Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Cake

Gluten Free, Large Cakes | 6th February 2011 | By

Having noted that this month’s Maison Cupcake’s Forever Nigella challenge had a chocolate theme, how could I resist entering? I only have one Nigella book, but its a good one, How to be a Domestic Goddess. Hunting through it, I came across this rather decadent sounding cake. I was now in a quandary: having no special occasion to celebrate, this was quite an expensive cake for just the two of us. However, what I did have were some pistachios whose sell by date was fast approaching – the deal was sealed!

Nigella blithely states this is a simple cake to make. Well I guess it depends what you mean by simple. Melting chocolate in one bowl, beating egg whites in another and the batter in a third maybe simple, but it involves a lot of washing up. I don’t have a large enough food processor to make cakes in, so I also had to grind up the pistachios in a coffee grinder. On top of this the butter was rock hard and the house not warm enough to soften it properly, so much arm power was needed. So, actually not that simple after all.

As I have said on a number of occasions, I am almost incapable of following a recipe exactly and this time was no exception. Lacking a suitable food processor meant I had to follow a different method to Nigella even before I started tinkering with the ingredients. I didn’t quite get what the lemon was about, so I didn’t use it. I used unrefined granulated sugar rather than caster. I wanted to cover the top with something, but not smother it so that the pistachio flavour was overpowered. As a result, I only made 1/3 of the ganache from Nigella’s recipe. Instead of the orange blossom water, which I didn’t have anyway, I used a home made liqueur.

This is what I did:

  • Melted 150g 70% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water
  • Ground 150g pistachios with 50g granulated sugar in a coffee grinder
  • Creamed 150g unsalted butter with 50g granulated sugar until very pale.
  • Beat in the pistachios.
  • Separated 6 eggs (1 duck egg and 5 large hens eggs)
  • Beat in egg yolks one by one.
  • Stirred in the melted chocolate.
  • Whisked egg whites with a pinch of salt in a separate bowl until stiff then whisked in 50g granulated sugar.
  • Folded this into the cake mixture one third at a time.
  • Spooned mixture into a 23 cm round cake mould and baked for 15 minutes at 190C then turned oven down to 180C and baked for a further 20 minutes.
  • Turned out onto a rack to cool.
  • Melted a further 50g of 70% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water with 50ml of double cream and 2 tsp of homemade sea buckthorn liqueur (I was looking for something that wouldn’t be too strong and fruity).
  • Stirred together lightly with a small whisk to avoid mixture splitting.
  • Spread on top of cooled cake.
  • Scattered a few chopped pistachios over the ganache.

The cake had risen amazingly high when I took it out of the oven and like a soufflé, it quickly sank! Luckily it sank gracefully to a nice flat top. The texture was mousse like, moist, light and smooth in the mouth – not nearly as dense as it looked. The cake itself was not at all sweet, almost savoury in flavour, but the ganache added a dessert quality.  I was slightly concerned that the delicate flavour of pistachios would be lost in the rich chocolate, but no, they had a subtle but definite presence. The nuts added a slight crunch. The ganache was just the right amount to form a glaze over the top. The liqueur worked well, augmenting the overall effect rather than as a flavour in its own right. I suspect orange blossom water would have been completely drowned out by the rich chocolate. Sometimes it’s good to celebrate, even when there’s nothing specific going on. We both very much enjoyed this cake and it will keep us going for a few days.


  1. Leave a Reply

    Sarah, Maison Cupcake
    6th February 2011

    Mmm yummy that looks fantastic! I love chocolate and pistachio together and had totally forgotten about this cake.

    Thanks for taking part in Forever Nigella!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Dom at Belleau Kitchen
    6th February 2011

    Looks really good. I love the way you, like me and I fear most of us never follow a recipe exactly. Always turns out fabulous anyway and makes it more fun I find. X

  3. Leave a Reply

    Jill Colonna
    6th February 2011

    I love your description of the chocolate. I feel I’m eating it with you on screen! Absolutely adore mix of chocolate-pistachio. I honestly don’t think this will last as much as a few days! Too good.

  4. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    What a cake! And your description has my mouth watering too ;0)
    Can’t go far wrong when pistachio and chocolate gets used in the same sentance.

  5. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    What a great looking cake! I love these mousse-like chocolate cakes cakes.

    I’m surprised you think sea buckthorn would be a more subtle flavour than orange flower water, but I guess in small amounts with other strong flavours it might be. Or maybe I’ve only had poor quality orange flower water in the past, as I find it rather insipid.

    Have you ever baked anything to showcase the sea buckthorn flavour?

  6. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    Gosh that is gorgeous. Love the green on the dark chocolate.

  7. Leave a Reply

    Ananda Rajashekar
    6th February 2011

    Oh i’m eyeing that book now and cake is gorgeous the green pistachio is brought a special zing to the cake :)

  8. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    It looks divine, and I like your little amendments to the recipe 😉

  9. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    Sarah – thanks for getting me to make some of Nigella’s chocolate recipes I haven’t yet tried.

