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. sschiltz1

    Sorry, I’m late to the party, but these cupcakes are truly devine! I used the Italian meringue buttercream and WOW! I made these for my son’s Easter birthday. KA’s Pistachio Paste is so tasty and your meringue powder was so nice-never used meringue powder before.
    Thanks,MJ, for a truly wonderful cupcake recipe. Steph

  2. Bridgid

    hmmm, I posted this before but it didn’t seem to take. This is the recipe I promised. It the best pistachio ice cream I have ever made or ate.

    Philadelphia Style Pistachio Ice Cream – Bruce Weinstein, The Ultimate Ice Cream Book

    Makes about 3 cups

    ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons shelled pistachios
    2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1 cup half & half
    ½ cup sugar
    ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    ¼ teaspoon almond extract
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    1 cup heavy cream

    Process ½ cup pistachios and corn syrup in food processor for 2 minutes or until completely smooth.

    In small heavy saucepan bring the half and half to a simmer. Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

    With food processor running, slowly pour hot half & half into nut puree through the feed tube and process until completely smooth.

    Pour the mixture through a strainer into large clean bowl. Allow to cool slightly. Stir in extracts, salt and cream. Refrigerate until cold or overnight.

    Stir the cold mixture and the freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, adding remaining 2 tablespoons nuts when the ice cream is semi-frozen. When finished, the ice cream will be soft but ready to eat. For firmer ice cream, transfer to freezer safe container and freeze for a minimum of two hours.

    ***I love lots of nuts in my ice cream and have added up to a cup of pistachios instead of 2 tablespoons. I layer them in my ice cream by putting a layer on the bottom of the container, then a layer of ice cream, a layer of nuts, a layer of ice cream, etc. ***

    Thanks for taking the time to post this here, Bridgid – much appreciated! PJH

    Thanks so much for doing this for us Bridgid. I’ll put this right on my Easter list today! <3 ~ MaryJane

  3. LukePF

    Pistachio… so delish. And that’s SUCH a lovely piping idea. Very much going to be doing that next time I do cupcakes.

    On the (semi-) germane topic of grinding nuts, has anyone had any experience doing nut/praline pastes in a Vita-Mix? I asked for (and got!) one for Xmas primarily so I’d not have to shell out (heh) for commercial praline paste but I’ve not tried it out yet…
    I don’t have any experience with Vita-Mix, other than watching the demo at the Eastern States Expo when I was a kid. I’d try a web search, and maybe post on our community site as well. Good luck! ~ MaryJane


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