Vintage Watergate Cake Recipe

Recipe Pin
1 hour 40 minutes
12 servings

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure policy.

Vintage Watergate Cake is a delicious and easy-to-make pistachio cake with a creamy whipped frosting, perfect for any occasion!

a cake with green whipped topping and nuts around the side

I have enjoyed this classic Watergate Cake recipe, sometimes referred to as pistachio cake, since I could walk. It’s moist and flavorful, offers a hint of pistachio flavor, and perhaps most texturally pleasing to me, is that it’s served ice cold due to required refrigeration for the whipped cream frosting. It’s light and fluffy, and the chopped pistachios and walnuts add a wonderful crunch.

Want To Save This Post?

Enter your email below and get it sent straight to your inbox!

The recipe I share today is the original recipe for Watergate Cake, which was created in the 1970s. I made it for St. Patrick’s Day and took some pictures. It is made with a box of white cake mix, a box of instant pistachio pudding mix, lemon lime soda such as 7-Up, eggs, pistachios, and walnuts.

There have been countless variations to the original classic recipe, including those which incorporate Cool Whip or Dream Whip in the frosting, the swapping out of yellow cake mix in lieu of the white, and even a club soda hack when mixing the cake batter to avoid having to add sugary soda. Some methods specify flaked coconut, too.

And the name…what’s in a name? This vintage cake recipe gets its name from the political scandal involving President Richard Nixon, the Watergate Hotel, and what many dubbed “cover-up icing!”

Watergate Cake Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • all-purpose flour
  • box white cake mix
  • vegetable oil
  • pistachio instant pudding mix
  • lemon-lime soda
  • large eggs
  • whole milk
  • heavy whipping cream
  • pistachios
  • walnuts

optional

  • additional walnuts to incorporate into the cake batter
  • flaked coconut to garnish cake along with chopped nuts
  • several drops of green food coloring to enhance the batter, the whipped topping, or both
a layer cake with two layers and green whipped frosting with nuts

Equipment Needed

I always knew my Aunt to bake this in a Bundt pan, but I prefer layer cakes. This method is therefore written for two (2) 9 1/2-inch cake pans. You will also need an electric mixer, two mixing bowls, a wire rack, and an offset spatula for frosting the cake layers.

How to Make Pistachio Watergate Cake

Before You Begin

Preheat oven to 350°F (175 degrees C). Grease two 9 1/2-inch cake pans with cooking spray. Flour both pans, tapping out all excess. Set aside.

Make the Batter

In a large bowl, combine a box of cake mix, oil, one box of pudding mix, soda, eggs, and if using, several drops of green food coloring. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, then on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until well combined. NOTE: if you like a nutty flavor to your bakes, add 1/2-cup of finely chopped walnuts, stirring to combine.

a pile of chopped pistachio nuts and a sharp knife on a wooden cutting board

Bake and Cool

Pour batter equally into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The sides of the cakes should be visibly pulling away from the pans.

Cool the cakes for 15 minutes in the pans atop a wire cooling rack. After 15 minutes, invert the pans slowly to remove the cakes, setting back atop the wire rack.

Make the Whipped Topping

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining packages of pistachio pudding mix, a cup of COLD milk, COLD heavy cream, and if using, several drops of green food coloring on high speed. Beat until light and fluffy, then refrigerate 15 minutes.

a lady's hand mixing green food coloring into a whipped topping in a metal mixing bowl

Frost and Garnish

Place the completely cooled first cake layer on a cake plate. Frost with with just under half of the chilled whipped topping. Place the second cake layer atop the first and frost the top of the cake and around the sides with the remaining whipped topping.

Take the chopped walnuts and combine them with the chopped pistachios. If using flaked coconut, add to the nut mixture now. Using your dominant hand, scoop up a handful of the nut mixture. Using your other hand, spin the cake as you press your palm-full of nuts into the side of the cake.

Go around the cake at least once adhering the nuts, twice to fill in bald spots. TIP: I perform the adhesion of the nuts over my kitchen sink so that nuts that do not adhere land in the sink rather than on my counters and floor. Serve and enjoy!

Storage Instructions

Because of the fresh cream and milk in the whipped frosting, this cake requires refrigeration. If you have a cake dome, I recommend using that, however plastic film loosely tented also works.

