The ‘C’ word – (pistachio) cupcakes

I am almost loathed to post a recipe for cupcakes because I’m so conscious of not only their ubiquitousness, but also the twee associations they’ve gained, particularly from the blogosphere. Like it or not though, cupcakes are everywhere and have probably been covered by every food (and fashion) blogger ever. As I mentioned in a previous post, the cupcakes I go in for are those with water icing; there is something so wonderfully thick and fudgy about water icing and I love the way it sticks around your teeth and to the roof of your mouth. It also lets the flavour of the sponge do the talking, which in this instance made it the perfect partner for this pistachio sponge.

I came upon the recipe on the BBC Good Food site, which is my favourite way to while away the last few minutes of work, deciding what to cook when I get home. I knew instantly I wanted to make them tonight, and knew I had a HUGE amount of pistachios at home. I love pistachios, though they’re a relatively new thing for me. In the past I’ve never really been that bothered by them but we recently bought a gigantic bag of salted, giant ones that I couldn’t stop munching on and since then I’m a total convert. I must admit the first things that pop into my mind when I think of pistachios are the pistachio macarons from Laduree, which is another blogger cliche! Well, I also think of the book ‘The Pistachio Principle’ by Paula Danziger that I read as a teenager, of which I can remember nothing except that the main character used to eat bucketloads of red pistachios which dyed her fingers red.

These cupcakes are really something special though. The pistachio flavour is delicate but still obvious, and the crushed nuts in the sponge give it a dense texture with a satisfying bite. I really think they look the business and will definitely be serving these up as petit fours with coffee next time I invite people round. Although I don’t really go in much for fancy decoration and I’m certainly no master when it comes to icing, I think they look so pretty – I love the vivid green and pink of the crushed pistachios against the palest green icing. Water icing is so easy though, as long as you make it the right viscosity then it will just level itself out nicely with nothing but a little coax from the back of a spoon. I find there is something quite serene about smooth, unblemished icing which is very relaxing and mesmerising. Or maybe I need to get out more.

The recipe was to make 12 cupcakes in muffin cases, but I halved the mixture and made some miniature cupcakes and a few regular sized cakes in bun cases with the leftover mixture. I got 12 miniature and 6 regular bun sized out of half the mixture, so you’d definitely get 12 muffin-sized cakes out of the full mix. The recipe was SO easy, on the website it said to blitz up the nuts and sugar in the processor and then beat everything else together in a bowl. In the interests of saving time AND washing up, I did it all in the processor which took SO little time it was unbelievable. In fact, it took me longer to shell all those pistachios than it did to make the cakes! As I said, I only had salted ones, so I washed and dried the pistachios before putting them in the processor which worked fine – the sponges don’t taste in any way salty!

The only downside about making the miniature ones is that you get pretty much as much icing as cake, which makes them quite sweet. But as a small little mouthful, is that such a bad thing?

Pistachio cupcakes

Makes 12 muffin-sized cakes


100g pistachios

140g golden caster sugar

140g butter , very soft

2 eggs

140g self-raising flour

5 tbsp milk


250g icing sugar , sifted

Green food colouring


Preheat the oven to 160C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases (or whatever size you want to make them).

Put 85g pistachios into a food processor with about half the sugar, then whizz until very finely chopped.

Add the remaining sugar, butter, eggs, flour and milk into the processor and beat until smooth. Divide between the cases, then bake on a low shelf for 22-25 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean (I cooked my miniature ones for about 5 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.

For the icing, mix just enough water into the icing sugar to get a very thick but still runny icing – just add 1 tbsp of water at a time. Stir in enough food colouring to give a pretty, pale green colour. If any cakes poke above the top of the cases, trim with a small knife, or scoop out with a teaspoon – being very careful not to release any of the case from the sides of the cake. Put a generous spoonful of icing on each cake and let it gently spread to cover. Chop the remaining pistachios and scatter these over. Leave to set, then serve. Enjoy!

It was only with the flash that you could see the pale green of the icing!


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