

  37. #
    Pippa L — July 17, 2015 at 3:52 am

    Hey Melanie,
    Going to make this yummy looking cake for a friends birthday picnic in London tomorrow and just wondered what kind of sugar you used for the frosting? It just makes quite a big difference when I’m converting from cups to grams!

  38. #
    Olivia — May 9, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Great tip ibambi, my frosting also turned out lumpy but a stick blender did the trick! Great recipe!

  39. #
    ibambi — May 4, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Also got lumpy frosting but used the stick blender and made it completely smooth. I would just put all the frosting ingredients into a food processor next time.

  40. #
    ibambi — May 4, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Just finished making the cake, and eating a giant slice! Very tasty but not diet friendly. I had to make some substitutions: I ran out of white sugar for the cake so did 1/2 light brown sugar and 1/2 sugar. We are a nut free house, so I used peanuts instead of pistachios (Kirkland extra large). I think the peanuts and the brown sugar made the cake too dense, I had to bake it an extra 10 minutes for it to be cooked through. Next time I’d swap out some of the butter for peanut butter or use ground pumpkin seeds to make it lighter.
    In spite of the problems, it was still amazing.

  41. #
    Madelyn — April 2, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Hi! I made this cake yesterday and it came out just like the pic. Its really good! When I was adding the butter and cream cheese I could see little clumps and was worry but when I increased the speed it became nice and smooth and very tasty. I dont like frostings that are too sweet and this one is perfect. Thanks!

  42. #
    Nancy — March 15, 2015 at 10:51 am

    My frosting did not turn out very well. There were lumps in it, which I assume were from the cold flour/sugar mixture and the room temperature butter. Did you mix the frosting immediately after you took the mixture out of the refrigerator?

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 16, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      Nancy, I’m sorry the frosting didn’t work out. I mixed it immediately after removing it from the fridge and used room temp butter and cream cheese. Did you place plastic wrap on the surface of the mixture right after making it? If it cools exposed to the air it could form a crust and cause lumps. Also, using the paddle attachment helps to get lumps out when beating.

    • #
      Madelyn — April 2, 2015 at 9:24 am

      Hi, when I started adding the butter and cream cheese I started seeing lumps too but when I increased the speed like the recipe says it became nice and smooth. Did you increase the speed to med?

  43. #
    Frances — March 14, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    what size of plans did you use?

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 15, 2015 at 3:31 am

      Fances- I used 3 8-inch round cake pans.

  44. #
    ibambi — March 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Looks amazing. I’m going to try it without the nuts, maybe sub pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds as we are a tree-nut-free house.
    I guess it would be great with ground peanuts in the cake and added peanut butter to the frosting too.

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Peanuts in it sounds delicious! Let me know how it turns out.

  45. #
    DearDarla — March 8, 2015 at 5:51 am

    This is so lovely and unique! Beautiful things are so inspiring so thank you for sharing this!
    -Darla from DearDarla.com

  46. #
    Kari — March 7, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    This is a gorgeous cake and I love that it combines blackberries and pistachios. YUM!

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Thanks Kari! The berries are delicious with the cake. Raspberries would taste great too!

  47. #
    June+Burns — March 7, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Wow that is such a pretty cake! I love the way you decorated it, the colors of the blackberries and pistachio go together so well 🙂 Pistachio desserts are always good, so I imagine this is very tasty too!

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

      I love the purple and green together too. It might have something to do with my daughter watching so much Barney? haha! Thanks June!

  48. #
    Lydia — March 7, 2015 at 6:09 am

    this is the most beautiful cake i have ever seen

    oh my goodness

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Thanks so much Lydia! 🙂

  49. #
    Peabody (Culinary Concoctions by Peabody) — March 6, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    It’s simply stunning!

  50. #
    Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie — March 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Oh my gosh this cake is gorgeous!

  51. #
    Melanie @ Carmel Moments — March 6, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Wow Melanie! That is one gorgeous cake! I can’t get over how pretty the pistachios look alongside the blackberries.
    Perfect pictures!

    Have a great weekend!

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Thank you Melanie! I’m so obsessed with those pretty green nuts.

  52. #
    grace — March 6, 2015 at 5:59 am

    your cake is beautifully decorated and undoubtedly delicious–pistachios are my favorite nut!

    • #
      Melanie Dueck — March 9, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Grace! You’ll love this cake!

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