Pretzels Are My Kryptonite

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There’s a certain fast food establishment at the mall to which I am inevitably drawn, every time.  And they make glorious sweet and salty pretzels, fresh all day.  The fact that if you buy three you get one free does not help.

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A few years ago, before I started this blog, I tried my hand at recreating the pretzel I knew and loved.  The result was rather a disaster, but, undaunted, I figured I’d try again, seeing as it’s too cold to walk to the mall at present.

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So I did my research, and the results below are a combination of about four or five different internet sources.  In addition to that, the amount I made was half what I will present to you now, because most batches make twelve pretzels and it was a huge feat for the Pie and myself to eat three each.

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This is the recipe for 12 soft pretzels.  BEWARE: results may be habit-forming.

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Start with a wee bowl, and plop in 1 1/4 cups warm water (I use the hot water from my tap, which is pretty hot, and it seems to serve me well, especially in a frigid kitchen where everything cools down mighty fast. Plus yeast is a much more forgiving organism than many realize). Dissolve into that 1 teaspoon granulated sugar.  Sprinkle over that 4 teaspoons active dry yeast, give it a stir, and leave it for 10 minutes to get all foamy.

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At one point mine started trying to be the Thing from the Black Lagoon and went all BLOOP!  BLOOP!  BLOOP!  I tried to get a picture but it didn’t work out.

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Nevertheless it’s fun to watch science (biology!) in action.

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In a larger bowl, stir together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar (more if you like your pretzels sweet, less if you like ’em saltier), and 2 teaspoons salt (again with the more or less business, but reversed — though don’t go too crazy).

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Make a well in that flour and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, followed by all the yeasty water.

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Stir and stir and stir until you form a rough, shaggy dough and most of the flour is incorporated into this stuff.

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I find that when you halve bread recipes, for some reason the moisture amount never turns out quite right.  So if your dough is too dry and refuses to stick to itself, like this:

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Then simply add a few tablespoons of warm water until it gets to the desired consistency.

If your dough ends up too sticky, like this:

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Then it’s a simple matter to add more flour by kneading it in on a clean and lightly floured work surface.

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Do your kneading for about 8 minutes, until you have a sturdy little ball.  It will feel quite dense.

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Oil a bowl and plop the ball of dough into it, turning it once to coat the whole surface of the ball in oil.  Cover that loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.

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When it’s all ready to rock and roll, preheat your oven to 450°F, line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set a pot on the stove.  Into that pot pour 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons baking soda and bring it to a low boil.

Boiling the pretzel is key to the browning process, or so the internet told me.  The last time I did this, I ended up with pretzels that tasted so heavily of baking soda that they were inedible.  So this time I used a relatively small amount of the stuff.  Some of the sources I read suggested adding sugar to the boiling water as well, and I think that might countermand some of the saltiness of the baking soda, though it would definitely make the pretzels a little stickier.  I will have to try it next time.

Cut your dough into a dozen separate pieces (mine is six, remember, because I halved it).

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Using no flour this time, roll out each section into a snake measuring about 24 inches.

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Form the snake into a pretzel by bringing the ends together, twisting twice, and smooshing the tips into the body of the pretzel.  The Pie and I tried to do it the fancy lift-and-twist-and-magically-it-all-works-out but obviously that didn’t work.  Amateurs.

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Working one or two at a time,  slide your formed pretzels into the boiling water and submerge them for about 30 seconds.

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It was kind of hard to remove them with tongs, so we plopped each one on this deep-frying spoon and did it that way and it was way easier.

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Let those pretzels drip a bit before laying them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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For a taste comparison, I left one of my six pretzels unboiled, just to see what would happen.  It’s the one on the left in both of these shots.

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Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, but still soft to the touch.

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You can see that the unboiled one didn’t brown at all.  It still tasted just fine.  You could always do an egg wash on the unbaked pretzels if you’re not keen on the distinctive pretzel-y taste that the boiling in baking soda brings.

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Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, and then make sure to eat them all while they’re still warm.

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You can put whatever kind of stuff you like on your pretzels.  People seem to like mustard (blech) and barbecue sauce (blech), but our favourite is a brush of melted butter

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… and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lie down.  I might be dying.  Or at least gravely weakened.

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Deep Dishes, Deep Pie, Deep Dough, Deep Thoughts

Deep Dish

Historically in my family, my dad’s mother has been the only person in the world who could successfully make pastry for pies. My mother and I have never been lucky enough to absorb her gift. I am still, however, determined to perfect my technique, and so, five years too late, I am using the Cooks Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe, which I borrowed from Smitten Kitchen.

