Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pistachio Cupcakes—for St. Patrick's Day...and an Anniversary

Sometime during my high school years my mother discovered a recipe for St. Patrick's Day Pistachio Cupcakes.  They were filled with mini chocolate chips and finished with cream cheese frosting and green sprinkles.  My whole family loved them—they became our St. Patrick's Day tradition.  My mother still makes them.  They are probably the original source of my love affair with all things pistachio.  Unfortunately they include something I consider to be a rather objectionable ingredient:  Instead of utilizing real pistachios, the recipe includes a box of instant pistachio pudding mix.  (I think there may be a few real pistachios in the mix, but it also includes an assortment of additives that I would rather not eat.)  This year, I finally got around to working on a real pistachio version...just in time for St. Patrick's Day...and, just in time for my now traditional pistachio post to mark my blog anniversary. 

One of the reasons I wanted to recreate these cupcakes in a more acceptable (at least to me) form is that they are part of one of my best memories of my Dad.  I associate sports of all kinds with my Dad (he loved and played many sports).  But of all the sports he loved, I think he loved basketball the best—college basketball in particular.  Every year in March he took vacation time to go to the NAIA men's tournament.  He had two season tickets, so he always took someone with him—a friend...or a colleague...and always his kids.  Every year he reserved four of the tournament days—one for each of us.  Having the opportunity to spend a day with him, doing something he loved, is a priceless memory.  Even after my college years were over (when spring break conveniently overlapped with the tournament), I would continue to take a vacation day every year so I could go with him. 

You might be wondering what basketball and the NAIA tournament have to do with pistachio cupcakes.  Well, March Madness...and the NAIA tournament...always fall right around the same time as St. Patrick's day.  Spending outrageous amounts of money on the "food" offerings at the arena wasn't something my Dad would have been inclined to do (never mind what such a diet might do to one's health after a steady two weeks of it).  So, we always took our own—lunch...dinner...and snacks.  The pistachio cupcakes were frequently part of our stash.  Back in those days I probably would have rather had a concession stand hot dog than a homemade tuna fish sandwich, but there was nothing at the arena I liked better than those cupcakes. 

The recipe I came up with is actually not too different from the original.  I have increased the fat and sugar slightly (since that's likely what was in the mix) and of course added real pistachio flour (finely ground, lightly toasted pistachios).  The original recipe used all oil.  I have opted to use half butter since I like the flavor that butter adds.   I could have used a packaged mini chip, but chose to finely chop a nice bar of Ghirardelli semi-sweet instead. 

The cupcakes could not be easier to make.  Once you have the pistachio flour (see the notes after the recipe), they are mixed up just like a muffin—simply combine all the dry, combine all the wet and then quickly mix the two together.  You don't even need an electric mixer.  The finished cupcakes are sweet and tender with the open and porous crumb of a muffin rather than the traditional fine grain of a cupcake.  Best of all, they taste of real pistachio. 

To finish the cupcakes there are several good options.  I have chosen to make a cream cheese frosting.  It is much like the one my mother made—with just a bit less sugar.  Chocolate ganache or a citrus or vanilla buttercream would all work well too.  I did sprinkle a few of my cupcakes with green sanding sugar, but then decided I liked the more natural look of finely minced pistachios and a bit of Turbinado sugar.  Finely grated chocolate is also nice.

As I said at the start, this post marks the anniversary of my blog.  It was exactly four years ago today that I published my first blog post.  I have no desire to sound trite...but time really does go so very quickly.  It doesn't seem like four years...and yet at the same time, the blog is such an entrenched part of my life now that I think I would be a bit lost if I gave it up.  So, for the foreseeable future, I will go on.  I hope that those who visit will continue to find recipes and ideas that will enhance the time they spend in the kitchen and at the table, as well as tips and techniques that will make the whole process of cooking easier and therefore more enjoyable.  We have to eat....we ought to cook....and both should be a pleasure.

Since it is an anniversary, now seems like an appropriate moment to mention a couple of additions that I have made to For Love of the Table during the past year.  The first—made after numerous requests—was the addition of a link at the end of each post to a printable version of the recipe.  I added this feature last fall and all of the posts since have included it.  As for the earlier posts, I have been working my way backwards.  It is a bit of a slow process, but my plan is to eventually get to them all. 

The second change came just a few days ago.  I added an "about for love of the table" page.  If you haven't seen it...and you've wondered about my background and why I keep this blog, I've put it all in one should check it out. 