    Dom – listening to the Food Programme earlier today and heard that the French don’t understand the English obsession with following recipes so maybe it’s not actually as much of an obsession as they think!

    Manu – it was.

    JIll – thank you. It’s made it to day 3 so far!

    Chele – I agree, although isn’t it pretty much anything and chocolate (apart from dates of course) 😉

    Suelle – thank you. What I meant to say was that I thought orange flower water would be too subtle so wanted to use something else, but not a strong liqueur like orange. And as I didn’t use much of the sea buckthorn, it was fine. This is the first time I’ve used sea buckthorn in a cake (I think) but you’re right, I should perhaps be a bit more adventurous.

    Janice – thank you. I liked the green / chocolate contrast too.

    Ananda – thank you. It’s a good book isn’t it?

    BVG – thanks. You mean to say you never tinker with a recipe 😉

    Louise – thank you

  10. Leave a Reply

    6th February 2011

    Mmmm gorgeous-I nearly baked this today – I don’t know I’d mine would have come together so well – it looks very elegant x

  11. Leave a Reply

    7th February 2011

    I wanted to give you the Stylish Blogger Award. Pick it up over at my blog. (if you want)Just want you to how much I like your blog!

  12. Leave a Reply

    7th February 2011

    What a gorgeous cake! I have had my eye on this recipe for a while but never got around to trying it. definitely worth your entry!

  13. Leave a Reply

    The Caked Crusader
    7th February 2011

    Looks rich and delicious.

    “Simple” is one of my pet hates in cookery – the number of times a chef cooks something in Saturday Kitchen that requires all 4 hob rings to be used plus the oven, has another chef assisting him and then he says “this is a lovely simple dish”. Aghhhhh!

  14. Leave a Reply

    Johanna GGG
    8th February 2011

    sounds delicious – but I agree with your idea of simple – if there is more than one bowl involved I get annoyed. I do have a microwave so if the butter is hard from the fridge I soften it gently in the microwave which means I have flabby arm muscles :-)

  15. Leave a Reply

    Domestic Goddess Wannabe
    8th February 2011

    Looks great and well worth the effort! I have baked a few Nigella cakes where there are lots of mixing bowls involved and the washing bit is not much fun, I agree. At least you didn’t have to shell the pistachios!

  16. Leave a Reply

    9th February 2011

    Home made liqueur?? Well done you, that sounds amazing! Your description of the cake has literally made me salivate. I’m going to enter the Nigella challenge this month too :)

  17. Leave a Reply

    Edible Art
    9th February 2011

    this cake looks amazing an the making-process doesnt seem too difficult either, thank your for the recipe (:
    im looking forward to trying this out.

  18. Leave a Reply

    10th February 2011

    Freerangegirl – thank you, good to know I can manage elegent occasionally – it’s not my forte!

    Ann – that’s very kind of you. Thank you very much.

    Brittany – it was worth the washing up, I just objected to the “simple” tag.

    Bridgett – well worth giving this a try. We’ll be having our last peice tonight and I shall miss it when it’s gone.

    CC – glad it’s not just me being pedantic

    Johanna – so it’s a case of creaming hard butter or having flabby arm muscles – hmmm!

    Domestic Goddess – you’re right about shelling those nuts. I’ve done it for a hazelnut cake before and it took ages.

    CityHippy – if my cake is going to sink, it usually sinks most ungracefully. I was quite happy with this one – it did it perfectly.

    Catherine – liquer sounds a bit grand – fruit soaked in sugar and vodka for a few monghts.

    Edible Art – thank you. It’s a good one.

  19. Leave a Reply

    Baking Addict
    10th February 2011

    Wow looks absolutely delicious! I love Nigella’s recipes – cant go wrong with them! I’ll have to jump on the forever Nigella bandwagon too.

  20. Leave a Reply

    11th February 2011

    Baking Addict – I’ve just finished the last piece and one week on, it was still very nice – yum.

  21. Leave a Reply

    12th February 2011

    I love every recipe from Nigella!! She rocks!! this chocolate tarte looks just STUNNING & must taste FABULOUS too!

    It is gluten free too! MMMMMM,…!

  22. Leave a Reply

    13th February 2011

    Wow looks so good. I’ve never had a cake using pistachios in this way before. I love the look of the texture. Sounds fab

  23. Leave a Reply

    Sally - My Custard Pie
    26th February 2011

    I really like your explanation of how you got your end result. I’m great at tinkering with savoury recipes but not sweet baking ones. It’s inspired me to be braver and to make this cake (with liqueur).

  24. Leave a Reply

    3rd April 2013

    This cake looks delicious. Especially as I love the taste of pistachios.

  25. Leave a Reply

    25th May 2013

    dont you have to use flour for this recipe.

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