The short story on why there is no Farmers’ Market Monday this week? Failed recipes. I tried new things, they were fine, but they weren’t good enough for you. And that’s important to me; I want to give you crazy good things, not “well, this isn’t bad” things. Besides, just this morning I made a pear dessert which will blow your mind. More on that later this week. Also, I was in the middle of writing this post, and the how-to’s are a doozy. My mind was on buttermints, not farmers’ markets.
I’m backed up on posts anyway; I don’t mind admitting that. I tease you with things on Facebook, only to not post them until a month later. That has to be some sort of blogging sin; there should be rules against this sort of irresponsible behavior. Looks like it’s time to play “post catch-up,” a fun little game in which i take all my backlogged things I’ve made for you and let them finally see the light of day. First, we do buttermints, because I know a certain someone named Carol Anne may lose it if I don’t tell her how to make these.
I’ll say right off the bat that these were not easy, especially not with the instructions straight from the book. They deserved a little more air time in terms of writeup, in my opinion, because this recipe has numerous steps, and each step provides a fresh, new opportunity for you to fail miserably. This isn’t some simple “mix dough in mixer/roll out/cut shapes” thing; there’s a reason store-bought buttermints are common and from scratch buttermints are not. They are a pain. They are finicky. They are troublesome, and sensitive, and very much like a high-maintenance old lady who pays someone to bring her, well…buttermints.
But if you are a fan of the buttermint? your life will change when you taste these little darlings. You will know you wasted no effort, and all your hard work was not in vain. You will also never look at store-bought buttermints in the same light. You will find yourself shunning them, much the same way people who make homemade marshmallows can’t bring themselves to buy the bagged variety. Or in the way I almost never purchase boxed brownie or cake mix (and yes; I am like that. Because for me, once you get the hang of cake and brownie-making, it is almost easier to make it from scratch. Hold the groans.)
These buttermints will be your new hit at parties. people will beg you to make them, but first you need to know how, so let’s get on with it. This could have been disastrous; you know I made them for my Wee One’s state fair birthday party, and I was concerned at several points that they were ruined. They weren’t, but I want to share with you my (almost) failures, and solutions to those little challenges, so you don’t have to worry and scurry nearly as much as I did. Because I want to make these again, and so will you. Let’s do this.
First, you will need to arm yourself with:
- At least one, if not several, butter/condiment spreaders. Butter spreaders have a unique narrow shape which allows them to sneak in and out of gel food color containers.
- A small finger bowl of cold water to wet the dough as you’re working with it. This will help during the food color kneading stage as well as the rollout stage.
- Plastic wrap to completely cover the balls of dough you’re not working with. This stuff dries out so fast in open air, so you’re going to want to keep them encased in wrap until it’s their turn.
- Small thin-bladed knife (like paring knife), as sharp as possible
- Large container for storing your cut buttermints while they dry. You want them to stay still and not bump around, and you want to make sure it’s airtight so no moisture gets in. Know what works really well? either one of those cake/cupcake transporters or an old-school Tupperware celery keeper. Just be sure it fits comfortably in your fridge.
- Plenty of parchment paper to stick between layers of finished buttermints
- Clean, dry kitchen towels to dry hands and countertops, and to wipe knife off every so often while cutting.
Let’s start butterminting.
1. The Dough – This is perhaps the easiest part of our little buttermint journey. Food color paste doesn’t arrive until later in the game, so it’s a simple cream/add ingredients/dough ball appears process. Nothing fancy, and you’ll end up with this.
2. The Sections – also easy. take your log of buttermint dough and section it off using a knife into however many sections you’re wanting to color. I chose four, and went for pretty standard buttermint pastel colors. Want to save yourself some work? Leave one section white. I didn’t know how difficult this would be at this point, or I may have done that myself. Wrap each of those sections in plastic wrap; it’s going to take a while to knead in each color, and you don’t want your dough to dry out.
