Pistachio & Lemon (Little) Loaf Cakes

little loaf cake

The dense, damp, syrupy crumb makes this cake utterly irresistible

This might just be one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten.

Those of you who read this blog on regular basis will know that this is not a comment to be taken lightly. I love cake. I eat it a lot. I live and breathe baking.  On our recent holiday in Italy in a round of Articulate the clue ‘Kate loves this’ resulted in an immediate and resounding chorus of ‘cake’, and change one letter in my name and I’d practically be named after the stuff. Cake is very important to me.

Pretty much every year I make my own birthday cake. Before you start feeling sorry for me, it’s absolutely out of choice. I love doing it; the magic of mixing together ingredients, transforming flour, butter and sugar into something that looks and tastes delicious, experimenting in the kitchen, sharing my birthday joy with friends and family and condensing it into a single slice.

lemon loaf cake

Two lovely little loaves

I’ve written about these birthday cakes before here, the theme that instantly emerges being chocolate. I can barely remember a birthday when I haven’t made or eaten some sort of chocolate cake. Bad chocolate cake is terrible – there’s nothing more disappointing than a dry or sickly-sweet crumb – but good chocolate cake is very, very good; dense, dark, delicious, rich and decadent. Even sinful, if you can bear to use that word in relation to food.

But recently my tastebuds seem to have decided that they need their horizons expanding. Maybe it’s getting later in my twenties, but I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to flavours other than chocolate: the bright, citrus zing of lemon sponge, the acidity of summer berries, the tang of sweet stone fruits and the crunch of nuts in all their various shapes and sizes.

lemon loaf cake

Serve in thick, sweet slices – no need for any accompaniment

On the aforementioned trip to Italy, I’d wake up early every day as the sun’s sleepy shafts nosed through the bedroom blinds. Up before anyone else, I’d take time to enjoy the quiet kitchen on my own –  making dough for focaccia, picking basil leaves from the terrace to pound into pesto,  slicing bread and scrambling yellow-yolked eggs, ready for breakfast. Then I’d take my food and one of the worn recipe books from the kitchen shelf outside onto the patio to enjoy the early morning light.

One morning I was leafing through a copy of River Café Easy when I discovered this recipe. The combination of beautiful photography and the memory of eating a slice of the most incredible pistachio cake at The River Café for my Dad’s birthday back in June convinced me that I had to make it. Having no scales in Italy, I jotted the instructions down in the inside of a book I was reading and resolved to give this recipe a go once I got back to my little London kitchen.

lemon loaf cake

Ground pistachios give this cake a lovely green hue

This is the result and I absolutely urge you to give it a go. The combination of two types of ground nuts gives this cake an unusual, wonderfully moist, almost damp crumb, bright with the green of the pistachios and lifted by the sharp citrus sweetness of lemon juice and zest. A glaze of more pistachios and sugar syrup on top has a gorgeous, almost caramel-like flavour and the overall experience of eating this cake is as close to perfection as I’ve tasted in a long time.

When I ate this at The River Café, I asked for a small scoop of chocolate ice cream alongside purely for greed. Some sort of ice cream, or a dollop of something else creamy, would work nicely with this cake, but it’s so good that my family and I were more than happy to eat it on its own. One little loaf served a party of four on my actual birthday with enough for seconds and a single leftover slice, while the second did me for breakfast the next day plus a pretty generous additional amount to offer round at work.

lemon loaf

Jewel-like pistachios add crunch to this delicious little loaf

Finally, for anyone concerned about my complete lack of chocolate consumption this birthday, don’t worry. I did actually eat some amazing chocolate ganache-coated cupcakes at a big birthday lunch with friends the day before. Provided by a friend and even more delicious for being a complete surprise, they more than satisfied my need for a chocolate birthday fix this year.

Pistachio & Lemon (Little) Loaf Cakes (barely adapted from River Cafe Cookbook Easy)


For the cakes
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
250g golden caster sugar
4 large free range eggs, whisked
Zest of one large unwaxed lemon
Seeds scraped from one vanilla pod
120g pistachios, ground
100g almonds, ground
40g plain flour, sieved

For the syrup topping
Juice and zest of one large unwaxed lemon
50g golden caster sugar
60g pistachios, coarsely chopped


For the cakes
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Grease and line two 9 x 18cm loaf tins*.

Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Gradually beat the eggs into the mixture until incorporated, then add the vanilla and lemon zest. Fold in the ground nuts and flour.

Divide the batter between your two tins and bake for between 30 – 40 mins, testing to see if the cakes are done by inserting a skewer into the middle.

When baked, remove from the oven and leave in the tins for about five minutes before removing and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the syrup topping
Mix together the lemon juice and sugar. Bring to the boil, then simmer until slightly thickened and syrupy. Stir in the pistachios then pour evenly over the two loaf cakes.

Serve in thick slices. You could add a little natural yoghurt or chocolate ice cream, but this cake was so delicious I was happy to eat it on its own.

*You can also bake this in one large 30 x 9cm loaf tin. If doing so, increase baking time to between 45 minutes and one hour.


Filed under Recipes

52 responses to “Pistachio & Lemon (Little) Loaf Cakes

  1. Happy Birthday Kate! This cake looks wonderful – I adore pistachios. Good to hear you did get some chocolate in too (clearly I’m not deep enough into my twenties to let go of chocolate birthday cake).

  2. Ok I am sold. If you, lover and big eater of cakes, says this is the best cake you’ve eaten, woah. I can already tell it will be a deliciously moist cake because of the use of ground nuts and only a little flour, the sort of cake I like (I cannot stand airy sponges), and I love citrus (I suck lemons without wincing, not kidding), so this really does sound up my alley.

  3. Gosh this looks so heavenly! =)

  4. This looks like my ultimate cake. Really. Funnily enough I made a lemon drizzle cake yesterday which looks very similar to yours – moist and yellow and sticky and delicious. But mine didn’t have nuts in, therefore yours is clearly better. Salivating a little!

  5. I absolutely love loaf cakes! what a brilliant flavour combination!

  6. Happy belated birthday! I had a wonderful pistachio and yoghurt cake at Moro’s a few weeks ago and have been dreaming of something similar since. What a wonderful combination of flavours.

  7. Now that I like lemon cake and love pistachios I know I’d be a huge fan of this loaf cake! You know, as long as it was balanced with chocolate ganache like yours was:-)

    • The Single Gourmet – thank you!

      Emma – haha, these things seem to come with age 😉 Actually, who am I kidding, I still love chocolate cake!

      Shuhan – it definitely does sound like you’d love it, enjoy!

      My Dear Bakes – it’s pretty good 🙂

      Elly – lemon drizzle is so good, but I do love the crunch of nuts and moistness the ground ones add to the texture.

      Jenny – thanks!

      Kathryn – ooh, I absolutely love Moro. Planning to try out Morito on Bank Holiday – it looks fab too.

      Lauren – absolutely. Everything in balance (with chocolate)

  8. Lovely cake and such an easy recipe to follow. Lemon in a cake always make me think i can eat twice as much, hey it’s going towards my five a day!

  9. The combo of nuts and lemon are perfect. I will have to try this recipe soon. The citrus of lemon and the richness of pistachio nuts coming together in a sweet loaf cake sound fabulous.

  10. These look so adorable. I love pistachio and lemon, as adding these to my ‘must bake list.’

  11. Sounds like the perfect cake to me. Love those flavours

  12. A great alternative to chocolate cake. I like that it has little flour in it. Great recipe, bookmarking it!

  13. What a fab flavour combo!…and I always make my birthday cake too (best way!)

  14. Pistachio & lemon sounds like a perfect combination! Happy birthday!

  15. Yummy, this sounds awesome, Loaf. I do love a good pistachio! I should do an ice cream version of this 😀

  16. Well I nearly fell off my chair when you stated a non chocolate cake might be your best ever. But I can quite see why – a cake made mostly of pistachios can only be a great thing. The cake is such a gorgeous colour too. Hope you had a lovely birthday.

    Since starting this blog and making most sweet things with chocolate I usually opt for something other than chocolate if I’m out and about – too much of a good thing. And also, it’s very hard to get good chocolate cake I’ve found, unless you make it yourself!

