Emerald Isle Pistachio Cupcakes: march gladness

St. Patrick’s Day is just over 1 month from today. What’s on your green radar this year?

When you think St. Pat’s, you might think corned beef and cabbage. Or maybe Irish soda bread – American style, or traditional.

If you’re lucky enough to know about Chocolate Stout Cake – the biggest, densest, most brazenly decadent dark chocolate layer cake ever – you definitely think about that, raising a glass of Guinness in its honor.

There’s just one problem with all of these treats: they’re not green. And there are those among you (you know who you are) who can’t let St. Pat’s Day pass without baking something green: shortbread, muffins, cookies, maybe a bright-green lime cake.

Unless you’re going the food color route (in which case green baking can assume any flavor), lime and pistachio are the flavors of the day. And even those “green” flavors won’t yield the bright-green treats you’re determined to bring to the office. For that, you need (dare I say it?) pudding mix, or Jell-O.

Which is what you’ll find, in both cake and icing, in these green pistachio cupcakes.

If you’re opposed to using boxed mixes of any kind, including pudding, then get off the train right here – it’s not destined for any station at which you’d care to disembark.

But if you’re a relaxed kind of baker – like me – read on. Here’s another recipe to add to your green St. Pat’s collection.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the wells of a standard muffin pan; or line the pan with muffin  papers, and grease the papers (for best release).

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the following until thoroughly combined:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pistachio flavor, optional; for enhanced flavor
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the following:

1 2/3 cups (7 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3 1/8-ounce package instant pistachio pudding mix or 1-ounce package sugar-free pudding mix*
2 tablespoons cake enhancer, optional; for increased moistness

*Use a national brand, for deepest green color.

In another bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt (or sour cream); and 1/2 cup milk.

Starting and ending with the flour mixture, alternately beat in the flour and yogurt/milk, as follows: 1/3 of the flour, half the yogurt/milk, 1/3 of the flour, the remaining yogurt/milk, and the remaining flour. Beat gently to combine after each addition. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly.

Stir in 3/4 cup shelled, chopped pistachios, if desired. This is for those of you who’d feel odd making pistachio cupcakes that didn’t actually include any pistachios. Personally, I prefer the cupcakes without the chopped nuts, but each to his own.

Spoon the batter into the wells of the pan; a muffin scoop is the ideal tool here.

The wells will be about 3/4 full.

Bake the cupcakes for 18 to 22 minutes, until they appear set and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center cupcakes comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven.

As soon as you can handle them, transfer them to a rack to cool.

Now for the icing. You can actually make this before the cupcakes, since it has to chill for awhile; but if you’re not in a hurry, afterwards is fine, too.

Combine the following in a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan:

1 cup heavy or whipping cream*
1/2 cup milk*
4 1/2 cups mini-marshmallows (3/4 standard-size bag)
3 1/8-ounce package instant pistachio pudding mix or 1-ounce package sugar-free pudding mix
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon pistachio flavor, optional; for enhanced flavor

*To make icing stiff enough to pipe and hold its shape, substitute 1/2 cup heavy cream for the 1/2 cup milk. If you’re not going to pipe the frosting, prepare the recipe as written.

Heat everything gently, stirring often, until the marshmallows have melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat, and chill until completely cold.

Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, whip the frosting until it’s smooth and creamy. If you’ve used all cream, it’ll be quite stiff, which makes it perfect for piping.

Spread the icing (or pipe the all-cream version) atop the cupcakes. If you pipe it, you probably won’t need the optional garnish of chopped nuts; if you spread the icing, chopped nuts help dress the cakes up.

Now, one word about this icing: its consistency is noticeably “marshmallow-y.” Think Hostess Sno Ball. If you’re not a fan of this type of frosting, try Italian Buttercream, flavored with pistachio flavor or enhanced with pistachio paste.

Now THAT’S green!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Emerald Isle Pistachio Cupcakes.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. JT

    Hi Jaydl,

    Thanks for the tips. I want to share my experience baking this recipe as a Bundt cake. I used Nordic Ware’s Anniversary pan (10-15 cup capacity).