3. The Tinting – I’m almost certain you know this, but use a light hand with the gel food coloring; a little goes a very long way. Certainly I’m all for experimenting, and messing around with color is so much fun to do, but you can always add color as you go. I actually added a drop or so extra to a few of these as I went because i could tell about halfway through the kneading that I wanted them darker. One drop at a time, people; it will serve you well.
4. The Kneading – Get out those eighties-style hand squeezies, everyone; you may want to tone up your muscles before you begin. Stretch it out, mentally prepare yourself, do whatever you have to do, but just know that you’re in this for the long haul. And it will yes, be a very long haul. It will feel like forever. Your hands may begin to go numb. But you want even color distribution, so persevere. You may feel the dough start to seize up on you and begin to dry out; this is what your water bowl is for. Add a few drops of water to your dough and you’ll notice it smoothes right out, and it also helps with color distribution. If you need to take a break, be sure to cover the dough you’re working on with plastic wrap. This is what your dough will look like about halfway through this process.
5. The Balls – Ahhhhh. You’re finished kneading! This is what they should look like when they’re ready to slice into mints: the colors should be evenly distributed with no streaks, your dough shouldn’t look dry (or look to sticky, for that matter), and should all be wrapped tightly in plastic. If you’re dreading the next step, don’t; the hard part is over, and now you just need to use your hands, a few drops of water, and a little common sense to get these rolled out into ropes.
6. The Rollout Prep – is downright enjoyable after the ball-rolling, believe me. Unwrap the dough ball you’d like to work with first, and make sure your countertop surface, your hands, and your knife are clean and dry. These mints will pick up anything and everything, and too much water will make the whole thing a sticky disaster.
7. The Ropes – Divide your ball into, truly, as many sections as you like. Since I had four sections of dough, I found it easiest to work with half of each dough ball at a time. Although the book says to dust the work surface with confectioners’ sugar, I was scared to do this; there seems to be a delicate balance between just right and too dry here, and confectioners’ sugar didn’t seem like the thing to do. Rather, I used a clean, dry, countertop and I had not one single problem with sticking.
Once you begin to roll out your ropes, you made notice your ropes start to fall apart or split, much in the way that pulled pork or chicken falls apart; this means your dough is too dry. Using your finger bowl of water, sprinkle a few drops into the dough and work between your hands until you feel it start to loosen up and smooth out. Place it back on the counter and try it again; it should roll out very much like a stiff pretzel or bread dough. If it shreds again, add a few more drops and repeat the process. If you add too much water, your dough will look slightly slimy. Fear not: all you need to do is continue to work your dough for a few minutes until your hands remove some of that pesky moisture naturally. Once your dough is smooth and not at all wet, try your rope again.
Remember, these are your buttermints, so you determine the size. I rolled my ropes out to be slightly less than 1 inch thick. If you want small ones, go for closer to 1/2 inch-thick ropes. For ease of use, you may then want to divide your dough ball into 3, if not 4, segments.
8. The Butterminting – easily the most fun part, mostly because it is so incredibly satisfying to see that all your labor is coming to an end. Using your knife, take your ropes and cut them straight down at even intervals. I chose to cut mine into approximately 1/2-inch pieces. As you can see from the photo, as you’re cutting, you may get little crumbles off the dough; this is fine and those are easily whisked or pinched away when you transfer them to their storage container. To minimize these, wipe your knife off every so often with a clean, dry towel to remove any remnants which may catch on your buttermints mid-slice. After slicing, you’ll have ropes that look like pastel millipedes. Fun, I know.
9. The Transfer – remember, these little mints are still in their soft stage, so take care in transferring them to their storage container. Using clean, dry fingers, pick each one up gently, being careful not to squeeze them too much (unless you’re trying to squeeze your ovals into circles, in which case, go for it. At this point, brush off any excess crumbles, or press them lightly into the mint. The best time to “finesse” these is during this transfer, so do what you have to do now, but don’t pester them once they’re resting.
10. The Wait – is difficult. Because by now, your entire house may smell like a buttermint, and it’s kinda thrilling. But you’re finished, and all you’ll need to do is come back to get them in a few hours and serve them up. Do make sure during this time that they are sealed and not retaining any moisture inside the storage container: a wet buttermint is a slimy buttermint you will need to dispose of quickly, and you can easily ruin an entire batch with a condensation issue. Cool and dry are the keywords here.
So; that’s that! now you can make buttermints. I’m thinking of doing these again in fall colors, and I may make them smaller this time. I may leave them all white and give them away at Christmas. Although these were labor-intensive, they were fun to make, and I hope if you make them, you love them as much as I did.
Adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day. A fun book with delightful recipes, if ever there was one. I’m at the moment with it where I switch from “I wonder if i’ll like this book” to “I officially love this book.”
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 1/2 to 7 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2/3 cup condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon peppermint extract
- Gel food coloring in however many colors you like. I picked four.
First, be sure to get your equipment ready. See above under “arming yourself” for more details. Line what you will be using as your storage container with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I normally say or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, but I do feel like this would be much harder using this alternative. If you have a stand mixer, use it), cream the butter and salt together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and add the confectioners’ sugar (starting with 6 1/2 cups and working up by 1/4 cup increments), sweetened condensed milk, and peppermint extract. Reduce your speed to low and continue mixing until the mixture forms a soft, smooth ball. If you feel like it’s sticky, add more confectioners’ sugar. The dough should pull away from the bowl, but shouldn’t look crackly or dry. See the photo under Item 1 – The Dough, for a good idea of how the dough should be textured.
Remove the dough from the bowl, form a log, and divide it into portions of your choosing – I worked with four – and form each one into a ball. Cover all your balls tightly with plastic wrap (see Item 2 – The Sections for why this is important), leaving one ball out to work on coloring.
Place a drop or two of your color onto the dough and begin to knead the color in, adding a drop or two more if you feel like it’s too light. If you find your dough seizing up on you, add a few drops of water and continue to knead. Remember: if you add a little too much your dough will get sticky, but will eventually smooth over again as you knead. See Items 3 & 4 – The Tinting and The Kneading – for further instructions, hints, and photos. Once you finish with one ball and your food color has evenly incorporated (no streaks!), repeat with your other balls, covering anything you’re not working with tightly in plastic wrap.
Once you have completed your kneading (your dough should look like the photo for Item 5 – The Balls), prep your work station and ready yourself for the buttermint rollout (see Item 6 – The Rollout Prep – for tips.)
Prepped? Okay! So unwrap one of your dough balls and set on your clean, dry countertop. Split it in half and re-wrap the dough you’re not currently working with. In the case you do find your dough sticking, you can dust it with a bit of confectioners’ sugar, but i wouldn’t do it unless you absolutely had to. Using an even touch, roll your ball into a log, and then working from the inside out, roll that log into a thick rope about 3/4 inch thick (or whatever thickness you want your buttermints; don’t go thicker than 1 inch), keeping an even hand so your rope doesn’t have skinny and thick spots. See Item 7 – The Ropes – for more tips.
Using your paring knife, cut your rope into 1/2-inch pieces (Item 8 – The Butterminting) and transfer them to your prepared storage container (Item 9 – The Transfer), laying out parchment paper over top to separate your buttermint layers. Repeat with the second half of your current dough ball and all subsequent dough balls. Place container without jostling it into your refrigerator to chill for at least 4-5 hours until dried out and set (Item 10 – The Wait). I’ve said it 300 times, but do make sure there isn’t any condensation gathering inside your container while chilling or goodbye, buttermints.
These will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week and a half, truly, but they are best eaten within their first week. If you are gifting them (which I will be doing with a future batch), try to give your giftees the longest time possible and make them the day prior to gifting. And remember: don’t put them in a box with anything else, or you’ll have peppermint-flavored everything. Bad.