I had gotten an email from my dad this morning (Monday) saying that my grandmother was unwell, and would I please send her a letter? So I was going to make a pie and take pictures and tell her all about how I had mastered this new skill. Or how I had failed. Either way, it would have been entertaining. Unfortunately, she passed away while I was making the dough, so I didn’t get that chance. She was 102, and healthy to the end. None of us can live forever, but she will nonetheless be missed. So in honour of Barbara Linklater Bell, the Queen of Pastry and all things baked, I present my own deep-dish pear and apple pie.

So we start with the crust.

Whisk together, in a medium-sized bowl, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Next time, I would probably leave out the salt, as it didn’t dissolve and I kept hitting little grains of it when I ate it.

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Now, you add your cold fat.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 3/4 cup butter.  Both being very cold.  That is key.  Cut those up into small cubes.

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Using a pastry cutter (though you could use a food processor if you wanted), start blending the fat into the flour.

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Keep going …

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Until you get this powdery, crumb-y sort of material.

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Now sprinkle in 1/4 cup very cold water and 1/4 cup very cold vodka. If you’re worried about the booze content, remember that vodka is tasteless and odorless, and all the alcohol in it will evaporate during cooking. This is what gives us that lovely flaky crust.

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Fold that in with a rubber spatula, until things start to come together. This will take some time, so be patient. Resist the urge to add more fluid.

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Eventually, you will be out of powdery stuff and have all these curd-like clumps. That was good enough for me.

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Now pour half that mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.

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Gather the edges of the wrap and use it to squeeze the pastry into a ball.

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Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly, and do the same with the other half of the dough.  Refrigerate those disks for at least an hour.

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In the meantime you can prepare your fruit.  Peel and cube up about 4-5 pears and 5-6 small apples.

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Now, I decided to cook my fruit a little bit beforehand.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that, as the fruit obviously cooks while in the pie.  But nevermind.

So toss your fruit with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 pinch nutmeg and 1 pinch ground cloves.

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Add in as well 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.

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And 2 tablespoons flour.

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Now, when your dough is chilled and ready you can start rolling it out for your pie pan.  I took this nifty tip from Smitten Kitchen to roll the dough (which, with the vodka, will be slightly stickier) between two pieces of plastic wrap.  It certainly saves chipping up cemented flour on your countertop.

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The Pie helped with the manual labour. Just make sure to remove the folds in the plastic wrap as you roll. It makes everything smoother.

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Oh, and preheat your oven to 400°F while you’re at it.

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Fit one of the rolled out sheets of dough into your pie plate and tuck it in.  Chuck that in the fridge while you do the other one, which will be the top. The plastic wrap is a godsend here in terms of transferring the dough from one place to another. I am never using any other method.

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When you are ready to assemble the pie, take the bottom out of the fridge and toss in your fruit (cooked or uncooked, up to you).

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Flop the top piece onto the pie.  Fold the edges of the top piece under the edges of the bottom piece. Man I really wish I had more light in my kitchen. Or that my lightbox were bigger.

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Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork and cut some holes for escaping steam.

Brush lightly with milk, and sprinkle with demerera sugar (optional).

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Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until your crust is firm and golden-brown and the innards are all bubbly.  And, as my husband says, “your pies never look all that great, but they always taste great.”  He’s not being mean — it’s true.  I make an ugly pie.

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Allow to cool on a rack and warm to serve.  What a lovely, flaky crust!

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We had ours with Fussells, a present from Fussellette.

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Tofu Feature Month: Tofu-Spinach Calzones

Tofu Spinach Calzone

[Note from Photographer’s Ego: Yes, I know these pictures fail to follow that number one rule of food photography: use natural light!  I will be building myself a light box soon, not to fret.]

This will be our final tofu recipe for you folks for a while.  Our digestive systems are not used to so much soy and they have unequivocally had enough.  The Pie especially so.  Poor man.  Pity him that his wife cooks new things for him on a regular basis.  Tsk.

The last time the Pie and I attempted calzones, we ended up with floor pizza.  I was determined to get it right this time.  The recipe below, with some modifications, comes from the Savvy Vegetarian, and it’s pretty easy.  The dough is nice and stretchy, and I could definitely use it again for a calzone with a different filling, which is exciting!  The yield for this is 10 hand-hold-able calzones, and I halved it (because there’s only the Pie and myself — Gren doesn’t get people food).