    1) I doubled the recipe and noticed that the batter became extremely thick. The motor of my hand mixer became noticeably slower. As the pudding mix is intended to thicken up, I’m guessing that two packages of pudding mix contributed to this.
    2) The recipe took about 1Hr 20Min. I would check at around 1Hr 15Min.
    3) The cake raised incredibly high. I would say that it was probably half an inch lower than the rim when it was done. When I put the batter into the pan, it only reached half the height of the pan. Now that I’m making my comments, I’ve noticed that PJ’s cupcakes raised nicely and have an attractive “muffin-top”. I’m wondering if this had to do with the pudding mix or the 4 tbsp of baking powder used after the recipe was doubled.
    4) I did not add any pistachio flavouring nor chopped pistachios. As a result, the pistachio flavour wasn’t very pronounced (neither was the green colour). However, the cake was very moist and tasty.
    5) The top 1/6th of the cake (the bottom when inverted) had an interesting crust. It was similar to a crusty bun. However, the crumb throughout the cake was consistently cake-like.

    That said, I was not disappointed with the result and would try this again. I would suggest others try this as a Bundt cake too. As the cake raised very high, I don’t think I would double the recipe. Lastly, I’m wondering how well this recipe would work when substituting other flavours of pudding mix….. hmm, butterscotch anybody? Wow, I wrote a lot. Hopefully others will find these thoughts helpful!

  2. JT

    I really enjoy reading your blog posts PJ. I don’t enjoy making cupcakes/muffins as I find filling the tins tedious. I want to make this as a bundt cake for my mother’s birthday.

    Would you recommend trying that? If so, do I double (or triple) the recipe? And what adjustments should I make to the time and temperature?

    I look forward to sharing my experience with all of you.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t tried making these cupcakes as a Bundt cake. If you want to experiment, you might try baking a double recipe in a Bundt pan. The cake would likely take about an hour to bake at 350 degrees. I hope your mother has a wonderful birthday.~Jaydl@KAF

  3. jtee4short

    I rated this recipe 5 stars already but I wanted to add another comment without skewing the ratings. I made these cupcakes for our family St. Patrick’s Day dinner. They’re still talking about those cupcakes!

    Excellent – so glad to hear they were a hit! Not everyone loves that marshmallow-y frosting, but I sure do – and I guess your family feels the same. Thanks for sharing here – PJH

  4. dinchas

    I agree the icing is a mess. It is now sliding off my cup cakes. I guess that is why you said to sprinkle the nuts on top if you didn’t pipe it to make it look better. Next time I think I will get some Dream Whip and make my old Watergate Cake icing. It always turned out perfect. The cake part is really fine, but never again on the icing!

    If the icing slid off, it’s because the cupcakes had residual heat that melted it. Be sure the cupcakes are completely cool (resting 2 hours at least) at room temperature before you ice them. Even the slightest trace of heat will do this! Kim@KAF

  5. Dessert By Candy

    Great recipe that foregoes the dreaded cake mix. Added 2oz melted dark chocolate to 1/4 of the batter to make marble cakes. I made it into 6 bundtlettes with extra batter to spare for some extra treats for the baker. A bit of cream cheese pistachio glaze is my alternative to frosting. Everyone loved it on St Patrick’s Day!
    Sounds so lovely, bet the glaze was amazing! ~ MaryJane

  6. rochelle_keefer

    Eating one of these right now! Great recipe. I would leave the extra pistachios out next time. The flavor is enough from the pudding mix and I didn’t like the added texture of them. I should have read all these reviews before I made them though. I used Greek yogurt. The middles sank after they baked. I’m assuming that’s why. I never buy regular yogurt though. Could I use it, but just use less/more milk? After I put all that delicious marshmallow-y pistachio goodness on top, you couldn’t tell they were ugly anyway! I really love the frosting. I want to try it with other pudding mixes now!
    Try using about 1 tablespoon less if you are using Greek yogurt. You may need to play with it a little bit, but it sounds like you have good plans for making more. ~ MaryJane


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