Chocolate and Pistachio Surprise Cake Recipe

Last week was my sister’s birthday. I didn’t come as much of a surprise, really, because I have quite the analytical mind, and a careful observation has led me to the conclusion that this phenomenon happens every 8th of December, year in, year out. At least it always has. Of course, just because the sun has risen every morning for as long as we can remember doesn’t mean it won’t one day set and refuse to rise again. But one cannot live in such troubling uncertainty, one needs to rely on a few solid beliefs, and the yearly occurrence of my sister’s birthday is not the least of them.

This year, I offered to bake her a birthday cake, to be served at the party she threw last Saturday night. Our mother had already made one for our little family celebration (there is no such thing as celebrating a birthday too many times) : it wasn’t technically a birthday cake, but rather a beautiful pear and chestnut charlotte, made with slices of her homemade biscuit roulé (the French jelly roll). Impressive and particularly delicious, it was gulped down between the four of us — you know, a charlotte just doesn’t keep that well.

To me, cakes pretty much fall under two categories, chocolate and non-chocolate, so I asked the birthday-girl-to-be which kind she wanted. Her reply was that she simply wanted a surprise cake, so I followed my deeper instincts and went, well, the chocolate route.

I still had some of that super-cool super-good pistachio paste, and since chocolate and pistachio are such good friends, I chose to make a chocolate and pistachio cake, starting with my favorite and highly adaptable cake recipe. I made half of the cake batter chocolate (with cocoa powder and chocolate chips, which are in fact “ganache drops” if you please) and covered it with the other half of the batter, made pistachio by mixing in pistachio paste and chopped pistachios.

I was in fact shooting for two clean layers, but apparently pistachio and chocolate are better friends than even I suspected, and they got themselves a little action in the oven, ending up in a marbled tangle, accidental but pretty. I then covered the cake in a thick blanket of ganache — if life has taught me one thing it’s that you can’t go wrong with ganache. Ever.

I named the cake Chocolate and Pistachio Surprise Cake because you can’t tell it is pistachio until you slice it and oh, look! there’s a pistachio cake inside that chocolate cake! Of course, you cannot tell people the name of the cake before you’ve sliced it, otherwise there goes your surprise, but I am highly amused by this little name-giving business, what are you gonna do.

The appropriate number of candles were placed on the cake and blown out with talent, the cake was cut in as many slices as I could and passed around. I was pretty pleased: the crumb was nice and moist, the pistachio taste fragrant but not artificial, the ganache luscious (you can’t go wrong with ganache I tell you), the guests were very appreciative (one gourmand in particular, hi Arthur!) and my sister loved it, which was really what mattered the most…

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Chocolate and Pistachio Surprise Cake Recipe

Prep Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Serves 6 to 8.

Chocolate and Pistachio Surprise Cake Recipe


  • 270 grams (2 cups) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 150 grams (2/3 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300 grams (1 1/4 cups) white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 x 125 ml) plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 60 grams (1/3 cup) chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons pistachio paste or pistachio butter
  • 60 grams (1/3 cups) shelled pistachios, chopped
  • For the ganache:
  • 120 grams (3 ounces) bittersweet chocolate
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) whipping cream


  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan, preferably nonstick with a removable bottom.
  2. Prepare the chocolate batter. In a food processor, mix together half of the sugar and half of the butter until fluffy. Add in two of the eggs, one at a time, mixing between each. Add in half of the yogurts and all the vanilla extract, mix again.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine half of the flour with half of the baking powder, half of the baking soda and all of the cocoa mixture.
  4. Add the flour mixture into the food processor and mix again until just combined. Pour the batter into the cake pan, and reserve in the refrigerator.
  5. Rinse the bowl of the food processor, and prepare the pistachio batter: mix together the rest of the sugar, the rest of the butter and the pistachio paste. Add in the two last eggs, one at a time, mixing between each. Add in the rest of the yogurts and mix again.
  6. In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the flour with the rest of the baking powder and baking soda, and all of the chopped pistachios. Add into the food processor and mix again until just combined.
  7. Take the cake pan out of the fridge, and sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the surface of the chocolate batter. Gently pour the pistachio batter on top, and smooth out the surface with a spatula.
  8. Put into the oven to bake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Let rest for five minutes on the counter, then remove cake from the pan, and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  10. Prepare the ganache. Melt the dark chocolate with the whipping cream in a double boiler (or in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), stirring with a spoon regularly until completely melted and velvety. Let the ganache rest until it has thickened a bit, about 30 minutes, and frost the cake using a small spoon.
  11. You can either wait until the ganache has cooled and set before serving, or frost the cake just before you serve it, but the cake itself needs to have cooled down completely, it tastes better that way.

