Made with cream cheese, Midwestern style.
They’re just cream cheese, powdered sugar, flavoring, and coloring. Sometimes they’re rolled in granulated sugar after; sometimes they’re dipped in chocolate; but they’re always kept cold (because of the cheese) and always served after a meal (although if you stole some from the freezer, I wouldn’t tell).
Why would a recipe like this evolve? Partially because mints were a respected element of hospitality. Partially because the process of making mints wasn’t exactly convenient. Consider this recipe from the March 3, 1922 edition of the Steubenville (Ohio) Herald-Star:
Mints After Dinner Only Proper Candy
After a dinner party they always serve candy. A person who has stowed away every course and all the hors d’oeuvres takes one look at a plateful of chewy creams, or caramels or fudge and passes. No one blames him, but the hostess feels hurt. She should have stuck to what was proper. Mint candy is the logical after dinner dish, and here is a tasty recipe:
Dandy Mint Candy
Into saucepan put two cupfuls granulated sugar, add three-fourths cupful of boiling water, pinch cream of tartar and one teaspoonful vinegar. Mix ingredients over fire. Bring to boil and cook without stirring until mixture will become brittle when tested in cold water. Pour on to greased platter and leave undisturbed until cool enough to handle easily. Lift candy carefully and pull out as long as possible, keeping the grain all one way. Add a few drops of oil of peppermint during pulling. Cut candy with buttered scissors into small pieces. To keep indefinitely roll in plenty powdered sugar and place in air-tight jars.
Now, there was another, softer kind of mint called the cream mint. These could be made either by using cream or butter in the ordinary process or by using fondant, which was the suggestion Fannie Merritt Farmer offered in 1896’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book:
Melt fondant over hot water, flavor with a few drops of oil of peppermint, wintergreen, clove, cinnamon, or orange, and color if desired. Drop from tip of spoon on oiled paper. Confectioners use rubber moulds for shaping cream mints; but these are expensive for home use, unless one is to make mints in large quantities.
Farmer was talking about rolled fondant, of course, and not the kind of fondant filling you find in Cadbury Creme Eggs, which would pose certain obvious hurdles of logistics in serving as mints (primarily that it’s not solid and can’t be molded).
May 18, 1932 Appleton (Wisconsin) Post-Crescent
But as Dori could tell you, fondant, like the kind used to make Linus’ clothes in the post for Yesterdish’s cake pops, is a pain to work with.
That’s probably why we started looking for easier alternatives. In the 1930s, mentions of cream cheese frosting start to show up in newspapers, like the ad to the right. (Actually, the first mentions of cream cheese frosting are from about a decade earlier, where cream cheese diluted with fresh cream was used to frost a “bread cake,” sort of like a sandwich in layers you sliced for a tea party. But let’s keep it sweet in this post and save the savory for later.)
So it made sense that modern mints might be made with a more modern icing. A cream cheese-based recipe with helpful storage tips appeared in the October 15, 1978 edition of the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette:
Cream Cheese Mints
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
Have cream cheese at room temperature. With a wooden spoon stir cream cheese and flavoring. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until well blended. After you have added 6 or 7 cups the mixture will be so stiff you will have to knead the remaining powdered sugar in. Break off small balls and roll in granulated sugar and press in mint mold. Unmold onto a plate immediately. Store in refrigerator. Yield 300 mints. These freeze beautifully and cost about 1/2 cent apiece.
A couple of additional odd and ends. First, I really do let most of the misinformation out there go, but–consider this helpful bit from eHow.com on the left with the newspaper ad on the right and see if you can find out where they went wrong…
C’mon son, you missed the target by sixty years. Minimum. Consider this:
Finally, since we talked about cream cheese frosting, here’s a fun tidbit–while carrot cakes as we know them started to show up in the first third of the 20th century, it didn’t have cream cheese frosting until around a little bit after the middle of the century. In the 1930s and 40s, the most common frosting for carrot cake was marshmallow-based.
From the box of L.R. from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon oil of peppermint or peppermint extract (to taste)
Mix sugar and cheese together with hands until mixture is smooth as putty. It is messy at first. Add oil of peppermint. Knead.
Divide into 4 portions. Color each portion with a couple drops of food coloring, kneading in the coloring. Roll into long strips with palms of hands and cut into pieces.
Place into refrigerator until set, then store in air-tight containers.