Pistachio cupcakes: pistachio, pistachio, what rhymes with pistachio?

The blog planning meeting went a little like this…

Halley: “So, MJ, can you plan on making some kind of cupcake for the green St. Patrick’s Day email? But don’t make them too, errr, umm, GREEN, OK?”

Me: “Sure, I can do that, I was thinking pistachio.”

Halley: “Great, just not too green.”

Now, I love Halley, King Arthur’s director of online services (read: our Web boss), and I knew just what she was talking about. I do have quite an affinity for my extra-strong food colorings, and tend to be the brightest of the bakers (well, at least colorwise!). This was her gentle way of reminding me that eye-searing fluorescent green was off the table this time, and soft green was in.

And in a way, it was refreshing to work with a different palate of color and flavor. A restful taste, an old-fashioned taste. To me, pistachio is a flavor from the Howard Johnson’s ice cream parlors of days past, or pistachio shortbread cookies that somehow cool your palate as you nibble.

Even saying “pistachio” is more like a sigh than a word. By the way, the only word I’ve found to rhyme with pistachio is mustachio, and I’m not sure that’s a really real word.

These Pistachio Cupcakes are a textural cross between a cupcake and a muffin, studded with little bits of pistachio nut and topped with a silky buttercream. The cupcake uses freshly ground nuts and a touch of extra strong flavoring, while the icing uses very smooth pistachio paste.

To start, grind 1 cup whole pistachios with 1/2 teaspoon sugar in a small food processor. You won’t need all the ground nuts, but it’s far easier to grind a larger amount than a smaller amount.

Here’s what the ground nuts look like in comparison to homemade pistachio paste and store-bought pistachio paste. You’ll notice that the homemade paste is much coarser than the commercial brand. It’s just a matter of having the right equipment.

We’ll touch on when to use ground nuts vs. paste a little later on.

For the cupcake batter, add to your mixing bowl 1 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon pistachio extra strong flavor, 1 large egg, and 5 tablespoons butter.

Pour in 3/4 cup ground pistachios (ground first, then measured).  Blend together on low speed for 1 minute.

The batter will be very  thick at this point.

Add 1 cup whole milk or half & half,  then blend on medium speed for 2 minutes. The batter will become looser, but will still have some texture due to the nuts.

Scoop the batter into a 12-cup muffin tin lined with cupcake papers. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes.

The cupcakes won’t brown too much, just a touch on the edges. A cake tester will come out clean, and the tops will be dry to the touch.

Immediately take the cupcakes from the tins and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, rustle up 2 cups of prepared buttercream (I’m using Italian Buttercream, my favorite).

Now, here is where your choices of pistachio can vary. If you want the icing to have a bit of texture, use the plain ground nuts. If you want to go between smooth and crunchy, use homemade paste.* If you want your icing the smoothest, stick with commercially prepared pistachio paste, the smoothest of the three.

Oh, and remember the “green” conversation? I did use one single drop of leaf green food coloring to get the right shade of pale green.

*To make homemade pistachio paste, process 1 cup pistachios + 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. While the machine is running, drizzle in light vegetable or sunflower oil until the mixture smooths out like peanut butter. Process for another 30 seconds to blend well. Adjust the flavor with sugar or salt to your taste.

Being an icing lover, I cored some of these cupcakes with our handy little cupcake corer before icing them.

What do you do with the “cores” of cake? You make little tasty treats for the baker!

For topping the cupcakes, I wanted to break out of my traditional frosting swirl. If you follow the “v”s from small to large, you’ll see a sort of figure-8 pattern emerge…

Repeat the pattern again, and you’ll end up with a graceful almost Celtic looking design on the top of your cupcakes.

Experiment on parchment with a few different designs to see what tickles your fancy.

This pistachio buttercream proved to be a favorite in the test kitchen. We ate the leftovers on scraps of vanilla cake, quick bread, spoons, and someone who shall remain nameless even put some on an Oreo. Sue The mystery person said it was just dandy!

Enjoy these cupcakes for your St. Patrick’s Day dessert, or any other day of the year. Pistachio deserves to shine, any time!

Please bake, rate and review our recipe for Pistachio Cupcakes.

Print just the recipe

Check out these other pistachio recipes: Pistachio Shortbread; St. Pat’s Pistachio Cookies; Cannoli Cakes; Frozen Pistachio Parfait Pie

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. binag

    This looks absolutely delicious!. I love pistachio cakes but would like to ask could this be made as a layer cake? My family is not so hot on cupcakes. Also could I substitute either regular cake flour or KA’s all purpose flour. Here in Hong Kong we can only buy the all-purpose or whole wheat flours.

