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Chocolate, Sea Salt, and the Knitters of Nob Hill

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This is the story of how I came to immerse my life in chocolate. It is a winding tale but I promise you a delicious pay off if you hang on until the end. It all started with a phone call in January 2003. It was my mother on the other end of the line. It was a short conversation. She had been thinking about me that morning and she decided that I should learn how to knit. As with most advice dished out to us by our mothers, I thanked her kindly and hung the phone up knowing that there was no way I was going to take that phone call seriously.

After all, she wasn’t even a knitter. What did she know? She might as well have suggested that I learn to snorkel. No, she doesn’t snorkel, either. Exactly thirty minutes later, the phone rang again. It was my dear friend CC. “Well,” she said, “I was just thinking about you and I think you should learn how to knit.” “Excuse me?” I asked. What was going on here? These women didn’t even know each other. At least I would take CC’s suggestion seriously, as she was a knitter and presumably had the inside track on what the benefits of knitting were. But, there was something bigger at work here. The universe was trying to tell me something. I am not stupid. I knew I had to listen.

I called my sister, a knitter. We arranged to meet at Mother’s that Thursday for a knitting lesson. What ensued was a marathon three hour knitting lesson with my sister teaching me all the basics. I would cast on. She would make me rip it out. I would knit two rows; she would make me rip it out. This act of creating and tearing apart had a strange effect on me. It taught me not to be afraid of making a mistake because knitting is only a series of loops on a needle that could be torn out and recreated again and again with the same yarn. Patience was the key.

I became a knitting fanatic. I attended a knitter’s convention (I hate conventions). I carried my knitting everywhere. This prompted friends to ask how they could learn how to knit. When the number of friends who wanted to learn how to knit hit eight I knew I needed to organize a class. We met at my flat on Nob Hill for three Sundays during the winter of 2004. I found a charming and patient fellow to teach us. It was a grand way to spend a cold winter’s afternoon. Eight new knitters were born.

During this time, I began to notice something else about knitting. I was addicted. This quiet, meditative hobby was filling me with a feeling of well-being. A feeling that was reminiscent of what I experienced while eating a piece of really good chocolate. Peace. Balance. Bliss. Was there a knitting-chocolate connection? This was a research project I could really throw myself into. And I did. I developed a Chocolate and Knitting Tour of San Francisco. This lead to my stint at a neighborhood-knitting store on Sunday afternoons conducting chocolate tasting classes. I called it ‘Chocolate Sundays’. Is it any surprise that every knitter in my classes kept a stash of chocolate in their knitting bags? Probably not. The big surprise to me was that these knitters were only interested in the very best chocolate available. No $1.00 candy bars for this group. They were pulling bars of $8.00, single variety, 75 percent cacao chocolate bars out of their bags. Chocolate that they confessed to be hiding from spouses and children. I was watching a chocolate renaissance before my very eyes. A renaissance that I wanted to be part of. That’s when I named my future. And I called it chocolate.

Back to the Knitters of Nob Hill. I developed this cookie for us. It is a great cookie. I have actually witnessed a TV host swoon on live television as he bit into one. I am a chef and when I develop new recipes for clients I focus on not only great flavor but also interesting texture and finish. The little grains of salt on top of this cookie will get stuck in your molars and slowly melt after the initial hit of chocolate slips past your tongue, an amazing sensation. While the following recipe will work with any fleur de sel (fine grain sea salt), I recommend Maldon Sea Salt, from Maldon, Essex, England. This particular sea salt's soft, flaky, pyramid shaped crystals add just the right amount of texture to the top.

A word about chocolate: The darker the better is my motto. Some of my favorite brands of dark chocolate for baking include Scharffen Berger, Guittard and Ghirardelli. Experiment. Why not make a batch using different brands and have a tasting with friends? Even non-knitters are allowed.

Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies
Yield: 30

3 cups chocolate chips or your favorite premium dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks

1/4 c (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 c brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 c flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 c chopped walnuts

Maldon Sea Salt (fleur de sel)

1. Place 1 1/3 cups of chocolate chunks in a bowl and melt in microwave or over a double boiler.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs and vanilla extract. Set aside. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

3. Once chocolate has melted, stir in butter until completely incorporated. Add brown sugar, egg and vanilla mixture, mixing well. Add the flour mixture, mixing until smooth.

4. Stir in remaining chocolate chunks and chopped walnuts. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a small ice cream scoop (capacity about a heaping tablespoon), scoop on to a greased baking sheet. Flatten with the palm of your hand. Sprinkle generously with fleur de sel then pat in gently. Bake on middle rack of oven for 13-14 minutes. Remove from oven. Rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.


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