Why It Works
- Organic powdered sugar contains a fraction of its natural molasses content, giving the pistachio paste a more nuanced sweetness.
- Orange flower water works as an aromatic to amplify the inherent flavors and aromas in pistachio.
- Roasted pistachio oil intensifies the overall flavor, and improves the texture of the paste.
While almond paste is easy to find in supermarkets, and commonly called for in many European desserts, pistachio paste is a rarer beast. Which is a bummer, as anything one can make with almond paste would be equally tasty if incarnated with pistachios instead.
Less Expensive and Better Quality
Online shopping has certainly made pistachio paste easier to find, but it often has an eye-popping price tag. Even so, the quality and consistency can vary from one brand to the next, as many are unsweetened spreads, for a product closer to peanut butter than the thick, sweet almond paste we buy in tubes or tubs (usually a 1:1 blend of blanched almonds and sugar, with a little oil).
For those of us longing to put a pistachio spin on classic recipes that call for almond paste, like frangipan or stollen, the answer is to DIY. All you need is a food processor to grind the nuts, and a little bit of time to spare as it's vital to blanch and peel the pistachios before use.
It's admittedly a tedious task, but when once you see the pile of paper skins you'll be grateful they're gone: They have a musty aroma like hamster cage shavings that'll put a major damper on any pistachio dessert.
There's no question that Sicilian pistachios have the strongest pistachio flavor, but at over 70 dollars a pound they can be a little cost prohibitive for the casual baker. More affordable, American-grown pistachios can still make an excellent paste so long as they're fresh, carefully blanched, and enhanced with a few "secret" ingredients—namely roasted pistachio oil for an extra boost of pistachio flavor, and a spoonful of orange flower water to open up the overall aroma.
Don't worry; this won't make the pistachio paste taste orangey, or like perfume; orange flower water simply helps amplify the natural aromas present in pistachios already (rosemary works in a similar way, but is more difficult to incorporate into the paste at low levels). If you don't have any on hand, the flavor of the paste may fall a little flat, but it needn't be a total deal breaker as the pistachio oil will do the heavy lifting.
For those on the fence about buying a specialty ingredient like roasted pistachio oil (we like La Tourangelle brand, which can be found in many specialty shops like Whole Foods), its use isn't limited to this recipe. Aside from making a terrific salad dressing, it works perfectly in my olive oil cake, for an easy, full-flavored pistachio cake like no other.
How to Properly Grind the Pistachios
With those ingredients squared away, it all comes down to technique, starting with those blanched pistachios and continuing to the food processor, where they're ground into a smooth paste. The exact texture and timing of this step can vary depending on the type, freshness, and moisture content of the pistachios, along with the size and power of the food processor.
Fresher, wetter, and/or Italian pistachios may only require five minutes of processing, while older, drier, and/or American pistachios may require 10 minutes or longer, particularly if toasted after blanching (more on the effects of toasting in a bit).
Either way, the important thing is to take your time; commercially, this process is done with something like a wet grinder or conche, often for hours if not days, so even 10 minutes in a food processor is a comparative snap. Sure, the results won't be as creamy and smooth as a commercially milled paste, but unless you want to pony up $200 for the "proper" equipment, it's an affordable compromise.
Which is to say, don't rush an already speedy technique, or try to muddle through with a cheap food chopper or smoothie blender. For more information, see our review of the best food processors; this recipe was cross-tested on the 14-cup Breville and the 14-cup Cuisinart.
Once the pistachios have been ground smooth, add the powdered sugar, orange flower water, and salt, and process until creamy and thick; again, the timing will vary so let the texture be your guide.
For the best flavor and texture, use an organic powdered sugar made with tapioca rather than cornstarch (more info on the merits of organic, tapioca-based powdered sugar here).
With the machine still running, drizzle in the roasted pistachio oil and continue processing until silky and pale. Pause to scrape the bowl and blade of the food processor with a flexible spatula, then continue processing a little more to ensure a homogenous texture. If you like, give the pistachio paste a try and season to taste with additional salt, if needed.
