Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Kaya's Spice Cake with Berry Compote

Recreating an old favorite!

This Kaya inspired recipe barely qualifies as historical, but it's inspired by something I've been dying to recreate in my own kitchen for quite some time: a delicious carrot, parsnip, and spice cake I had at the National Museum of the American Indian during my first visit to their delicious cafe. 

Unfortunately, my version is lacking in parsnips despite my best efforts to find them, but the result was still an extremely tasty treat that I've been enjoying over the last few days, complete with a fresh, tart blueberry compote that I'll definitely be making again. Read on to see how to make it yourself!

Cafe Mitsitam is basically the gold standard in museum dining. I've raved about it many times on the blog before, and the photo above is from my first visit to the cafe. As most of us know, museum food is often boring, overpriced, and not very good. Cafe Mitsitam strives to give visitors a memorable dining experience, pulling from traditional Native foodways from North and South America to give visitors something unique, delicious... and still quite expensive. 

One of my favorite things I've ever eaten at the cafe was this delicious spice cake featuring carrots and parsnips, a blueberry compote, and honey whipped cream, all inspired by foods of the Pacific Northwest. It was an extremely generous portion of cake, and the flavors were really spot on, so I immediately turned to my borrowed copy of the Cafe Mitsitam Cookbook to see how to make it myself only to discover... it wasn't in there. 

So, years later, I decided to try my hand at recreating it myself. 

I turned to a spice cake recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, one of my wife's favorite food blogs. Sally's given us a number of tried and true recipes over the years, so I knew I could trust her to give me a good base for my cake. 

To get started, I combined 2 1/2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves in a bowl and set it aside to get my wet ingredients sorted.

One of the best things about these oil based vegetable cakes is you often just need two bowls to get everything done. Combine 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce, 4 large eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 tablespoon of molasses, and then if you're me, get impatient and add 1 cup of grated carrot. I really, really wanted to get parsnips in too, but I just couldn't find them in any of our local grocery stories. Alas. 

I divided my batter into two buttered 8 inch square cake pans and baked them for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. The cakes came out cooked through perfectly, which is always a fun surprise with our temperamental oven, and taking them out of the pan turned out pretty well too!

To top it off, I made a really simple blueberry compote. I put 12 ounces of blueberries, 2 tablespoons of water, and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a pan and cooked them over medium heat until the mixture had gotten reasonably thick. I wanted a runnier compote, so I didn't bother trying to make it any thicker. It came out really nice!

I quickly whipped up some whipped cream with honey, and cut myself a slice to get plated as fancily as I could manage.

The resulting cake was quite tasty! Moist, with a nice firm texture that makes it a good "breakfast" option. In the 1970's, this cake would definitely have been considered a health food that was a perfect snack for any time of day, which is pretty much the only time I wish I grew up during the 70's instead of the 90's and early 00's. The compote was delicious too, which is definitely thanks to the berries themselves and probably should be tweaked depending on their flavor and freshness. If you've got a more mealy or flavorless batch, you'll want to add some lemon juice or zest, or more sugar depending on what flavor you're going for. 

Again, this recipe is about ahistorical as we get on A Peek into the Pantry, but the ingredients used to make it do take inspiration from Kaya's part of the world. Kaya would help gather roots, berries and honey to make tasty breakfasts, dinners and treats, so if you're looking for a Kaya inspired recipe that works well in a modern kitchen, this is a good place to start.

Have you ever tried any recipes inspired by Kaya?


  1. I'm so glad you made this! I love Mitsitam and always eat there when I'm in DC. Honestly, I typically get the buffalo Indian taco and some kind of awesome dessert- because making fry bread is so much work that I rarely do it. However, I love their desserts too. :)

    I will definitely try this one. Thanks for the tip- yum!!

    P.S. maybe a little early in the season for parsnips? (I act like I know anything about them...)

    1. They can be found pretty much year round at this point, it just depends on what your local stores have access to or decide to stock.

  2. I also love Mitsitam's food, although it's been so long that I don't remember what I had. This cake looks delicious! I'm all about adding vegetables to dessert - carrot cake is a favorite of mine for sure.