I haven’t had a ton of family recipes passed down to me. When I was growing up, one of the most requested recipes was my Grandma Zelda’s pistachio cake. It was this beautiful loaf cake with a layer of green-tinted pistachio cake on the bottom and decadent chocolate cake on top. The cake was rich, moist and we begged her for it at every occasion. Zelda and I often baked together when I was a child and with her I learned how to make mandel bread, kugel and a few other Jewish staples. If you’re wondering what mandel bread is, it’s biscotti. One time I asked Grandma what the difference was between mandel bread and biscotti and her reply was “Jennifer, Jewish people don’t eat biscotti.”
Clearly I disagree. But I didn’t cook or bake at all during my teenage and college years. Post-college, my interest in the kitchen returned, and I finally asked Zelda if I could have access to her coveted pistachio cake recipe. She made such a big deal out of bestowing her famous recipe on me, even offering to purchase the ingredients so I could make it immediately. Want to know how to make Zelda’s famous cake? Mix one box of Duncan Hines yellow cake with one box of instant pistachio pudding mix. Divide the batter in half and mix one half with Hershey’s syrup. Layer the chocolate batter on top of the pistachio batter. Bake.
I was confused and unsure how to proceed. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t rushing to bake her cake and began asking me every time we spoke on the phone whether I had made it yet. I finally lied and said “Yes, Grandma, I made your pistachio cake and it was wonderful.” She immediately began quizzing me about how I made it and I failed her test. She asked for the ingredients back. You know, your typical gentle grandmother.
Zelda is now in her 90s and has slowed down quite a bit. We haven’t had her version in a long time. So I recently set out to recreate her cake using real ingredients. It really wasn’t that difficult until I got to the pistachio part. As it turns out, pistachios don’t have a ton of flavor. I tried infusing cream, making a paste, chopping and adding the nuts directly to the batter… it just wasn’t the same. I looked online at pistachio extracts and most of them had horrible reviews or were chemical-based pistachio “flavorings.” So instead of making you order chemical pistachio flavoring online, I’m sending you to the store to buy chemical pistachio pudding. I caved. Consider it an Ode to Zelda.
I’ve always made it a point to not used boxed ingredients in my recipes and I fully expect to take some flack for this cake. But it’s really quite good and it tastes like Zelda’s cake. Hey, it’s less processed. I hope you’ll excuse me this one time.
- 9 ounces (1¾ cups) all purpose flour
- 1 3.4-ounce package pistachio pudding mix
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup half & half (or 50% heavy cream and 50% whole milk)
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan (I use baking spray with flour).
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, pudding mix, baking powder and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the half & half and vanilla extract.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium high speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Turn the speed down to medium low and add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to fully incorporate and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each egg. The mixture will become thin and look slightly broken, which is fine.
- Working swiftly, alternate between adding the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry. The less the batter is worked at this stage, the better. You do not need to let the ingredients incorporate fully before alternating.
- Divide approximately half of the batter into a second bowl and stir in the melted chocolate until evenly combined.
- You have two options at this point. To recreate my grandma's cake, spread the pale batter evenly into the bottom of the pan and top evenly with the chocolate batter. For a marble cake, alternate between scooping the two batters into the loaf pan. Once the batter has all been distributed, use an offset spatula or butter knife to draw several zigzags through the batter. Gently level off the top of the cake with a spatula.
- Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and carefully place in the oven. Bake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not over-bake or the cake will be dry. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.