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If you’re like me, your first introduction to this nut came in the form of an unnaturally bright green ice cream studded with bottom-basement chunks made soggy over time. Which is to say, (if you are like me that is) you never touched the stuff. It took years for me to appreciate the supple, bright and earthy pistachio. And no, I do NOT enjoy those circus red, bad dye job ones.

This National Pistachio Day, I have a wee little cake studded with real deal, green as green gets, nutty and earthy pistachios; and paired with one of their very best friends, the Meyers lemon. The cake is 100% nutty goodness and actually terrific on its own as a snack cake.

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Pistachio Butter Cake*

2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 c. sour cream, divided
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 c. cake flour
2/3 c. pistachios, roasted and unsalted
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375F. Spray your cake pan(s) with a light coating of pan spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place the eggs, 1/3 c. sour cream and the vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Set aside.

Place 2/3 c. of the flour and the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the remaining flour,sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pulse until well combined and no large chunks of pistachio remain.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can use a hand mixer). Add the butter and remaining 1/3 c. of sour cream. Stir on the lowest setting until well combined, then kick the speed up to medium and blend for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, scraping the side of the bowl after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for approximately 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool five minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack and removing the cake pans. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

Quick Meyer’s Lemon Curd Filling

2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 c. fresh Meyer’s lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) very cold butter

Bring a cup of water up to a simmer in a medium pot.
In a heat-proof bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and yolks. Add all of the other ingredients except the butter, and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over the simmering water and stir continuously until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk the butter in, again until completely smooth. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Italian Buttercream

1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
5 egg whites
2 c. (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into cubes
Pinch salt

Add the water to a small pot and sprinkle the sugar on top. Bring to a boil and cook until the syrup reaches 240F.
While the sugar syrup is cooking, pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and begin to whip on medium-high speed. It is important to have a medium-peak meringue already as the syrup reaches 240F. As soon as the syrup reaches the right temperature, immediately pour it in a slow, steady stream into the still whipping egg whites. Continue to whip on high speed until the mixture cools to room temperature and a very thick, glossy meringue is achieved.
With the mixer still on high, begin to add the butter one chunk at a time, allowing each chunk to disappear entirely into the meringue before adding the next piece. This will take a minute, and it is going to look really awful and broken. Just keep mixing, it will come together.
Remove from the mixer and assemble the cake.

Simple Syrup

1 c. water
1 c. sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, split

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil in a small pot. That’s it. Keep whatever you don’t use in the fridge for the next cake you bake, or to sweeten a post-cake eating cocktail.

Assembly

Soak each layer of cake with the simple syrup before spreading on a 1/2 cup portion of the chilled lemon curd. once the layer are stacked together, combine the remaining curd with the buttercream, and frost the cake.

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Today is National Black Forest Cake Day, and I’ve been thinking of my mom, my first trip to Europe, and pistachios.

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For most of my summer vacation when I was 15, I was an exchange student in Germany. It was my first time out of the country, and probably my third time on an airplane. My classmates brought all sorts of presents for their host families that were specific to our hometown- snow globes, books on the history of our state, etc. My mom, who was born in Austria, packed two enormous bags of pistachios, still in their shells, into my already stuffed luggage and put me on the plane. She reasoned that when she was a child, pistachios were really expensive and really, really hard to find, and probably that had not changed (it had). One red-eye flight and a six hour train ride later, I finally put my luggage down, determined never to haul that kind of weight again. My host mother looked a little perplexed when I presented the gift. I think she was expecting a snow globe, too.

Pistachios are not hard in these parts, thankfully, and they make a fantastic addition to this slightly rustic update to the Black Forest Cake. In March, fresh cherries are about as hard to find as the pistachios of my mother’s childhood. Instead of using canned (blech) or frozen (meh) cherries, I like to use tart Morello cherry jam, at least until the fresh ones come along.