Modifying the Norm To Make It Not Entirely Average

  • Use yellow cake mix instead of white cake mix. This will give the cake a slightly different flavor and color.
  • Add 1/2 cup of finely chopped pineapple (with the juice) or flaked coconut to the cake batter. This will add a tropical twist to the cake.
  • Add 1/2 cup of finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, macadamias, or pistachios, to the cake batter. This will add a bit of crunch and flavor to the cake.
  • Instead of 7-Up or other lemon lime soda, make this with club soda, carbonated water, or even ginger ale. This will give the cake a bit more of a fizzy flavor.
What is Watergate Cake?

Watergate cake is a pistachio-flavored cake that was popular in the 1970s. It is made with a white cake mix, pistachio pudding mix, lemon-lime soda, eggs, oil, and nuts. The cake is then frosted with a whipped cream frosting and garnished with more nuts.

Where did the name “Watergate Cake” come from?

The name “Watergate Cake” is believed to named after the Watergate scandal involving President Nixon in 1972, which was unfolding at the time the cake was popular. There are others who attribute the name to be that of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., where the political scandal took place.

What makes a 7-Up cake different from Watergate cake?

The main difference between 7up cake and Watergate cake is the use of pistachio pudding mix. 7up cake does not use any pudding mix, while Watergate cake uses pistachio pudding mix in both the batter and frosting. This gives Watergate cake a distinctive green color and pistachio flavor.

a close up picture of the side of a pistachio flavored watergate layer cake with nuts

Vintage Watergate Cake

Jenny DeRemer
Watergate Cake is a delicious and easy-to-make pistachio cake with a creamy whipped frosting. This classic cake is perfect for any occasion, and it's sure to impress your guests. Try this recipe today!
5 from 26 votes
Servings: 12 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 12 servings
Calories 367 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 

for the cake

  • cooking spray for greasing the cake pans
  • all-purpose flour for flouring the cake pans
  • 1 (15.25-ounce) box white cake mix
  • 1 (3.4-ounce) box instant pistachio pudding
  • 1 cup lemon lime soda such as 7-Up, Sprite, or Mountain Dew; may substitute ginger ale or club soda
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup canola oil

for the pistachio whipped topping

  • 2 (3.4-ounce) boxes instant pistachio pudding
  • 1 cup whole milk VERY COLD
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream VERY COLD
  • ½ cup pistachios chopped
  • ½ cup walnuts chopped

optional additions

  • ½ cup walnuts very finely chopped; this is in addition to the specification above and are for use in the cake batter
  • ¼ cup flaked coconut for use in garnish; combine with chopped mixed nuts before adhering mixture to cake
  • green food coloring as needed and only if desired; add to cake batter and/or whipped topping

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (175 degrees C). Grease two 9 1/2-inch cake pans with cooking spray. Flour both pans, tapping out all excess. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine a box of cake mix, oil, one box of pudding mix, soda, eggs, and if using, several drops of green food coloring. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, then on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until well combined. NOTE: if you like a nutty flavor to your bakes, add 1/2-cup of finely chopped walnuts, stirring to combine.
  • Pour batter equally into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The sides of the cakes should be visibly pulling away from the pans. Cool the cakes for 15 minutes in the pans atop a wire cooling rack. After 15 minutes, invert the pans slowly to remove the cakes, setting back atop the wire rack.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the remaining packages of pistachio pudding mix, a cup of COLD milk, COLD heavy cream, and if using, several drops of green food coloring on high speed. Beat until light and fluffy, then refrigerate 15 minutes.
  • Place the completely cooled first cake layer on a cake plate. Frost with the chilled whipped topping. Place the second cake layer atop the first and frost the top of the cake and around the sides.
  • Take the remaining half cup of chopped walnuts and combine them with the chopped pistachios. If using flaked coconut, add to the nut mixture now. Using your dominant hand, scoop up a handful of the nut mixture. Using your other hand, spin the cake as you press your palm-full of nuts into the side of the cake.
    Go around the cake at least once adhering the nuts, twice to fill in bald spots. TIP: I perform the adhesion of the nuts over my kitchen sink so that nuts that do not adhere land in the sink rather than on my counters and floor.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