This post was first published in December 2004 and updated in July 2016.

  • June

    Your beautiful cake reminds me of something we used to make years ago in the States. We actually had a pistachio pudding mix by Jello (name of company), and it worked well in cakes. It’s a great combination of flavors. You have a lucky sister!!


  • Third Shift in Las Vegas

    Hi — where might I find this enticingly named “pistachio paste”? The local WholeFoods has shelled pistach and that’s the closest thing I can find. It is not a shocking acid green, is it? as I also have an icecream recipe that calls for [B]un-colored[/B] pistachio paste.

  • Hi Celine, happy belated birthday!

    Clotilde, the cake looks scrumptious. I have a good supply of shelled raw pistachios as well as pistachio paste, and recently made several sweets using them, including chocolate-pistachio cake. Too bad mine wasn’t pistachio-y at all, so I should try out your recipe while the supply lasts! :)

  • Bon jour, Mlle. Clotilde!

    That chocolate-pistachio surprise cake looks incredibly scrumptious! Do you suppose almond paste would work just as well? The current lodestone-of-my-existence has a thing for chocolate and almonds and your cake just gave me a fantastic idea for his next birthday. (Of course, it’s still in February. But, then again, you can never really plan too far ahead.)

  • The cake looks amazing. And may I add that there is NOTHING hotter than pistachio and chocolate “getting themselves a little action.” ;) Loved that.

  • Hi, this is the « gourmand ». I just wanted to confirm to whoever reads this recipe that we really did enjoy that beautiful et delicious cake. Thanx again for that culinary discovery (and i thought i knew everything about chocolate…).

  • Hi Clotilde,

    I’ve been C&Z closet reader for sometime now. Chocolate is my friend too and this cake looks real good. I think I’ll go try this one.

    I’m almost, almost drooling…..

  • That cake looks delicious. I’m definitely going to try to make this one.

  • Your sister

    Thanks again à ma soeur préférée for this absolutely delicious and beautiful cake!
    It’s made my birthday even more special than it already was, having everyone I love around me that evening eating this unique cake…
    Merci, Pucette !

  • sharoni

    I can get pistachio pate… will that work? I don’t know if it’s the same thing…. Very hard to get that kind of stuff in asustralia :(

  • Sharoni – I’m not quite sure what pistachio pate is, but it’s certainly worth a try!

  • lizelle

    This looks absolutely divine. In case you are still looking for pistachio paste, try here:

  • Sam

    I came to z&c through a link on my friend’s blog ( and I am so glad I did. This cake looks amazing. I am going to try it with chestnut puree. I have no idea how it will come out but your post is my inspiration. Yum.

  • Anonymous

    I finally made this cake yesterday. As I write this, only a little is left. What a great recipe, what a wonderful combination of tastes! Thanks Clothilde.

  • suzy

    I’ve enjoyed reading your lovely blog for a few months now. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this post: not only are you a student of good food and good living, but you’ve read your Hume, too!

    Congratulations on all your well deserved awards and accolades.

  • Erin

    I was just wondering if anyone had a recipe for a ‘tarte aux pistaches’/ pistachio pie, or suggestions for how to adapt this recipe? I have been searching for a recipe for this for over 2 years now!


  • Isobel

    I just made chocolate and pistachio brownies. These flavors are incredible! I can not wait to make this cake for real. I cheated last night. I was making two box lunches as a thankyou for my kids teachers. I had poached and combined the salmon for sandwiches the next day. I made the curried cous cous salad. Washed the Raineer cherries and grapes. I was going to pick up a carmel brownie at our local bakery (Macrina’s). But there it was, the pistachio paste I made after finding this web site (I blended raw pistachios with olive oil and melted butter in a blender until it was like peanut butter.) It was just sitting there beckoning me. I wanted to make chocolate and pistachio brownies. It was 11 pm so the only way my tired bod would let me stay up was to cheat. So mixed a yellow cake mix of Oetkers and used 1/2 oil and 1/2 pistachio paste, plus a bunch more of the paste. I think it was 1/4 c oil plus 1/4 cup paste and then probably 1/3 or 1/2 cup more paste. I also used buttermilk instead of milk because I had it and it needed using up. And reduced the egg to 2 to help match the brownie in volume. Then I mixed chopped pistachios with Trader Joes Brownie truffle mix and added an extra egg to try to get more volume and added a little buttermilk. I put the brownie in the pan first. They didn’t mix around so much, probably because the brownie mix was still too heavy. It had choc chunks in it too. I made one in a loaf pan and one in a square pan. The loaf pan one sliced nicely, looked pretty and tasted good even without ganache. I will use more pistachio chunks in both the choc and the yellow cake next time. I will make the cakes from scratch next time. Or try it with brownies made from scratch. But for a teacher treat… It was done by 12:30 so I got some sleep. :)

