This rich, nutty, dreamily moist Parmesan Pistachio Cake is easy to make, can and should be made in advance, and travels well, making it perfect for brunch, potlucks, and picnics.
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I find very few cakes more satisfying to eat than hearty, nut-based cakes. You might be familiar with Torta di Mandorla, or Italian almond tart: its texture is a bit tighter than your usual sponge cake, yet fluffy, dreamily moist, and so, so flavorful. Nut-based cakes can look humble, and indeed they aren’t fussy: they’re easy to make, can be made in advance (and in fact, they should be!), travel well, and don’t need much adornment. They’re the kind of cakes that stand proud on their own. Simply dust the top with some powdered sugar and let the flavors speak for themselves.
I’ve made my share of almond cakes over the years, but after visiting Sicily a few years ago, I started substituting my favorite nut—pistachio—in the cake. Not only did it make the cake visually striking, but the soft flavor of pistachios combined with lemon zest developed a delightful, complex flavor over days. This Parmesan Pistachio Cake is a treat to keep under a cloche on the countertop for everyone to grab a slice at will. It’s great for dessert, but also for breakfast and brunch. And perfect for picnics!
You might be intrigued by the mention of “parmesan” in the recipe title. Let me explain: the pastry chef of my favorite Quebec City restaurant, Battuto, likes to play with Parmigiano-Reggiano in desserts. At Battuto, desserts sometimes come with a fresh, cloud-like grating of the sharp Italian cheese, adding an irresistible savory note to the dish. I was surprised when I saw it the first time, yet I “got it” right away. In fact, I wish I’d thought of using Parmigiano-Reggiano in desserts myself! Many pastry chefs love to walk the fine line between sweet and savory, and this is often what makes their desserts so appealing and distinct from homemade desserts, in my opinion.
But there’s no reason why a homemade dessert can’t taste as sophisticated and complex as a restaurant dessert does, and so I started playing with that Parmigiano-Reggiano-sweet flavor combination immediately after first tasting it. I love when a trick from a professional chef can be so easily emulated at home: it doesn’t make your life in the kitchen any harder, yet produces an incredibly interesting result. Not to mention using parmesan in your dessert is a sure-fire conversation starter!
In this Parmesan Pistachio Cake, Parmigiano-Reggiano replaces the usual pinch of salt and adds a subtle nutty kick that beautifully underlines the pistachio-lemon combination.
You can certainly serve this cake on its own, but the addition of quickly stewed, basil-infused apricots is a lovely addition when the fruits are in season. When boiled quickly in a sugar syrup, the apricots keep their shape but soften to the spoon-tender stage. They also release some of their juice into the syrup, which the Parmesan Pistachio Cake will soak up delightfully.
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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