Maintaining the Ideal Color
While fresh and warm, the pistachio paste will have a soft and semi-fluid consistency, as well as a fresh spring green color. As it cools and ages, it will thicken up considerably and darken somewhat. The cooled texture will be ideal for using the pistachio paste as a stand-in almond paste, but if you'd like a softer, more spreadable texture, continue processing and drizzle in 2 ounces of water. The resulting paste will still be quite thick, but with a texture much like natural peanut butter.
When working with Sicilian pistachios, I vastly preferred their flavor while raw, but found that the flavor of American pistachios improved with a light toasting after blanching. That said, toasting dramatically dulls the color of the pistachio paste, taking it from a vibrant green to a muddy olive.
Below, we have a spoonful of raw (top) and toasted (bottom) pistachio paste.
The color change is perfectly natural, but for those longing for a bit more "green" the color of toasted pistachio paste can be improved with a drop of blue gel paste to cancel out the warm, yellow hues that result from toasting. It will still be darker and deeper than the raw pistachio paste, but with a cooler tone.
In the photo above we have a spoonful of toasted pistachio paste doctored with a few drops of blue gel paste (top) and au naturale (bottom).
However you make the pistachio paste, you'll have no trouble finding ways to use it up—whether in recipes that call for traditional almond paste, stuffed into French toast, as a spread over baguette, or simply with fruit.
One of my favorite applications is to chill the pistachio paste with some cream, then use an immersion blender to turn it into a thick and stable pistachio chantilly.
It's the ultimate topping for ice cream sundaes, and makes a bang-up frosting for that aforementioned pistachio cake as well—just one of many uses you'll find for homemade pistachio paste once you have some on hand.
You can also use homemade pistachio paste to make a pistachio-frangipane tart—which would be awesome with a dollop of that aforementioned pistachio cream.
Or try a toasted-pistachio paste for our triple-pistachio buns, laced with pistachio paste in the dough, filling, and frosting!
Homemade Pistachio Paste
9 ounces whole, raw pistachios, blanched and peeled; see note (about 2 cups; 255g)
10 ounces powdered sugar, preferably organic; more information here (about 2 1/2 cups; 280g)
1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water, such as Cortas
2 ounces roasted pistachio oil, such as La Tourangelle (shy 1/3 cup; 55g)
2 ounces water, optional (1/4 cup; 55g)
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the blanched pistachios to form a smooth but slightly oily mass. The timing of this step can vary depending on the type, freshness, and moisture content of the pistachios, along with the size and power of the food processor. Fresher, wetter pistachios may only require 5 minutes of processing, while older, drier, or toasted pistachios may require 10 minutes or more.
Once a smooth, oily paste has formed, add powdered sugar, salt, and orange flower water and continue processing until smooth and thick. With the machine still running, drizzle in oil and process until silky and pale. At this stage, the pistachio paste can be seasoned with additional salt to taste, if needed.
While warm, pistachio paste will be creamy and soft, but it will thicken into a sliceable, dough-like mass when cooled to room temperature. This is the ideal consistency to use as a stand-in for almond paste or marzipan. However, if a more spreadable consistency is desired, along the line of peanut butter, continue running the food processor and drizzle in 2 ounces (1/4 cup; 55g) water.
This recipe works well with any style of pistachio, but it is vital that the nuts are blanched and peeled. For more information, see our guide to blanching and peeling pistachios.
If a deeper, toasted flavor is desired, as with our triple pistachio buns, the peeled pistachios can be toasted prior to making the paste. To do this, toss the nuts with a splash of pistachio oil, spread onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan, and bake at 200°F (90°C), until the nuts are firm to the touch and rather hard, with a golden hue just beginning to develop here and there, about 3 hours.
As toasting will develop a strong yellow color in the nuts, a drop of light blue gel paste, such as Americolor, can be used to neutralize the warm undertones and bring out a cooler, green profile in the paste.
Make-Ahead and Storage
In a non-reactive, airtight container, the pistachio paste can be stored at room temperature for a week, or held in the refrigerator for one month. If using as a stand-in for commercial almond paste, bring to room temperature before use. When freshly made, the pistachio paste will have a relatively light green color, but will naturally darken to a deep olive shade over time.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||13%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||6%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 19g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||3%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|