    The texture of the brownies with granuals of pistachios was great where the brownie wasn’t too moist. The yellow cake was rich, pretty color and just delicious. I am imagining this with ganache. It just might take me over the edge. (Some say I’m already there!)


  • linda

    i made your cake yesterday & it was a hit! thank q!

  • Julia Ylva

    Dear Clotilde,
    I just had my first slice of this cake fresh out of the oven and it was exquisite!
    I changed the recipe just slightly however: I increased the amount of pistachio paste (which I drove an hour to buy a charming place that stocks baking supplies called “La Cuisine” in Alexandria VA) to about 4 tablespoons, and I added half a teaspoon of salt to the chocolate part of the cake to enhance the flavors.
    Thank you for a wonderful blog!

  • Kathleen

    I made this cake two days ago, in honour of the birthday of my favourite singer-songwriter of all time: Neil Finn. It turned out *divine* – the texture is perfect and the flavour of the pistachio is lovely. After his first piece slathered in ganache, my husband exclaimed, “Neil Finn needs to have birthdays more often.” :)

    I made my own pistachio paste since I live in a very small town in northern Canada and such an ingredient is a *wee* bit hard to find, to say the least. To make pistachio paste, take equal parts of unsalted pistachios and icing sugar (for example, a half cup of each), process in a food processor with a tablespoon or two of water until the consistency of almond paste. You want the paste a little on the dry side, but still be able to ‘shape’ it in your hand like marzipan. Don’t add too much water, otherwise the paste will be more like a nut butter and too runny. This paste recipe works like a charm and I’m sure I’ll be making more of it in the future for other recipes.

    The only change I made to the cake recipe is the addition of an extra tablespoon of cocoa – you can’t go wrong with a little extra cocoa. My husband is newly graduated from Culinary Arts and added a drizzle of white chocolate ganache on top of the ‘regular’ ganache for a little contrast. He also suggested making a berry coulis for it, but so far we are content eating the cake without. :)

    Thanks Clotilde for the fantastic recipe, and a wonderful website!

  • Nali


  • marisol

    I tried looking for a really unique cake recipe and came across yours. I can’t wait to try it.
    I live in Cebu City, Philippines. I might not be able to find pistachio paste but we do have pistachios for sale in our supermarkets. I am willing to try anything.
    Thank you and more power!

  • Christine

    Dear all
    After reading that lovely recipe and all your comments I decided to a give it a try.
    Firstly I made my own pistachio paste according to Kathleen’s indications ; it was a loooong process as 1) plucked them out of their shells (the difference in price with shelled ones seemed unjustified) ; finding that they had a skin on them, like almonds, 2) I plunged them in hot water to loosen the skin ; then 3) I peeled the skins off (all the while watching tv, mind you). The result was a little too humid for my taste, so 4) I left them out to dry on tissue – that took 2 days !!! I was afraid to dry them in an oven…
    Then 5) I put them in a little electrical chopper, only a handfull at a time, and chopped them in careful steps until I was satisfied with their texture. If you chop them for too long, the bottom part will become sticky and oily and the rest will not be cut.
    Only then did I add normal sugar (next time I will use icing sugar) and a couple of tbsp lukewarm water. The result is delicious in smell, sight and taste. In comparison I’ve seen the stuff sold by Detout (I’m a Parisian) which looks like sticky spinach, smells strongly of bitter almond oil and tastes chemical, nowhere as nice as mine. So there you are girls, do it yourself and only as much as you need at a time.
    Then on to the cake : I wondered why Clotilde goes to the trouble of making 2 separate batters, as their basis is exactly the same. So I made ONE batter with all the classical ingredients, put one half into a another bowl (having weighed it to make sure it really is half of it) ; I then proceeded with giving each their flavouring, putting in 3 tablespoons of cocoa in one and 4 tblsp of pistachio paste in the other. I didn’t use a food processor, just the little electrical handheld thing to whisk eggs, you know what I mean. The pistaccio paste being thick I needed to mash it with a fork so it mixed better with the batter. I made the chocolate chips by hand, and the chopped the pistachios in the little chopper mentioned above.
    I found I had to add 30 minutes to the cooking time, yet the cake rose very quickly , so much so that the top ended by bursting like a volcano. I was told by professionals that the fast rise is caused by the combination of baking soda and baking powder (I usually only use baking powder).
    One last thing : I’ve got quite a bit of ganache left over !!! I’m not sure what to do with it, except eat it as it is, a teaspoonful at a time (oh my hips !). Next time I’ll use only 2/3 of the ingredients.

