I can’t get enough pistachios. I love them in salads, crackers, ice cream, gelato, cakes, cookies, you name it. And frosting? Well, jump back and get out of town. There’s nothing better than pistachio buttercream frosting. I’ve been making it, in one form or another, for at least 20 years.

But in the old days–oy!–was it a pain in the ass. I’d have to shell pounds of pistachios, which left my fingers ragged. Then into a pot of boiling water they went to blanch. Next, I painstakingly rubbed the skins off each and every last little sucker and then dried them in a low oven. Next, I ground then soaked the nuts in heavy cream to infuse. That was just day one!

The following day I twisted and twisted white kitchen towels full of nuts to milk as much of the pistachio cream as possible. Then there was whipping and blending and blending and whipping. All for my love of pistachio. When it was smoothed on a White Chocolate Whisper Cake, it was simply divine. Damn it! DIVINE, I say. And it became one of my most requested cakes. But because it took so long to make, it also became one of my scarcest. And for good reason: I think child labor in the 19th century was less punishing than making this frosting.

That was until I discovered pistachio butter (AKA paste). I prefer the one from The Pistachio Factory (Click here and use the code LCNUTS to get a 10% discount). All I have to do is drop 1/3 cup into the frosting and badda bing, badda boom–it’s done. In all, it takes 30 minutes from start to finish. Heck, you can do that while the cake is baking. You gotta love progress.

A large amount of pistachio buttercream frosting, swirled with a knife laying across it.

Pistachio Buttercream Frosting

4.67 / 3 votes
The thing about this pistachio buttercream frosting is that it's a not-so-cleverly disguised French buttercream. It uses egg yolks, a sugar syrup, tons of–you guessed it–butter, and pistachio butter, also known as "paste." It makes an incredibly smooth, lickable, lappable, attackable frosting in about as long as it takes to make an American buttercream frosting.
David Leite
CourseDessert
CuisineFrench
Servings12 servings | 3 cups
Calories397 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Generous pinch salt
  • 4 sticks (1 lb) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup roasted unsalted pistachio butter or paste

Instructions 

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the yolks until light in color, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the water, sugar, and salt, stir constantly to dissolve the sugar.
  • Once the sugar mixture comes to a boil stop stirring. Continue to boil until the mixture registers 240°F (115°C) on a candy thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Turn the mixer on low, and carefully–carefully, I say!–slowly dribble in the sugar syrup, avoiding the spinning beater. Once the sugar syrup is incorporated, bump the speed up to medium-high and continue beating until the mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: If the egg mixture is even the least bit warm, it'll melt the butter, and you'll be staring at a puddle–of frosting and your tears.

  • Once the mixture is cool, add the butter, a knob at a time, beating until the buttercream is luscious and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  • Spoon in the pistachio butter and whir to combine until silky smooth, about 1 minute.

Video

Notes

☞ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT FRENCH BUTTERCREAM 

What’s French buttercream?

Classic French buttercream calls for egg yolks, butter, and granulated sugar to be heated to the softball stage (~240°F/115°C) to make a silky, not toothachingly sweet frosting that some folks say tastes like custard. I say it’s like angels are dancing on your tongue.

What’s the difference between Italian, Swiss, and French Buttercream?

It’s all about the egg. Both Italian and Swiss meringue buttercreams are made from a base of meringue. They call for egg whites, sugar, and butter to be whipped until very light, creamy, and smooth. (Italian buttercream uses a sugar syrup, while Swiss buttercream heats the egg whites and sugar over a simmering pot of water.) They’re both superb for frosting and piping.
French buttercream, on the other hand, calls for egg yolks to be whipped with a sugar syrup and butter to create the aforementioned delight that also frosts and pipes superbly.
Because French buttercream is made with yolks, the color is a soothing shade of yellow. If you’re looking for pure-white frosting, go with either Italian or Swiss buttercream.

Can I freeze French buttercream frosting?

Absolutely, 100%. You can freeze it for up to 3 months. You’ll want to make sure it’s in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed against its surface. When it’s time to use it, place it in the fridge overnight to thaw. Before frosting with it, make sure to whip it to fresh buttercream consistency.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.25 cupCalories: 397 kcalCarbohydrates: 19 gProtein: 3 gFat: 36 gSaturated Fat: 20 gMonounsaturated Fat: 9 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 173 mgSodium: 65 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 17 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 David Leite. Photo © 2022 David Leite. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

The pistachio buttercream frosting steps are complex and a bit intimidating. Don’t be dismayed by the large amount of rich ingredients or making a hot sugar syrup. Everything comes together beautifully, resulting in a velvety smooth and balanced tasting frosting.

I chilled the frosting for an additional 5 minutes after the initial mixing and then re-mixed it again and it spread and smoothed out like a dream. Adding pistachio paste to the yolk mixture gave the flavor a savory depth, with tiny little flecks of contrasting dark brown. The combined colors of the pistachio paste and yolks make for a natural yellow color.

It’s worth searching out the unsalted pistachio butter and making this version of French buttercream–if you only make it once–because it’s divine and the frosting is easier to make than you think it might be. This pistachio buttercream frosting is the perfect frosting for a special occasion cake, or any day, in my house.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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