  17. A belated happy birthday to you. You chose well with this cake. I am a River Cafe fan as you know. So, any recipe adapted from their cookbooks will always be a recipe I have to go and try myself. Love the colour of the sponge. If I can’t have chocolate cake, then this would make a very good alternative :-)xx

  18. Happy birthday :D!!!! What a delicious looking cake!

  19. I’ll take pistachio over chocolate any day. And this looks particularly grand.

  20. Omygoodness, I love anything with pistachios and this cake looks phenomenal!

  21. The one pistachio loaf cake I tried to make once was an utter flop! I would love to give another recipe a go some day as I know the taste would be incredible, and by the looks of your photos this is the recipe for me! Gorgeous 🙂

  22. Nut cakes are so wonderful aren’t they? I used to want the same cake every year for my birthday but then changed and now, every year I want a different one. And Happy Birthday!!

  23. Happy Birthday! This cake looks amazing. The pistachios make it look so pretty. They really do look like little jewels!

  24. Oddly enough, there’s something quite man friendly about loaves! They’re delicious but able to be dressed down as a nice companion to a cup of tea!

  25. I make a syrup-soaked Bundt cake that’s very much like this but it’s made of ground almonds. This has almonds and pistachios, which makes it 2x better! It doesn’t hurt that it’s absolutely gorgeous.

    • Sophie – haha, exactly!

      Connie – it’s divine, do try it 🙂

      Hungry Mum – enjoy!

      Meg – thank you.

      Paula – yes, the ground almonds and pistachios make it beautifully moist.

      Beth – absolutely!

      Eileen – thank you 🙂

      Frugal Feeding – ooh, that would be interesting.

      Choclette – absolutely agree on the chocolate cake front – it can be so disappointing when people get it wrong.

      Laura – thank you. Two cakes for one birthday is the best possible outcome in my eyes 🙂

      Nic – thank you!

      Michelle – ah, thank you 🙂

      Laura – it’s lovely, enjoy 🙂

      Sasha – do give it another go, this one is super simple to make and so delicious.

      Lorraine – sometimes life is too short to eat the same cake twice!

      Nickki – thank you!

      Baking Beardy – they can be manly if you want them to be 😉

      Sacha – ah, thank you 🙂

  26. OMG OMG OMG I can’t believe i missed this recipe from yoru blog! now i don’t know what to make first the chocolate pistachio cookies or this lemon pistachio loaffffff 🙂 I WANT TO EAT THIS NOW 🙂

  27. sarah

    little loaf, these cakes look the absolute perfect texture, not too dry and crumbly or heavy and moist as can happen. Really well done. Mixing the two threads above, i wonder if they would work with a lemon drizzle topping as opposed to the nuts? may try and will let you know! may i ask where you purchase your loaf tins from, i would love some that size…

    keep baking and blogging.

    cooking classes in the future? hope so!


  28. These look divine! Just my sort of cake. So pretty too.

  29. Kate, they are absolutely beautiful! I think it’s absolutely fab that you bake your own birthday cake and share it with friends and family. What a lovely way to celebrate! Pistachio is one of my favourite ingredients to bake with, they smell amazing in bakes! I love River Cafe recipes and have the pocket book for puds. Everything in it looks and sounds so tempting. Belated blessed birthday wishes to you xx

  30. Oh! These look just wonderful. I love a loaf cake… but I love pistachios and lemons more!! Thanks for the recipe, I’ll definitely need to give it a go soon!

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  32. You mixed two of my favourite ingredients. Brilliant combination!

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  38. Hi there, do you know if you could substitute rice flour or polenta to make the recipe gluten free?

    • Polenta might make it a bit sandy. Although I’ve not tried it, I would think rice flower would work. Or you could just up the ground almonds slightly to make an extra moist cake.

      Let me know how you get on!

  39. sarah

    Liz Franklin in Cafe Italia makes a lighter moister more lemony version which is well worth a try if you feel the urge to experiment. Cream 250 g butter 200g castor. Add 4 med eggs. Stir in 120 g almonds 100 g ground pistachio, zest two lemons, a teaspn baking powder, 50g plain flour. Pour into a 900g loaf tin. Bake at 180 for 45 min. For the topping 60g castor 60g pistachios and juice 2 lemons in usual way. Devour with creme fraiche or chocolate sorbet!

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  43. Is it correct stating 40 grams of flour?

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