In Chinese culture, the pistachio is called the happy nut (开心果 kaixinguo). 开 means open, 心 means heart, and 果 means fruit or nut. 开心 also means happy, and it literally describes the way you open a pistachio to eat it. Therefore, 开心果 means happy nut.
As a symbol of health, happiness, prosperity and good fortune, they are given as gifts during Chinese New Year. Pistachios are often packed with other nuts and small gifts in a large red box, representing luck and happiness. Even China’s giant pandas love them for their sweetness and crunchiness
Pistachios are currently cultivated as a commercial crop in California, Italy, Turkey, and Iran, with the U.S. being the second largest producer in the world. According to the Hong Kong Food Expo 2013, China is going nuts for California pistachios, which explains why 35% of the harvest is shipped there
With all the auspicious signs, not to mention health benefits, my love for pistachios no doubt started at an early age growing up in Hong Kong. I always thought pistachios only came in their shells and you had to crack open each one to enjoy them. Imagine my excitement when I discovered later that you could also purchase them sans shell—and even roasted or raw, salted or not.
This pistachio cake is my birthday present to myself. Who doesn’t want a birthday cake with happiness baked into it? The combination of happy nuts, in-season fresh sweet figs, and an orange-scented frosting is the perfect cake for me—and perhaps for you as well.
1. Combine figs, honey ,2 tablespoons orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan, cook over medium heat until figs softens and mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Stir remaining orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl until combined, add to fig mixture along with orange zest and continue to cook until filling is syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla until combined, pour filling into a bowl and let cool completely.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350℉. Spray two 6-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line bottom with parchment round, and spray round; dust pan with flour and knock out excess, set aside.
2. In a 2-cup measure cup, combine eggs, sour cream, rum and vanilla, whisk to combine, set aside.
3. Combine sugar and pistachio in a food processor and pulse until finely pistachios are finely grounded. (Do not over mix or mixture will turn into a paste). Add mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, along with flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat on medium speed for 15 seconds to combine.
4. Add butter, once piece at a time and beat until mixture are light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl, continue at medium speed and add egg mixture in 3 additions. until batter are fully incorporated.
5. Divide batter evenly into prepared cake pans, smooth top with small off-set spatula. Bake until lightly golden and toothpick come out clean when insert in the center of cake, about 30-35 minutes. Cool cake for 10 minutes, remove from pan, discard parchment and cool cake completely on wire rack, about 1 hour.
1. Process cream cheese, butter, and orange juice, zest, rum , vanilla extract and salt in a food processor fitted with steel blade until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
1. Level each cake top with serrated knife and slice cake horizontally into two even layers. Place one layer on cake stand and spread 1/3 of fig filling evenly on top, place second layer on top and repeat with reaming cake layers and filling, finish with fourth cake layer on top.
2. Spread frosting on top and side of cake and decorate with fresh figs and ground pistachios (if use). Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before serving.