For the dough:

In a small bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar in 1 1/4 cups warm water.  Stir in 2 teaspoons active dry yeast and allow that to sit for 10 minutes.

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Or until it gets all foamy.

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In a larger bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon salt to 3 cups flour and mix well.

Rub in (exactly how it sounds) 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Rub it between your fingers until there are no large clumps left.

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Stir the water/yeast mixture into the flour until it forms a shaggy ball.  Make sure to get all the floury goodness at the bottom of the bowl.

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On a floured surface, knead the ball for about 10 minutes.  The more you knead it, the tackier it will get, so you will need to add more flour on occasion.  Also, keep in mind that the more you knead it, the more elastic it will be (because you worked all the gluten together).  You want your dough to be nice and stretchy.

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Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a clean cloth and set it in a warm place to rise for about an hour.

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For the filling:

Dice up 1/4 cup onion, and about 8 mushrooms and toss them in a frying pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic.  Sauté until soft.

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In a small bowl, mix up 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon powdered vegetable stock, 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil, a pinch of cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.

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Toss that on the vegetables in the pan and stir it around.

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Plop in 16 ounces fresh baby spinach (you can use frozen spinach, if you thaw it and drain it first), as well as 2 12-ounce packages of firm silken tofu and a dash of soy sauce.  You can break up the tofu before you toss it in, but it gave me something to do while I waited for the spinach to wilt.

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I had some leftover chèvre, 8 ounces worth, so I tossed that in as well.  So if you’d like to add that to this recipe, chuck in 8-16 ounces goat’s cheese and stir it around until well-incorporated and completely melted.

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Remove the mixture from the heat.

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Calzone Assembly and Baking:

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

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Punch down your dough.  Literally.

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Divide it into 10 equal parts, rolled into balls (remember, my recipe is halved, that’s why you only see five).

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On a floured surface, roll each ball out into a 6″ round.

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Divide the filling into 10 equal parts and place each portion on a round, slightly to one side.

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Wet the edges of the dough with your finger and fold over each round to make a half circle.

Squish down the edges with your finger and crimp with a fork to seal them.

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Place the calzones on a baking sheet.  You can brush them with oil and sprinkle them with salt if you like, for a crusty, salty top.  I chose to cook ours on our pizza stone, which I put in the oven when I turned it on. Cut two diagonal slices in the top of each calzone to let the steam escape.

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Bake for 15-25 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and the filling bubbles up through the holes.

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Be careful, they’re HOT!

I made a pizza. From scratch. In the middle of Gros Morne National Park.

And it worked!  Beat that, Martha!

Flushed with the success of our raspberry orange crumble in the woods, we figured we’d try out one of the recipes in the wee book that came with our Outback Oven and attempt the challenge of making a pizza from scratch while camping.

First we make up the dough.

In a bowl, mix 2 cups flour with 1 packet instant yeast, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt.  I shook in a few teaspoons of grill herb mix (basil, oregano, etc.) from a Coghlan’s spice pack I had on hand.

Pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2/3 cup warm water and stir-stir-stir.

Knead that sucker until all the flour is mixed in, about 5 minutes.  If your dough is still sticky, you can add more flour.

Flatten the dough into the bottom of your oven pan, and cover with lid. 

Place somewhere warm to rise for about 15 minutes.  I put mine next to our fire, because it was a chilly afternoon in our shady campsite.

While it was rising, I sliced up 3 cloves garlic, one half tomato (vegetables were hard to find in Gros Morne), some hard salami, and the Pie kindly grated me some cheddar cheese (because that was what we had).

Spread a few drops of olive oil on your risen dough.

Spoon on about 3 tablespoons pizza sauce and spread that around.

Add your toppings.

Then your cheese.

Cover with lid and the parka-tent thing and bake for about 20 minutes.  Keep an eye on it.  You can check the crust by flipping it up, just to keep it from burning.Let it cool a few minutes in the pan or you will burn yourself.

Make sure to slide the pizza out of your nonstick pan before cutting.

The boys and I agreed that this was one of the better pizzas we had eaten recently (and we had recently eaten moose pizza, so that was saying something).

Gren didn’t get any.  Awww …

Cranberry Orange Cookies

These cookies garnered the approval of Il Principe and his mother.  And the Pie.  And they were really easy.  Which might be why I adapted them from EasyCookies.com.  But I’m just guessing here. In changing the recipe, I left out the salt, as usual, and accidentally added twice the amount of butter I should have, which ended up giving the cookies a lovely crunch I think they needed.  I also added zest to boost the orange aspect of what would otherwise be a pretty plain cookie.

