Chocolate Pistachio Cake

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that's adapted from my grandmother's "famous" recipe. Get the easy-to-follow recipe from

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that’s adapted from my grandmother’s “famous” recipe.

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that's adapted from my grandmother's "famous" recipe. Get the easy-to-follow recipe from

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.

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that's adapted from my grandmother's "famous" recipe. Get the easy-to-follow recipe from

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.

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that's adapted from my grandmother's "famous" recipe. Get the easy-to-follow recipe from
A more traditional Zelda style, with a pistachio layer on the bottom and chocolate on top.


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.

Chocolate Pistachio Cake
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
1 hrs 20 mins
Total Time
1 hrs 35 mins

This chocolate pistachio cake is a dense, moist treat that's adapted from my grandmother's "famous" recipe.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 10 -12 slices
Author: Jennifer Farley
  • 9 ounces (1 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
  • 1 3.4- ounce package pistachio pudding mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup half & half or 50% heavy cream and 50% whole milk
  • 1 1/2 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
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan (I use baking spray with flour).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Divide approximately half of the batter into a second bowl and stir in the melted chocolate until evenly combined.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Recipe Notes

I melt the bittersweet chocolate by breaking it into small pieces, placing it in a microwave safe bowl and nuking it for 30 second increments, stirring each time, until the chocolate is smooth.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Y’know, I try so hard to make as much as possible from scratch, and it sometimes cracks me up the shortcuts used by our parents & grandparents. I asked my mom for my grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe a few years ago (my grandma passed away back in 2001), and she laughed before telling me it was the same one on the Libby’s can. The first time I made homemade vanilla ice cream, I had to buy a can (not a bottle) of Hershey’s syrup to top it with, because I had memories of all us cousins taking turns one afternoon at hand-cranking the ice cream maker at my grandparents’ house. The taste took me right back. I think with something that contains such potent memories, it’s okay to use a boxed mix once in awhile. :)

    • I try really hard not to. But I wanted it to still taste at least somewhat like my grandma’s cake or I felt like it would be defeating the purpose! I’m already getting nasty comments on Twitter so thanks for the kind words :)

  • I know what you need! I develop recipes for a company that makes pure pistachio paste from green Turkish pistachios 100%, no added nasties. This sounds like a sales pitch but I promise I don’t proft from anything other than developing the recipes :-) It’s so rich and green and delicious and add beautiful flavour to cakes. Highly recommend visiting the Why Nut website to find out more x

  • Over 50 years ago a bank in our town was celebrating their move to a brand new building. They had all sorts of contests, many of them involved baking. A friend had told me about the contests but had neglected to sign up. I reminded her to sign up, as a good friend would do, but she waited too long. I then asked her if I could make her pistachio cake with the fabulous icing, since she couldn’t make it. She reluctantly said I could. I made a pie instead and my husband made the cake. I answered his questions, but he read the directions and did all the work. He won first prize and he opted for a bicycle for me! He was so happy to have won, I was thrilled to finally get a bicycle, but my friend was not so happy. I felt as it she wanted me to give her the bicycle, which was not going to happen. This cake is more than a delicious dessert, it is a prize winner! Be a winner today, go bake a pistachio cake!

  • Sometimes, you just gotta do it the way grandma did it – pudding mix or a box and all. And it looks beautiful regardless. It carries her love with it. That is so great you gave it a go your way. It looks lovely! I’m a sucker for pistachio flavors, too.

  • OMG I used to make that exact same boxed recipe a million years ago! I feel the same way about the processed ingredients, but my mom still makes it the “original” way and it’s always a huge hit with everyone.

    • That’s wild! I would LOVE to know where the original boxed pistachio cake recipe came from. I knew Zelda didn’t invent it herself; she’s always made a big fuss over how no recipes are original. Every time I mention the blog and the cookbook she rolls her eyes at me if I tell her I’m working on creating a recipe. She’s like “Who are you adapting it from? Nothing is original.”

  • This story is too funny and so endearing! Your grandmother sounds like a firecracker. I can get down with a pudding mix if it’ll give me this gorgeous-looking pound cake. Love this (and love your dedication in trying to figure out a substitution!)

    • She’s such a firecracker. At 90 years old, she’s pretty much the same as she’s always been but now she asks the same ridiculous question or tells me the same Jewish rules 5 times in a row. Sigh. Thanks for reading the story and for putting up with my pudding mix. :) :) :)

  • I loved this post, I can only imagine the shock you felt when the recipe was revealed to you! My grandma is in her late 80s and I call her Martha Stewart – she’s cooked and entertained more than anyone I know, and I will never bake as much as she has! However, there’s one cake she makes called “lemon jello cake” and I’m absolutely appalled by it – I cringe every time I see the boxes of yellow cake mix and lemon jello in her pantry because I just can’t imagine that she’d be willing to use boxed ingredients! Sigh…

  • I know pistachio are only flavorful super salted and left in whole form or slightly crumbled and they never color anything green like good ol’ pistachio pudding – that said,I’m loving this!

  • So funny because my husband’s family is Jewish and always make mandel bread and I always thought it was similar to biscotti :) Jewish and Italians have a lot more in common than people think! This cake looks so pretty. I’m a pistachio lover and that layer of chocolate is just perfect.

  • I don’t know how I missed this recipe when you first posted it but just saw it on Facebook and had to see the ingredients for this gorgeous loaf. Needless to say I love your Zelda story, what a great name by the way!! I’ve never experimented with pistachios but I know that whenever I am in Italy I always get pistachio gelato, the most incredible flavour that tastes so real! I wonder how they do it?? I am so tempted to make your grandma’s loaf but have to investigate if pistachio pudding exists in England! :-)