    In general, a recipe that makes 12 cupcakes will make one layer or 9″ round cake. Bear in mind, we didn’t try this recipe as a cake – only as the cupcakes. You might consider making your own cake flour using 2 tablespoons cornstarch and the rest of the cup of all purpose flour – that will mimic cake flour and still get you good baking results in your location – Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

  2. gmcbeth

    What rhymes you ask?

    Ode to Pistachio!

    Pistachio, pistachio
    Oh how I love you so!
    You make me dance around in fun
    Until the baking time is done
    I sing and dance at the sound of your name
    I love the green color just the same
    I dance to Pistashio, Pistashio
    Ouch I just stubbed my toe!

    Ok, time to get back to baking. Until next time . . . always take time to savor the aroma.
    I LOVE IT!!!! Looking back, I should have had a pistachio limerick contest, of course that could have gotten a bit naughty, but I’m definitely printing this poem out to hang on my desk. YOU ROCK! ~ MaryJane

  3. "Teresa F."

    Would the cupcakes suffer much without the pistachio flavoring? I don’t have that flavoring and wonder if I can use vanilla.

    When I saw the opening photo of the cupcakes, I thought the icing design was a four leaved clover. That would be just as interesting as the Celtic knot design.
    You’ll still get very good taste without the flavoring, so go ahead and use the vanilla. I’m a huge lover of 4 leaf clovers and have a jar full of them that I’ve found over the years. I’m glad you liked the design. ~ MaryJane

  4. waikikirie

    Oh MJ…..You’re killing me with these posts teehee. This one will be making the rounds next year. Shout out to Bridgid….Pretty please with sugar on top, please share your ice cream recipe. It is my DH’s favorite and I am on a quest to find a great home-made recipe for him. Happy St Patrick’s Day every one…xoxox
    I promise, my next post will not be cupcakes. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

  5. glpruett

    Oooooooh, yes, Brigid, please please please share the pistachio ice cream recipe! Since I bought my 1.5 quart ice cream freezer, I have to admit I’ve been ice-cream-crazy!!! (The ice cream bowl has a permanent place in the freezer, and my husband knows he dare not move it…I’m ready for ice cream at a moment’s notice!) I’d love to add a pistachio recipe to my list of favorites!

    And, Mary Jane, what lovely cupcakes! We’re having guests on Sunday, and now I know what the dessert will be! So glad to see a new frosting swirl technique, too, because frankly I was getting a little tired of just doing circles! Looking forward to the “Celtic cross” look!
    I know, I was getting tired of the round swirl too. Glad you like it. If you are a coconut fan, check out this recipe for coconut ice cream while we wait for the pistachio. ~ MaryJane

  6. "Joni M from St. Louis"

    Oh my, Bridgid, please oh please I’d LOVE your pistachio ice cream recipe too! So if MaryJane gets it, can I have it too?? I’m so with you on pistachio nuts being my favorite, pecans are my second and well, cashews are third for me along with walnuts, but that being said–I guess I love pretty much all nuts. (lol, and well, I may just be one myself) These cupcakes just made my mouth water and one day I will make them, so while I am expecting my latest order to arrive today containing the irish cream flavoring, I have already started my next list of things to buy next time…My husband says ya’ll are killing my grocery budget, and I just sit there while he rants and smile back at him thinking, yup, you are, but I’m LOVING it!!!
    Woo hooo, another gal on the pistachio train! Awesome! ~ MaryJane

  7. Bridgid

    Once again, I adore you, MJ. Pistachio – that soft whisper of a word, that sweet succulent nut is my all time favorite. Yes, I love almond, and pecan holds a special place in my heart, but pistachio is the one that makes me say “It’s ok, I accept the weight gain, it’s pistachio!” One of these days I will email you my recipe for pistachio ice cream, and then you will love me the way I love you!
    Please, please pretty please! There is only one place within 20 miles of here that sells pistachio ice cream, I’d love to be able to make a vat of it and keep it all for myself. BUT you do know I already LOVE YA, right?
    ~ MaryJane

  8. Danielle

    Braggadocio is the word you’re looking for. Means boastful behavior. 😉
    Hey, that works. The mustachioed pistachio vendor was full of braggadocio. :). This could prove to be a lot of fun today! ~ MaryJane


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