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Black Forest Cake with Pistachios and Mascarpone

the cake:

*this recipe is adapted from one of my very favorite books, Chez Panisse Desserts, which you can find here

1 1/2 c. roasted, unsalted pistachios (about 6 oz)
3/4 c. finely grated dark chocolate (I use a 2 oz bar of Dagoba dark chocolate 54% cacao)
1/4 c. cake flour
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
grated zest and juice of 1/2 and orange

In a food processor, pulse the nuts and flour until they are the texture of coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
Whip the egg yolks and half of the sugar on high speed until very thick and light, and forms a ribbon when the whisk attachment is pulled away from the bowl. In another bowl, whip the egg whites. Once they become frothy, add the sugar a little at a time, until fully incorporated and stiff but moist peaks are achieved. Add about a third of the egg whites to the egg yolks and gently fold together until they are nearly combined. Add the rest of the whites and fold until again nearly combined. Sprinkle the nut mixture onto the egg mixture in three stages, folding gently until fully combined.

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Pour into two 6″ cake pans, or one 9″ cake pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from the cake pan(s) and allow to cool completely before assembling.

Mascarpone Filling

8 oz mascarpone cheese
3/4 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and whip on high speed until firm peaks form.

Assembly

Split the cake(s) into layers- 3 for a 9″ cake, up to 6 for the 6″ cakes.
Spread a thin layer of cherry jam onto the first layer, then top with a bit of the mascarpone filling. Continue to stack the following layers of cake with mascarpone filling, reserving a 1/2 c. for the top of the cake. Spoon the remaining filling onto the top, forming decorative peaks. Sprinkle a little shaved chocolate or cocoa onto the filling. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving.

I am just not mathletic. I use “kitchen math” daily, but the higher shelf stuff is something I appreciate as a beautiful science of things that effect me (and everything else) but that I don’t quite get. So when Pi Day comes along, I am definitely excited, and not just because we celebrate it with one of my favorite foods. I actually do understand pi a wee bit, about as much as the average person does. It’s an irrational number, and there are no repeats. As a baker I understand this.
Baking is full of little irrational things that are but shouldn’t be- no cake, pastry, loaf of bread, etc.,is ever exactly the same as the one before, no matter how exact your methods are. It’s a rough truth to embrace. No repeats.
Watched pots really don’t boil. The more frustrated one gets when putting crumb coating on a cake, the more the cake rebels. And no matter how many baguettes you make, they will each be just a teeny bit different. Irrational, but true.

Loving Shaker lemon pie is completely rational, though. It is tart and bright, a little bitter, a bit creamy, and altogether delicious. Use Meyer lemons if you have some around, and your pie will be a little sweeter.

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Not for nothin’, but it’s Albert Einstein’s birthday, too! Throw a candle in, and have a second piece!

Shaker Meyer Lemon Pie with Pistachio Crust

Filling:

3 medium Meyers lemons
1 c. sugar
5 eggs

Cut the lemons into thin slices, removing the seeds as you go. In a food processor, chop the lemons together with the sugar until very finely chopped. Add the and process briefly to combine.
Let the mixture rest overnight before baking.

Topping:

1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
pinch salt
2 Tbsp roasted, unsalted pistachios
3 oz cold butter, cubed

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and pistachios in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process to the texture of coarse cornmeal. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pistachio Crust:

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. pistachios
4 oz. cold butter, cubed
1 Tbsp. cold water

Combine the first four ingredients in a food processor, chopping until the nut pieces are very small. Add the butter and chop to a course cornmeal texture.
With the machine running, add the water in one shot and process just until the dough begins to come together. Shape into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

Assembly:

Roll out the pistachio crust to 1/4″ thick. Place in a 9″ tart mold and press into place. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Place a clean coffee filter on top of the chilled dough and fill with pie weights. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until the dough begins to turn light brown around the edge and only half baked at the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour the filling into the pie shell.Evenly sprinkle the topping onto the filling. Return the pie to the oven (being careful not to spill the filling). Bake another 25-35 minutes, or until the filling is set and golden.

Cool to room temperature before serving.