There is nothing more cheery than citrus in the winter, and my mother will tell you that any time you wave an orange at her at any point between November and April.  But she’s right.  Citrus is a remarkably happy-making thing.  Orange being the Pie’s favourite colour, I made these citrus-y cookies with all our citrus-y implements.

So first you want to preheat your oven to 375°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Next, gather yourself the juice and rind from 2 oranges and set that aside.  You should have about 1/2 cup orange juice and about 2 tablespoons rind to show for your efforts.   While you’re at making things to set aside, whisk together, in a measuring cup or small bowl, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.  And, well, set that aside too.

In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, softened, with 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup packed brown sugar

Add in 2 eggs.

Pour in your reserved juice and rind.  Mix ’em.

Slowly add your dry ingredients, mixing the whole while.

Stir in 2 cups dried cranberries.

It won’t look like you’ve produced a lot of dough, but trust me, this will make you a whole whack of cookies.  And I MEAN a WHOLE WHACK.  Like 6 or 7 dozen maybe?Drop the sticky dough in heaping teaspoons (not tablespoons, mind you, these cookies are meant to be small) onto the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating your sheets halfway through, until lightly golden and firm on top.  Let the cookies sit on the sheets outside the oven for a little bit, then remove the crunchy wonders to a rack to cool completely.

If you end up having any left, you should store them in an airtight container so they don’t go stale.  I also froze some dough for later.  Because it’s so sticky, I couldn’t pre-form the cookies before freezing, so I will have to defrost the whole batch of dough before baking.  Alas.

Chocolate Cherry Cordials

These wee confections are the favourite treat of both my brother Ando and my father-in-law Papa John so finding a recipe on the internet was a small step towards making a really cool home-made Christmas present for the both of them.  Thanks to Veronica at Recipe Rhapsody for the idea.

These are pretty easy but they are quite time-consuming and you have to be vigilant about your chocolate coating.  You can make your cordials more alcoholic by soaking your cherries overnight in kirsch or amaretto or other liqueur but I prefer my chocolates to be teetotallers.

You will need about 2 10oz jars maraschino cherries in syrup (about 30-40 cherries), which you will need to drain (make sure to reserve some of the cherry syrup while you’re at it, a couple tablespoons’ worth just to be on the safe side).  Plop the drained cherries on a paper towel and pat them dry.

In a bowl, cream together 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 cup icing sugar.

Add in 1 tablespoon reserved cherry syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  Stir it until you get a slimy pink goo.

Stir in a further 1 1/4 cups icing sugar.  You will end up with a nice pale pink dough.  If the dough sticks to your fingers too much you can add more icing sugar.  You need it to stick to itself but not to you.

Lay out a sheet of waxed paper and take a pinch (about 1-2 teaspoons) of your pink dough (fondant) in your hand.  Roll it into a ball and then clap your hands together to make a flattened patty.  Plop a cherry in the centre and pinch the dough all around the cherry.

Roll the cherry and fondant between your palms to create a nice sphere and set on the waxed paper.  Repeat with the rest of the fondant and cherries.  I found I had to make extra fondant to do all my cherries, but that’s fine.  Chill your fondant cherries in the freezer (overnight is good) while you melt your chocolate.

Melt 12oz chopped chocolate (dark or milk, it’s your preference) with 2 tablespoons shortening in a double boiler.  The shortening is there to make the melted chocolate smoother and shinier.  Who knew?

Using a fork, dip the cherry balls into the chocolate and set on waxed paper.

You can see here how the fork marks leave some of the fondant exposed.

Dip a spoon in the melted chocolate and use it to repair the holes.  The cherries have to be completely sealed in chocolate or bad things happen.

When the chocolate has hardened, remove from the waxed paper.  You will find that you have to re-seal the bottoms that were touching the waxed paper as well.  Make sure you get all the gaps!

You can store the chocolates in the refrigerator until they are set, but you will want to store them elsewhere so that they can liquefy like they are supposed to (this takes about two weeks).  Once they are ready, feel free to enjoy!

I think next time I would dip the cherries and put them on a wire rack (to avoid that unfortunate puddle at the bottom) and then, when dry, I would just dip them in their entirety again.  I would probably also be less vigilant in patting my cherries dry, as I think they would liquefy better if they had some liquid in them to begin with.