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I need some advice on a safe(ish), easy, and fast way to cut buttermints   I often make buttermints for friends for the holidays, and have run into problems cutting them into bite size pieces before the sugar cools and starts to crystallize too much, so I'm looking for ideas on how to do it more quickly so I can do larger batches.  Note that I am doing this at home and have very little budget, but on the plus side I don't need to end up with perfectly uniform pieces. :)

 

The basic process for making the buttermints is:

1. cook butter and sugar to 260 degrees

2. pour out onto buttered marble slab and let cool slightly

3. add color and flavor, and pull like taffy while it cools further

4. when it just starts to show signs of crystallizing, roll into ropes and cut before it crystallizes much further (I have maybe 2 minutes if I'm lucky to get all the cutting done)

 

The main problem I run into is that when handling the candy during steps 3 and 4, my hands need to be buttered so the candy doesn't stick to me, and even if I quickly wash my hands, any cutting tool needs to also be buttered to prevent sticking, and basically it's nearly impossible to maintain a good grip on anything.  The second problem is that the candy at this point is hard enough that if I try to snip it with scissors it will tend to slide along the blade instead of getting cut, yet it is still plastic enough that if I pick it up it will tend to sag under its weight and thin out too much while I'm concentrating on getting the scissors to cut right.  My best results so far have been with leaving the candy on the marble and cutting it with a pastry scraper, but pressing down hard enough to cut all the way through with a slippery (due to the aforementioned buttered hands) pastry scraper while trying not to gouge the marble underneath is not particularly fun.  I did try pruning shears once because the curved blade holds the candy in place instead of sliding along the blade, which worked fine except for the fear of lopping off parts of a finger made it too nerve-wracking to be done quickly.

 

Basically, I'd love to find something that works like this, but for something with the consistency of a hard caramel:

 

 

 

Any ideas?

-Trufflenaut

 

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1 hour ago, Trufflenaut said:

My best results so far have been with leaving the candy on the marble and cutting it with a pastry scraper, but pressing down hard enough to cut all the way through with a slippery (due to the aforementioned buttered hands) pastry scraper while trying not to gouge the marble underneath is not particularly fun. 

 

If a major concern is not gouging the marble, then what about buying a quartz slab? The price is lower than marble, and it's more durable (though not good for the cutting instrument, but no stone is). You could transfer the candy to the quartz and hack away with more power.

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With a quartz slab, I would still have to deal with trying to keep a slippery pastry scraper stable while cutting - I've occasionally had it slip sideways while cutting and fling a piece or two across the room. :)  A knife and cutting board might work, but an optimal solution would be something hinged and table-mounted, so I can just slide the candy through and chopchopchop without having to worry about keeping a tool stable.  I was thinking my optimal solution would be something like this, but in an easy to clean and spring-loaded version: https://kwcigarfactory.com/desktop-guillotine-cigar-cutter/  

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Some of my batches start to crystallize while pulling, and some don't. I think I sometimes pull them too long. If I leave in a "lump" and pull out and cut as I go, it usually works better. Also, by the time i cut, there is very little butter left to slip. Try using corn starch or powdered sugar or a mix, if it sticks. If you pull out a rope, you can cut with a knife rather than scissors.

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Ruth Kendrick

Chocolot
Artisan Chocolates and Toffees
www.chocolot.com

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Out of curiosity, have you tried the pillow mint formula from Chocolates and Confections? PM me if you'd like it. It doesn't include butter, but it is a similar product, being a crystallized pulled candy. I've always been able to make it through the whole batch no worries.

 

Also, do you mind if I ask for your exact recipe? Your post has me curious now. Does it include any cream of tartar? I'd like to give your recipe a try. Ive always seem with butter mints that they crystallize during storage, having 2 minutes to cut just doesn't seem like enough working time. 

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I haven't tried the pillow mint formula (though it does look interesting to try).  The recipe I'm using is from "Candymaking" by Ruth Kendrick and Pauline Atkinson - it only has water, butter, sugar, peppermint extract, and coloring.

 

After making several batches successfully, then having a string of failures (when the batch fails, it suddenly goes from a pullable gooey mass to a pile of crystallized sugar that falls apart at the merest touch in a span of about 10-20 seconds - it would be pretty awesome if you weren't crying over the wasted effort), I did a little bit of research, and found an article that mentioned having to pull the sugar outside in winter for it to work successfully, as it needed the cold air to cool it down as fast as possible during the process.  I've since gotten into the habit of pulling the sugar in front of the AC vent at full blast, or outside if it's a cold night (by southern california standards) and have had a much higher success rate.  For the working time, if you try cutting them when too warm, it's easier to cut, but more oozy (you have to keep everything moving or it will slowly flatten out onto the table), and if its too cold, it becomes much more solid and difficult to draw out into a rope and cut ("crystallizing" may be the wrong word at this point - it gets much more solid and brittle at this point, and you can feel a grittiness on the surface), so basically the 2 minute window is the temperature range between "too soft to hold shape after cutting" and "too hard to cut effectively".  After cutting, the candies harden up into something the consistency of a very hard caramel, and overnight they crystallize into soft pillows of awesomeness.

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Remember, the description in the book says these are the trickiest candies in the book to make. We meant it! It does help to be where it is cold to pull them. I also use a dough scraper to turn the batch until it is cool enough to handle. You might play with the temperature a bit. I am at 5000 ft and cook to 256. We might have put a too low temp in the book.

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Ruth Kendrick

Chocolot
Artisan Chocolates and Toffees
www.chocolot.com

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Upon rereading your directions, you say that you pull until it starts to crystallize. You are pulling too long. You should stop pulling when lines form and it begins to look satiny. If you pull until crystallizing, you will have real problems.

Ruth Kendrick

Chocolot
Artisan Chocolates and Toffees
www.chocolot.com

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