(Real) Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

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Flavorful pistachio cupcakes made from scratch and topped with the best brown sugar buttercream.

Recipe for Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

My dad isn’t a dessert person.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

I know, cover your mouth in horror!  Him and my sister both… my mom and I, we are just made differently.  Actually, I relate to my dad in a lot of other ways.  His math and science-geared brain, his smile, and his stubbornness, to name a few.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

When I was growing up we used to get in such arguments where we would fight it out all the way, each of us standing firm on either side until the very end when one person was clearly “right”.  But at that point, we would resolve it, both content in how the conversation was finalized.  Yes, I did deserve the nick-name “Last-Minute Lauren” and yes, real chemists probably do know better than my idiotic 10th grade chemistry teacher.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

Well, it is that stubborn part of me that refused to let his birthday go without making some dessert that he would like.  There are a few that we all know he enjoys from time to time- angel food cake, pecan pie, and very crispy cookies.  Well, sorry, but those are just not exciting enough for a birthday dessert.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

Knowing that he does love pistachios I decided to try to win him over from that direction.  The result: WIN for me!  He loved the cupcakes.  Well, win for him too, then.  He just might have skipped the buttercream and passed his along to my mom, but hey, I’ll take it.

Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

(Real) Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream
Flavorful pistachio cupcakes made from scratch and topped with the best brown sugar buttercream.
Recipe type: Dessert
Makes: 2½ - 3 dozen regular-sized cupcakes
Pistachio Cupcakes:
  • 4⅜ ounces (~1 cup) roasted and salted shelled pistachios (plus more for garnish)
  • 9⅝ ounces (~2½ cups) cake flour
  • 3½ ounces (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1½ cups ice cold water
  • ½ pound (1 cup / 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 13⅛ ounces (~1¾ cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 x-large egg whites, separated
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Brown Sugar Buttercream:
  • 4¼ ounces egg whites at room temperature (~4 large egg whites)
  • 1 pound 0.5 ounces light brown sugar (~1 cup, packed)
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ pound (1 cup / 2 sticks) of room temperature unsalted butter sliced into tablespoons
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pistachio Cupcake
  1. Pre-heat oven to 325; line muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside
  2. In a food processor, pulse the pistachios just until they are coarsely chopped; remove 2 tablespoons and place in a large bowl
  3. Continue to pulse remaining pistachios until they are finely ground; be careful not to grind too long or they will begin to turn into more of a paste; add to bowl with other pistachios
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the bowl of pistachios; whisk mixture and set aside
  5. In the large bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and creamy (at least 5 minutes)
  6. Add 1 egg white and vanilla and mix until combined; scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula
  7. Turn mixer down to the lowest speed and slowly add part of the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients; do not overmix
  8. Remove bowl and set aside
  9. Use a clean bowl (I wipe mine down with white vinegar) and whisk attachment and whisk the 3 remaining egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (several minutes on medium-high speed)
  10. Carefully fold egg whites into batter just until combined
  11. Use a large cookie dough scoop or small ladle to evenly distribute batter into prepared tins
  12. Bake 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from center of cupcakes (I usually test 1 or 2 towards the center of the tin)
Brown Sugar Buttercream:
  1. Wipe down your metal mixing bowl, whisk attachment, whisk and candy thermometer with lemon juice or white vinegar to make sure they are all grease free
  2. Place mixing bowl over pot of shallow simmering water (do not want bowl in the water) with candy thermometer attached
  3. In that bowl, combine brown sugar and egg whites, whisking continuously until temperature measures 160 degrees (if you do not have a candy thermometer, you want the mixture to be warm and the sugar to be dissolved); this will take about 5 minutes
  4. Place bowl back on mixer and place a bowl of ice directly underneath to help the cooling process; use whisk attachment and beat meringue in medium speed until a creamy meringue is formed, it should be thick but not stiff; bowl should also cool down while you are mixing
  5. Once texture is right and bowl has cooled, reduce speed to low; add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is completely combined; whisk in vanilla
  6. Pipe or spread buttercream over cooled cupcakes as desired; sprinkle with extra chopped pistachios
If your buttercream is too wet, it may have been too warm; place bowl in fridge for 15-20 minutes and then mix again
Cupcakes slightly adapted from cake by Kitchen Trial and Error who adapted it from Baked Explorations
Buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart


Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

So what if I ate more cupcakes than he did.  Happy (belated) birthday, Dad!
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21 Responses to “(Real) Pistachio Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream”

  1. Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust March 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    That frosting!! Oh my yum. Your dad sounds like my husband. :)

  2. Elina (Satisfied Cravings) March 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    Mmm these look fantastic, Lauren! It’s 10pm and now I’m cravings cupcakes… what else is new I guess ;)

  3. Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie March 11, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    I love pistachio cupcakes! I’ve only made them once but I made the mistake of buying shelled nuts because I didn’t realize how many I would have to shell in order to get enough for the recipe I was using.

  4. Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) March 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Bookmarking this so I can make them for my mom for Mother’s Day, or a cake version. She loooves pistachios!

  5. Sues March 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    My dad isn’t a dessert person either, but I think he would totally love these! So would I…

  6. Joanne March 12, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    I cannot believe you dad doesn’t like dessert! Are you sure you’re not adopted? :P

    Just kidding. My brother doesn’t like dessert either…weirdo. But it’s fine because that means I get his share! These cupcakes look awesome. Pistachio is one of my favorite dessert flavors!

  7. thelittleloaf March 12, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    My Dad isn’t supposed to eat sweets because he’s on a permanent diet… I still love to bake him a tiny treat on his birthday, if you can’t indulge then, when can you?!
    Here’s to delicious pistachio treats!

  8. kelly @ kellybakes March 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    I absolutely need to make these, Lauren!! My sister came to visit me in Philly and had seasonal pistachio cupcakes with matcha frosting and a honey drizzle from a place here. She keeps begging me to bring her one, but they don’t have them all the time; now I can make them for her instead!

    • Keep It Sweet March 20, 2013 at 7:30 am #

      Oh wow that combination sounds amazing! Let me know if you do try them, they really were a huge hit.

  9. Rosie @ Blueberry Kitchen March 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Oh yum your cupcakes look so good and I love the sound of the brown sugar buttercream too!

  10. Jenny @ BAKE March 15, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    I love pistachios! in cupcake form sounds even better!

  11. Audra | The Baker Chick March 16, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    My Dad doesn’t like sweets either- makes it so hard for me!
    These look great- glad you found something that he loved :)

  12. Valerie March 16, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    What a sweet birthday treat for your dad! I can’t think of anything better than pistachios and brown butter buttercream (be still my heart!). :D

  13. Roxana | Roxana's Home Baking March 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    How can your dad resist all the desserts you’re making. It’s hard to believe he’s not a dessert person, I’d at everything you make, including these pistachios cupcakes. Yum!

  14. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com March 18, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    We love pistachios in our household. That looks so delish! A great birthday treat :)

  15. Kristina March 18, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    MY DAD isn’t a dessert person either!! every now and then he will enjoy something I make, but it is a rare thing. so I focus on his savory favorites, saving desserts for others.

    these sound and look so amazing, and would go so well with my coffee right now…


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