Pistachio Watergate Cake
Why this cake got its named, Pistachio Watergate Cake with Cover-Up frosting, is beyond my understanding. I do like a good mystery, food history wise. Pistachio cake with fluffy frosting all made with the semi-homemade way: pistachio pudding mix, cake mix, soda, whipped cream topping.
Food Timeline demonstrates the lovely web of possibilities behind the pistachio Watergate cake origins. It has little to do with the Watergate scandal or even the Watergate salad. Based the the release of print recipes, it looks like the cake came before the Watergate salad. I am leaning towards the rationale of location. Alexander Sullivan’s Washington Post news article from 1976, “Watergate Cake Mania,” as sounding plausible. Factor in the prevalence of an increasingly popular recipe, with upcoming holiday dates, and the scarcity of said pistachio pudding mix in D.C. Supermarkets, you have a perfect storm to increase the need and wants of the cake.
As lovely as the pistachio Watergate Cake is, I was far from actually making the semi-homemade cake.I have a hard time dealing with all of those mix components. Trust me, with my liberal use or artificial dyes and copious sugar consumption, I am FAR from ‘healthy.’ My reason for making this cake was simply curiosity. I had never made a pistachio cake.
And there is a reason why you don’t see a lot of homemade Watergate Cake recipes roaming the internet. Pistachios are an absolute pain to work with.
Maybe shelled pistachios are out there, but not in the four grocery stores I pondered through. The boiling and peeling step needs to be done. You can’t simply can’t shell them and leave it at that. The nut’s natural coating will flake off, leaving you with rubbery brown skin flakes floating throughout your cakes. Tasty right? Starting off with the simple nut is far from simple. You have to shell each nut, boil the nuts in batches, then peel each nut individually.
Unless you have the fancy pistachio paste or pistachio essential oils, putting pistachios in a cake will ruin all of the nut-prepping efforts. With some sort of complimentary flavor, pistachio cake will taste like a vanilla cake with nutty notes. Since it’s homemade, it won’t have that strong pistachio flavor you get from the pudding mix. The best recipe I found used a hint of almond extract. The almond extract was just enough to turn a vanilla cake into a pistachio cake.
For my pistachio Watergate cake, I used the Cover-Up frosting in between the layers as a filling. Unstabilized whipped cream would have been too weepy and would’ve melted within minutes. Half whipped cream, half cream cheese frosting gave enough stability to this filling.
Pistachio Watergate Cake with Cover-Up frosting needed to be photographed in all of its retro glory. I decided a green on green theme was needed for these photos. I was inspired by the color coordinating brightly colors cake decorating books of the 1970s. Before I make another pistachio dessert, I think I need a long hiatus from the pistachio boiling process. For now I’ll enjoy this wonderfully green homemade pistachio Watergate cake for Saint Patrick’s Day and Springtime!
- For the Pistachio Cake:
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1⅓ cups (11 ounces) sour cream, room temperature and divided
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup (2.5 ounces) finely ground pistachios or pistachio meal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks,12 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature cut into cubes
- Green gel food coloring
- For the Cover-Up Filling:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream, cold
- For the Frosting:
- 20 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 pounds powdered sugar, sifted
- Pinch of salt
- Green gel food coloring
- If you haven’t already prep your pistachios, shell, boil, peel, and finely grind. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray 3 8-inch cake pans with baking spray.
- In a small bowl, combine the eggs, a 1/3rd cup of the sour cream, and the extracts, whisk until combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, ground pistachios, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix these dry ingredients on a low speed until incorporated.
- Add the cubed softened butter and the remaining sour cream. Mix on a low speed until everything is combined. Raise the speed to medium, and beat for an additional 90 seconds.
- Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula, then begin beating again. Add the egg mixture gradually in 3 batches, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition. Add the green food coloring. Once the batter is mixed, give it a few turns with the spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl well. Divide the batter between the three prepared pans.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bottom and sides of your mixer. Add the vanilla.
- On a low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar.
- Switch to a whisk attachment. Return the mixer to a low speed and slowly pour in the whipping cream. Beat until soft peaks form.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until light, lump free, and fluffy, about 3 to 7 minutes. Add the vanilla.
- On a low speed slowly add the powdered sugar and a tiny pinch of salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Tint the frosting with gel food coloring.
- Level off the cakes so each layer is flat.
- Frost each layer with a ring of frosting to create a ‘moat’ which will hold the filling in between the layers of the cake. Spoon in the filling. Repeat this process with next layer.
- Do a light crumb coating on the outside of the cake and let the cake chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- Frost the cake with a final coat of frosting. Let the cake chill for a final 15 minutes.Decorate the cake with the remaining frosting.