    Anyway the cake looks just like in the picture and tastes wonderful ; the pistachio flavour is very very discreet, as in the other recipes I used it with, of maybe a couple of drops of almond flavour would not harm.


  • Merci beaucoup pour cette recette: elle a eu beaucoup de succès. J’ai choisi de cuire le gateau dans un moule à kouglof car j’adore le look!
    Merci encore.

  • Tam

    Thanks for all the delicious recipes, Clotilde! The desserts I’ve tried from the C&Z site have all been unique, not too fussy, and pleasing, with just the perfect amount of sweetness!

    Over the weekend, I tried my hand at this cake. Following a few of the commenters’ helpful suggestions above, I added an extra teaspoon of almond extract (and may add another 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon next time). The moist nuttiness of the pistachio portion of the cake is lovely and not at all cloying.

    The chocolate portion of the cake came out really dry, sadly. The crumb was excessively fine and a bit bland (even with the extra tablespoon of cocoa powder and the half teaspoon of salt). Is there is a simple way of making the chocolate portion as moist and rich as the pistachio end of things? If not, I’d be just as content keeping the recipe as a pistachio-only cake ;).

    Thanks in advance for your help!

  • rose

    i read all the comments; however i am working with 14 cup food processor, any idea how many seconds in order to get the mix consistency as desired in your recipe. my experience is the processor can get very hot and the manual suggests to start everything very,very cold, or freeze the butter before mixing.
    appreciate any suggestion on this, since i don’t want to ruin the batter.

  • Lillian

    I tried this today for a friend’s birthday, but substituted almonds for the pistachios, marzipan for the pistachio paste, and added a shade of rose water. (She’s a big marzipan and rose fan.) (Also used a strange mix of yogurt and soy whip cream–there was an unexpected shortage of the former and the latter was the only reasonable substitute in the house.) The chocolate half turned out so-so (I think more a reflection of the quality of my cocoa powder than of your recipe,) but the almond part was heavenly. Unfortunately, I poured in the batter in such a manner as that the chocolate rose into the almond and stifled it a bit. Still, it’s quite tasty. Next time I’ll make it with pistachios, better chocolate, and proper amounts of yogurt.

  • Kim

    Dearest Clotilde: you are the sweetest! Always posting such lovely recipes coupled with your witticisms and anecdotes, which really complete a post. And always replying comments, and simply doing the most for our pleasure and enjoyment! Oh, you’re irreplaceable, Clotilde, and I cannot stop profusing my adoration.. (==;;

    Ahum. On a hunch, I decided that after having laid down the two separate layers of cake, I would put it into the fridge. I left it there for about 15-20 minutes, and baked it as specified, and had a cake with two clearly distinguished layers. So, you know how to do it now.. (:

  • Uma

    Clotilde, I made this recipe a few times and it was a winner every time! Thanks for a wonderful recipe :)

  • Can’t wait to do this tomorrow!! I cannot find any pistachio paste so I’ll make my own….
    Fingers crossed!

  • Shelley

    Thank you for sharing this glorious recipe. Have found my pistachio paste & am too excited to try my hand at this cake. One question, as the pistachio paste was a bit pricey, can you freeze leftover paste? How long will it keep in the fridge?
    Thanks so much…

  • Ron Newcome

    Hmmm. This cake was not a hit with my family. I had to make my own pistachio paste and actually increased the amount by a couple tablespoons since I had a little extra. Even with that, the pistachio taste was obliterated by the chocolate. I used Valrhona cocoa and chocolate for the ganache and it just took over. Everyone else has been raving about this cake for 12 years. Only thing I can think of is the Valrhona was just too much.

    • I’m sorry it didn’t turn out to your satisfaction, Ron. I suspect manufacturers of pistachio paste use a special process to extract a vibrant flavor out of the pistachios. No pistachio nut I’ve ever purchased has ever come close, to be honest.

      Pistachio disappointment aside, was it a good chocolate cake at least?

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