Before I start in on this recipe, I’m going to tell you a random personal story. I messed up my knee pretty badly (that’s a really boring non-story) while I was in college, so in the fall of 2004, I signed up for knee surgery. The procedure went more or less as planned, and my doctor replaced my ACL and cut out a big chunk of my medial meniscus. (Hello, middle-aged arthritis!) It was supposed to be an outpatient kinda thing, so after a stint in the recovery room and a few hours in a regular room, I was pretty much ready to go home. Before leaving, the nurses wanted to be sure I could make my way around on crutches, and I was supposed to use the restroom on my own. When I got up for the first time, I made it into the bathroom, feeling a little lightheaded. The nurse waited outside while I did what I needed to do, but I was starting to see black and yellow flashing lights by the time I was done. The last thing I remember was calling out, “I don’t feel so good!”
Next thing I knew, I was wedged under the toilet with a crowd of medical personnel staring down at me, trying to make quick decisions about how to best get me back into the bed. Apparently, I had sort of jerked on the way down and hit my head on the wall, so (I think mostly for liability reasons), I was held overnight and referred to get both an MRI and an EEG to check me out. I did the MRI in the morning, and that turned out fine, and then I did the EEG (where they glue a bunch of probes to your head to read your brain waves) and was sent home to recuperate.
The following day, a hospital representative called to tell me that my EEG had come out “irregular”, which I considered “failing”. They told me to make an appointment with a neurologist. My mom drove me to the neurologist’s office to schedule a second, more thorough EEG. When we walked in, the receptionist turned to me and asked, “So you’re here to see about your possible seizure disorder?” That was the first we’d heard about any “possible seizure disorder.” My mom got this sick look on her face, and all I could think about was losing my drivers’ license.
I made an appointment for another EEG, but this time, I was instructed to stay awake for a full 24 hours (without any caffeine) because any strange brain activity would be accentuated if I was fatigued. I planned out that day pretty carefully. I slept in until 8 and then went about my regular daily business. In the evening, a friend came over, and we took a walk and then sat talking and working on a jigsaw puzzle until she bowed out around 1 am. I killed some more time by taking a nice long shower. At 2 am, I started baking. I had checked out an Italian baking cookbook from the library, so I went down the list of biscotti and pretty much baked every cookie recipe in that book for the next four or five hours. Eventually, I ran out of eggs, and after contemplating a sleepy drive to the open-all-night grocery store, I decided to just walk around until meeting my mom for an early breakfast before my appointment.
I did the follow up EEG where they first flashed strobe lights in my face, then had me hyperventilate for a couple minutes, and then told me to relax. After it was over, I crashed on the world’s most uncomfortable doctor’s office couch for a couple hours until the neurologist had the chance to read my test results. Finally, the doctor came in and told me I was fine, which was a big relief. He went on to say that actually, the left side of my brain is just bigger than the right side, and while that’s not necessarily “normal”, it’s certainly not a problem. I remember him saying, ”You must be very verbal.”
For a couple years after that, I walked around feeling kinda proud of my big left brain. I’ve always been pretty comfortable with words, so it made sense that science had actually proven that I was “left-brained”. Then I learned a bit more about the brain’s hemisphere’s (primarily from Jill Bolte Taylor’s great TED talk), and I realized that the left side of my brain may be a bit inflated, but the right side is likely a shrunken little peanut. I have the worst sense of direction and spacial relationships! Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Why am I telling you this weird story? I have no idea, but I do know that I can’t think about, bake, or eat biscotti without remembering that groggy biscotti-baking marathon. The outcome of that night’s efforts were six dozen or so crunchy cookies that lasted me (and any friends or family who happened to stop by) almost a month. The whole procedure was an ordeal, but those cookies were pretty dang good.
I’m not entirely sure how I found Leela Cyd and her gorgeous blog, Tea Cup Tea, but I’m very happy that I did. Her personal and professional photos are stunning, but when I had the good fortune of meeting Leela in person, I found her electric personality even more enchanting. We met over breakfast at Sweedeedee in Portland, so I could lend her a couple cutting boards to use while shooting a forthcoming cookbook for The Kitchn. As we talked and talked about photography, baking, running creative businesses, Oregon weather, and life stories, I felt like I should have pulled out a pencil to take notes. Every bit of wisdom that came out of Leela’s mouth was pure gold. She’s one of the most honest, easy-going, and warm women I’ve met in a long while. She recently relocated from Portland back to her hometown in Southern California, so we probably won’t be meeting again over tea anytime soon, but luckily, I can still follow along on her adventures through Tea Cup Tea.
These cantuccini are similar to biscotti in that you first bake two logs, slice them, and then bake them a second time, but the finished cookies are a whole lot chewier on the inside than biscotti. They’re good on their own but are so much better when dunked into your beverage of choice–coffee, tea, or port wine.
Feel free to mess around with the combination of dried fruits, seeds, nuts, and chocolate. And if you make this recipe, you must photograph the cookies with a handful of wildflowers. That’s a requirement.
Baking cookies in a barbecue is a little bit trickier than baking bread or a pie because no matter how hard you try, the heat is never really evenly distributed throughout the “baking chamber.” I used my usual fire bricks + cast iron pizza pan for the base here and then balanced the thin cookie sheet on top. The areas around the edge of the pan definitely were hotter and therefore faster to brown. Cantuccini are pretty forgiving, however, and even though a few bits of cookie were a little extra toasted, I enjoyed them anyway.
Leela Cyd’s “Kitchen Sink” Cantuccini
yeild: about a dozen cookies2 good eggs, whites and yolks separated
200 g sugar
20 g honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
250 g all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt 75 g dried cranberries
100 g almonds
30 g chopped dark chocolate
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
Preheat the barbecue and any insulating equipment (fire bricks, etc.) on medium. If you have an internal thermometer, it should read approximately 350°.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture turns into a glossy meringue. Stir together the yolks, honey, and vanilla and fold them into the meringue. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt and fold the dry ingredients into the dough. Gently stir in the cranberries, almonds, chocolate, and poppy seeds until evenly mixed.
Divide the dough in half and form two 1″-thick logs on a parchment lined baking sheet. The dough will spread a little, but try to keep the two logs toward the center of the pan to prevent burning around the edges. Bake in the barbecue for 15-20 minutes until the outer edges have started to brown and the centers are set. Remove from the barbecue and let cool for a few minutes.
Cut the logs on a diagonal into 1″-thick slices. Arrange them cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the cookies 180° end to end and rearrange them on the pan if necessary to keep the slices in the hotter areas of the barbecue from burning. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until they are fairly evenly browned. Remove them from the barbecue, and allow them to cool fully before storing them in an airtight container.