As for my anniversary tradition of something pistachio, it came about mostly by chance.  There is nothing special...or significant...about the pistachios other than that I like them.  Furthermore, since my blog anniversary falls on the day before St. Patrick's Day, something green seemed appropriate that first year.  Twice I have marked the day with a pistachio cake...last year I made pistachio shortbread cookies.  And as with the writing of the blog itself, continuing the tradition has been an unexpected pleasure.  I will be interested to see what direction it takes for anniversary number five.  

 Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

55 g. pistachios, lightly toasted (see notes) and very finely ground (a scant 1/2 c.—measured before grinding)
170 g. sifted cake flour (1 3/4 c.—sifted into the cup and leveled off)
225 g. sugar (1 c. plus 2 T.)
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. Salt
70 g. unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature (5 T.)
4 oz. finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
2 eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
72 g. vegetable oil (1/3 c.)
160 g. whole milk (2/3 c.)

Place the first five ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Slice the butter in 1/4-inch thick slices and add to the bowl.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like stone ground cornmeal (you may do this by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment).

Add the chocolate and toss to combine.  Set aside.

Place the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the oil in a steady stream.  Whisk in the milk.  Add the wet to the dry and mix until well blended.  The batter will be quite thin.

Scoop the batter (I use a scant 2 oz. ice cream scoop...or a mounded 1 1/2 oz.) into muffin tins lined with paper liners—the cups should be 2/3 to 3/4 full. 

Bake in a preheated 375° oven until light golden, springy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean—about 18 to 22 minutes.  Cool in the tins for 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting and garnish with minced toasted pistachios, green sanding sugar or finely grated chocolate.  Makes 16 to 18 cupcakes.

  • To toast the pistachios, spread on a baking sheet and place in a 350° oven. Bake, stirring once or twice, until fragrant—about 5 minutes.  
  • To make pistachio nut flour, grind the cooled nuts with a rotary nut grinder. 
  • If you don't have nut grinder, place the cooled nuts in the food processor with the sugar and process until fine.  I have not tested the recipe this way, but I suspect that one could finish mixing the dry ingredients in the food processor:  After grinding the pistachios with the sugar, add the flour, baking powder and salt and process to combine.  Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  Transfer the contents of the processor to a large bowl, add the chocolate and proceed with the recipe.

 (Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens and  Cupcake Project)

Printable Recipe

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 T. (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. (8 oz.) powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese (do not soften—see notes), cut into eight cubes

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter briefly to smooth out.   Add the sugar and vanilla and turn the mixer on low speed, mixing until the powdered sugar is absorbed and the mixture is clumpy.  Turn the machine to high and beat until light and fluffy, scraping once—a minute or two.  Scrape the bowl.   Add the cream cheese and beat at high speed for 30 to 40 seconds—just until the cream cheese has been incorporated and the frosting is smooth again (prolonged beating after the addition of the cream cheese can make the frosting too soft).   

Printable Recipe


  • If you don't have a stand mixer.  Soften both the butter and the cream cheese to room temperature.  When soft enough to mix by hand, place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat by hand just to blend.  Beat in the vanilla.  Beat in the sugar a half cup at a time.
  • If you like, add 2 or 3 drops of green food color.
  • Depending on how much frosting you like on your cupcakes, you will probably not need all of the frosting.  If you only make 16 cupcakes, half of a recipe will be just the right amount to frost each cupcake with a moderate amount (as pictured) of frosting.


Gloria - The Ginger Snap Girl said...

Happy anniversary! It is hard to believe 4 years have already passed. Unfortunately my blog activity has dropped off for a while now, which means I also haven't been very good about keeping up with the blog I follow. Even though I haven't commented lately, I still enjoy all your posts. So thank you!

These cupcakes look amazing and I love the story behind them. Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to year 5.

Paige said...

Thank you Gloria! It's so nice to hear from you. I had noticed that you had not posted as much last year...I hope that all is well and that you have just been busy. Your blog anniversary is coming up soon as well I believe...Happy anniversary to you too.

Bonnie Beth said...

Happy Anniversary, Paige! Thank you for your amazing work on your blog and for your beautiful love of not only the table, but of ingredients and of wonderfully prepared food! Very special cup cakes, indeed, to make a very special anniversary!
The best to you as you keep on keeping on!

Paige said...

Thank you Bonnie!