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slice of cake

It looked good. I was standing at the counter of Baked in Red Hook, and it really looked good. Suzen was not with me. She was on a plane to Las Vegas. I was free to get whatever I wanted. What happens in Baked, stays in Baked.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Pistachio Surprise.”

I thought about it. I’m not a pistachio devotee but it looked really, really good.

I brought it home. I took one bite. Salvation. If there were no more chocolate in the world, I could now survive. This is absolutely, without question, one of the top 10 desserts I have ever eaten. It is magnificent.

After two bites, I pulled my copy of Baked Explorations — the cookbook inspired by Baked from the shelf. Was Pistachio Surprise there? No. A flood of disappointment swept me. Devastation loomed. I took another two bites of cake. My breathing and heart rate began to return to normal. Food anxiety attacks are a leading cause of death.

And somewhere, in the back of my brain, there was a mantra: do not panic. I went through Baked Explorations page by page. And there is was. Called Aunt Sassy Cake in the book, this is THE pistachio cake. I had actually tagged the page in the book as something to make and now here it was on my plate, wonderful and only half consumed. I enjoyed every bite and I have the great reassurance that the recipe is mine. All mine. Well, now yours, too, of course. It would be wrong not to share.

The cake is light, soft yet filled with texture to your bite. The honey vanilla buttercream is decadence. Just sophisticated, evil, wonderful decadence. And the sprinkling of pistachios on top is a signature that you will never forget.

There are other great cakes in the world. Nothing is better.

Aunt Sassy Cake

Yield: one 8-inch, 3-layer cake

Ingredients for the Cake:

  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour ■
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda •
  • ¾ teaspoon salt ‘
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar


Ingredients for the Honey Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons honey


Ingredients for Assembly:

  • cup crushed shelled pistachios


Make the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust the parchment with flour and knock out the excess flour.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons’ worth of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery—but not a superfine dust. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together over the large bowl containing the pistachio mix. Stir to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low.

In a measuring cup, make 1 ½ cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (You can do this by hand. Don’t be intimidated, it should only take 2 to 3 minutes). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

Make the Honey Vanilla Buttercream:

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes at least 7 to 9 minutes of mixing; you can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or frozen corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frost­ing is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assemble the Cake:

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 ¼ cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as crumb coating and will help to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving.

This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is cool and humidity free. Otherwise, put it in a cake saver and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

Source: Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis