Sunday, June 7, 2009

Platinum Weddings in an Aluminum Foil Town

Note: I got an e-mail from an old friend and a new Babe in the Kitchen client, Jenny C. She ordered 150 cream cheese butter mints. I asked her, "What color would you like them to be?" and she replied, "Since it's my parents' golden wedding anniversary, could I have gold?" As I read her e-mail, I groaned. Coloring cream cheese butter mints is a bit of an art, you see...

I grew up in a small Central Illinois community which you could call "rural." My family belonged to Wesley United Methodist Church, the largest Protestant church in town. Like all good families of faith who find themselves living in the Bible belt, the local church was not just a place for Sunday morning worship, but also our social hub. So all of us spent a lot of time at Wesley, volunteering for this or that.

When I was in junior high, my Mom was the "Wedding Coordinator" for the church - a job that was very different than the church wedding coordinators of today. Back then (the early 1980's), the "Wedding Coordinator" at Wesley headed up a committee of United Methodist Women who would attend every wedding and set up and put back anything the happy couple (or the bride's mother) wanted to use. Aisle runners, candelabras, punch bowls, etc. Basically, being "Wedding Coordinator" meant you showed up early, unlocked the church, and then stayed through the reception, having cleaned and locked everything back up before you went home.

Looking back, I'm sure my Mom got tired of giving up Saturdays for so many brides. But I got to come along and I LOVED being there. I got to stand in the back, listening to families bicker. I watched dozens of brides walk through the hallway on dad's arm on the way to the sanctuary. Of course, I was guaranteed a piece of wedding cake which was mostly the reason I went. These weddings were the first place I'd seen cream cheese butter mints, mostly called "buttermints".

Back in those days, one got married in a church and had a reception in the same building. There were no sit-down dinners, DJ's, clinking glasses or - worst of all - Chicken Dances. It was truly a simpler time. After the bride and groom said "I do" and walked back down the aisle, they and their guests would leave the sanctuary and head immediately into the church parlor for the reception. They didn't have a choice - the only other option was to go back to a relative's home for food and very few wanted to deal with that. There were no reception halls or party barns, so everyone stayed put in the church.

Without exception, all wedding receptions held at Wesley UMC during my junior high years had exactly the same menu: Wedding cake, mixed nuts, mints, punch, and coffee.

That's it.

But within that limited menu, there was some allowance for creativity. The cake, of course, was different from bride to bride and someday I may share those stories. Mints were also a source of personal interpretation. If the bride or her family had no talent in the kitchen - and no sense to find any - she'd bring a large box of those little pastel colored mints you find at restaurants. They have a chalky texture and will survive for years without decomposing, I'm sure. But if the bride had a little more good taste, buttermints are served.

Making a buttermint is easy. It has minimal ingredients and no baking is required. Customarily, a few weeks before the wedding the bride's mother/aunt/cousin would gather friends and family into one kitchen and churn out buttermints by the dozen. I'm sure it made the task of making the mints go by much more quickly and enjoyably than doing it solo.

An uncolored mint is perfectly white, the color of cream cheese. But anyone can make a white mint. Only a truly talented person can make a mint that's the same shade as the bridesmaid's dresses. The absolute hallmark of a platinum wedding at that time was to serve buttermints that matched the dresses, flowers and tablecloths. To successfully color match meant that every last detail had been well thought out and well executed.
Hey- it may have been a small town with small town weddings, but we had standards.

Some shades were easier to match than others. Blue, light yellow, mint green and pink were all easy. Remember, the only coloring most people had access to was the stuff you buy at the grocery store. Other colors took mixing and were harder to match. The hardest color of all was peach. More often than not, the mint turned out orange or pink. I attended one wedding where the mints were in multiple shades of orange or pink - clearly, the mint makers had tried several concotions in their quest for the valued peach color but to no avail. I only remember one wedding where the mints came out the right shade of peach. EVERYONE talked about it as though a major culinary prize had been won.

As the years rolled on, I moved to the big city of Columbus where wedding receptions are generally grand affairs and you can't find a buttermint anywhere. Several years ago on a whim I dug up a recipe and bought a rose candy mold and started making them. Generally, mine are white. White is simple, elegant, and goes with any table decor (or bridesmaid's dress). That's what I tell myself. But the real story is that I'm not a master mint colorist. I get by, but you won't see me making peach buttermints anytime soon. Or gold, which is another hard color in spite of it being perfect for Jenny's parent's anniversary. Fortunately for me, Jenny is a great person and an understanding client and she's letting me deliver light yellow to her instead.

Cream Cheese Buttermints

Note: You will need a rubber mint mold for these. You can find them at most candy supply places or on-line. I have not asked the health department what they think about this recipe. I'm sure there's a problem keeping a dairy-based food out on a countertop to dry, so if you're nervous about it put the finished mints on cookie sheets and dry in the fridge. (I do this for clients, but not myself).

In mixing bowl, combine:
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 TBS butter, softened
  • 3 Cups powdered sugar
  • 2 drops peppermint oil
  • coloring, opt.
Use electric mixer to combine - go slowly at first or the sugar will spray everywhere. When combined it should look like Play-Doh.

Put dough in container with lid and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Before assembling, line a countertop with wax paper or parchment paper. Put nearly a cup of granulated sugar in a small bowl (I use a soup bowl). Coat the inside of the mint mold in sugar. To assemble, break off a small, marble-sized piece of dough and roll between hands to form a sphere. Place sphere in the bowl with the sugar, and roll to coat. Once granulated sugar is on sphere, push sphere into mold, filling out to edges. Turn mold over and pop out sphere, which should now be shaped like the mold design. Place finished mint on the wax/parchment paper. Repeat until you're out of dough.

Let mints sit out for at least 6 hours or overnight to dry. Mints are best stored in a sealed container in the freezer until ready to use. Simply bring to room temperature and enjoy.


  1. Fantastic. This takes me back to weddings in my own home church, in a notch on the bible belt in north central Indiana.

    When you listed the menu -- the one and only wedding reception menu -- I found myself smiling knowingly. And when you described the buttermints (with granulated sugar on the outside! yes!), my reaction was, well, Proustian.

    (I don't mean to flaunt an SAT word, but there's no better term for it.)

    Those mints were my absolute favorite: At good old South Marion Friends Meeting, we didn't have them at every ceremony. So it was always a treat to get a few and feel the sugar dissolve and the mint melt away on my tongue. A vivid snapshot from my childhood.

    With this recipe in my arsenal now, I might just have to try my hand and take some home for the next family holiday.


  2. I read this long ago, but keep coming back to your blog. I am in love with the title you gave this post. :)