This delectable vegan lemon pistachio cake is both grain free and gluten free, which makes it suitable for lots of eating styles. It’s made with coconut flour, almond flour, and finely ground pistachios. It also has a tart, sweet lemon glaze.
Anyone who has read this blog for some time knows that I am no stranger to vegan cake.
Many of my cake recipes begin with a similar combination and ratio of dry ingredients to wet. From there, I’ve varied flavors and textures, from carrot cake to classic vanilla cake to more unusual offerings, like chocolate beet cake or golden milk cake.
This vegan lemon pistachio cake, unlike nearly all of my others, is a big step outside of my comfort zone!
I first created the cake when I attended a Passover seder with some chosen family: my closest friend from college, Jordan, and his parents and siblings.
Jordan’s mom has always welcomed me to contribute a vegan recipe when I join the family for holidays. At Rosh Hashana, this means a crown-shaped loaf of challah.
At Passover, it means the challenge of something plant-based and also grain-free.
This presents quite a challenge. Grains are a cornerstone of my every day diet as well as my baking. When I made this pistachio cake, it was my first attempt ever to create a recipe that was intentionally grain-free.
While grain-free baking won’t ever be my norm, it was interesting to create something that didn’t rely on regular flour for texture. And, though the cake is very different from the cakes that I have created in the past, it has become a favorite of mine for its own reasons.
In the case of this pistachio cake, there is a simple explanation: I first made it for a Passover celebration. One of the dietary modifications for Passover is avoidance of grains that can be leavened through fermentation.
I could have chosen to use quinoa flour, as quinoa isn’t a grain, technically speaking.
However, I decided instead to take up the challenge of making a grain-free vegan cake. Grain-free eating may not align with my own preferences, but it’s a style that appeals to others. I’m always happy to create vegan recipes that fit can fit many ways of eating.
For this cake, I used a combination of almond flour, coconut flour, and pistachio flour. The pistachio flour could be prepared at home by grinding pistachios very finely (think: as powdery as possible) in a food processor.
You can also purchase pistachio flour online. It’s a pricey flour to invest in, but if you do a lot of grain-free baking, then it might be a fun investment. And you can make a bag stretch if you use it in combination with other grain-free flours.
One of the challenges of grain-free baking for vegans is that it’s hard to get rise and fluffy texture in baked goods.
Many recipes that call for almond or coconut flour employ eggs for leavening and tenderness. Without eggs, these flours are more of a challenge. My experiments in using almond flour without a grain flour or starches has resulted in many dense baked goods.
In fairness, this lemon pistachio cake is a bit dense, too. But I think that it works for this particular recipe. In fact, it’s quite delicious: think what it would be like if marzipan became a cake!
I wouldn’t have been able to take this grain-free baking adventure without some guidance from pros. One is Lindsay of the blog Cotter Crunch. I was so impressed with the fluffiness of her grain free vegan white cake recipe.
I also took note of this pistachio cake by Nigel Slater, adapted by Julie Powell. It looked beautiful, but I knew I’d need to tweak it considerably to make it vegan.
I thought back to Lindsay’s cake, and I wondered if I couldn’t create some sort of amalgam of the two. That effort is what guided me as I developed the vegan lemon pistachio cake recipe.
Speaking of leavening, I used baking powder and baking soda to create rise in the cake. I came up against some confusion about whether these leavening agents are acceptable for Passover.
After doing a little research, I learned that the prohibition on leavened grains applies specifically to leavening through fermentation.
Since chemical leavening agents don’t create leavening through fermentation, baking soda and baking powder can be permissible for Passover.
Apparently, Kosher for Passover baking powder and baking soda can be found in Orthodox neighborhoods, though they may be harder to locate in major grocers.
Yes, absolutely. The pistachio flour in this recipe can be substituted with additional blanched, superfine almond flour.
In this case, the cake will become an almond coconut cake. Different, yet still delightful.
While making this cake was an adventure for me, the actual process of making it was similar to many of my other go-to cakes.
The first step is to prepare an 8-inch, round springform cake pan. If you don’t have springform, a cake pan with a removable bottom will also work.
If you don’t have a round cake pan that’s either springform or has a removable bottom, then a round, non-stick cake pan is OK. However, it has to be nonstick, and you’ll want to grease or oil it very well.
I also recommend lining the bottom of the cake pan with a round of parchment.
Next, you’ll combine the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. If you’re making the pistachio flour from scratch, you’ll do that before mixing the flours together.
After this, you’ll combine the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Then, you’ll add them to the dry ingredients. Mix the ingredients well to combine. Since this is a gluten-free cake recipe, there’s no danger of over-mixing.
Next, you’ll transfer the batter to your prepared cake pan. You may need to use a spatula to help with the transfer. You’ll also use this spatula (or an offset spatula) to gently smooth the top of the cake over.
The cake needs about 45-50 minutes to bake. When the cake finishes baking, you may notice that it’s not as puffy or “set” in the center as regular (grain-based) vegan cakes.
This is normal! The pistachio cake will retain a dense texture in the center even after it is fully baked. It shouldn’t be liquid or raw by any means. But it may be moist. The cake will continue to firm as you store it.
After baking, the cake needs a few hours to cool, at least, before you can frost it.
I recommend cooling the pistachio cake for a full 4 hours prior to making the glaze and frosting the cake. If you prefer, you can let the cake come to room temperature, then wrap it lightly with plastic wrap and continue cooling it in the fridge overnight.
The glaze for this cake is simple: lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Note that, if you are preparing the cake for Passover, you’ll need to use Kosher for Passover certified confectioners sugar.
It’s also possible to make confectioners (powdered) sugar at home with Kosher sugar if you have a high-speed blender. Here’s a tutorial on the process.
Once the glaze is ready, you’ll pour it over the cake. You can sprinkle the cake with chopped, shelled pistachios if desired.
Now the cake needs one more interval of cooling time. This will help the glaze on the cake to set!
Transfer the glazed and decorated cake to the fridge for 2-3 hours, uncovered. At this point, you can slice and serve. You can also cover the cake gently with plastic wrap, then store the cake overnight in the fridge.
This pistachio cake benefits from more time to set, rather than less. So it’s a good cake to prepare one day in advance of serving and sharing.
I recommend storing the lemon pistachio cake in the fridge, wrapped lightly with plastic wrap.
Stored in this way, the cake will keep for up to four days in the fridge.
Yes, you can freeze the lemon pistachio cake! It’s possible to freeze either the entire cake, or to freeze individual slices, depending on what you have left over.
The cake can be frozen for up to 6 weeks. Defrost the cake (or individual slices of cake) in the fridge overnight. Allow the slices to come to room temperature before enjoying.
One thing to note is that this is already a relatively moist cake. So, if you do freeze and defrost, the texture may be a little stodgy. The cake will still be delicious; however, if you’re making it for company, you may want to prepare it fresh.
If you enjoy this unusual, delicious cake, then you may enjoy these other vegan delights for snacking, sharing, and savoring!
While I first created this cake with Passover in mind, it’s a lovely Easter offering, too.
And there’s no reason to wait until a holiday to prepare it! The cake is lovely for spring, with its lemony notes, and it’s a burst of bright, citrusy sweetness in the wintertime.
In other words, it’s a treat to savor no matter the season. I hope that you enjoy it!