Storing This Cake: because of the fresh cream and milk in the whipped frosting, this cake requires refrigeration. If you have a cake dome, I recommend using that, however plastic film loosely tented also works. This cake may be kept up to 3 days under refrigeration.
DO NOT FREEZE
Variations:
  • Use yellow cake mix instead of white cake mix. This will give the cake a slightly different flavor and color.
  • Add 1/2 cup of finely chopped pineapple (with the juice) or flaked coconut to the cake batter. This will add a tropical twist to the cake.
  • Add 1/2 cup of finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, macadamias, or pistachios, to the cake batter. This will add a bit of crunch and flavor to the cake.
  • Instead of 7-Up or other lemon lime soda, make this with club soda, carbonated water, or even ginger ale. This will give the cake a bit more of a fizzy flavor.

The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.

Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 367kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 7gFat: 36gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 9gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0.04gCholesterol: 109mgSodium: 49mgPotassium: 197mgFiber: 1gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 729IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 77mgIron: 1mg
Did you love this recipe?Leave a comment and Let me know how it was!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




18 Comments

  1. The looks delicious, but I haven’t tried it yet but I do have a question. Did anyone else find the batter to be very thick and sticky or was it just the brand of white cake mix that I used?

    1. Linda, I am going to go with the brand of cake mix, but…did you substitute anything else? It should be thick, yes, but sticky? Not terribly sticky, no. What else did you use different? Jenny

  2. Best cake I’ve ever made for my mum! It turned out moist and absolutely delicious – especially that frosting! Everyone in the family enjoyed it. Thanks for the recipe!5 stars

  3. St Paddy’s or not, I absolutely love pistachio desserts so I had to try this one. I never would’ve thought to put 7 UP in a cake, but the texture of this cake is heavenly. I’ve made it for friends and family a few times, none of them had ever heard of it before, but now they’re all sold!5 stars

  4. I brought it to a gathering, and everyone loved it. The frosting turned out creamy and delicious. Quite easy to make, it is a must-try!5 stars

  5. This recipe is so simple yet super delicious. The whipped cream frosting was light and fluffy and the pistachios and walnuts on top added a nice contrast. Can’t wait to make this watergate cake again for Valentine’s Day.5 stars

  6. My mom asked for this for her birthday, and I was super hesitant, but it came out great! Way better than I could have ever imagined. 😀 We’ll be making this again for sure! Thanks.5 stars

  7. Baked this cake for my daughter’s birthday and she LOVED it since pistachios are her favorite! It was moist, fluffy and we absolutely enjoyed it!5 stars

    1. Ruby, I am elated your daughter liked this cake – my aunt used to bake it for me when I would visit. I like to think of it as a testament to how much you care about somebody when this cake is served in their honor! x – Jenny

  8. I’m so glad I found your site! I’m going to be using your recipes for a long time to come, starting today, with RITZ CRACKER CHICKEN! We have potluck meals at church once a month, so I will be checking back with you for those occasions. (I LIVED IN CHARLESTON A LONG TIME AGO & am curious to know why you settled there, if you don’t mind sharing. )

    1. Bea, this is so sweet of you to tell me! And I am glad you found the website, too, as there is PLENTY in terms of potluck and cookout sort of fare scattered all about these pages 🙂 Charleston; where do I start? I’ve been visiting this transcendent place since I was a child. I only moved here post-9/11 with a good bit of mental baggage from the Trade Center attack trailing behind me. Charleston provided a slower pace which I sorely needed. I made friends fast, joined whatever I could to learn about my new town, and immersed myself in the day-to-day. It wasn’t until I stopped “being” a Yankee and threw myself into learning from Beenyas (Beenya is somebody from here, while a Comeya is me!) that I was able to understand and embrace this place. I love the North and always will. My earliest documented ancestor arrived in New Netherland (now lower Manhattan) in 1607, so my blood has been in the New York, New Jersey, and New England states for a LONG time. BUT….there is something the American coastal South and Sea Islands have over ANYWHERE up North; this earth is mystic and haunting and hard to define simultaneously. In a word, it’s Charleston. Food and nightlife and history aside, if you take the opportunity to get under this town’s skin, so to speak, it lets you in on its magic 😉 If you venture back, Bea, please be my guest for lunch at Middleton Place or somewhere on the peninsula, and let us gab about YOUR definition of Charleston. I am all ears! x – Jenny