homemade candy canes for Christmas

The candy cane started out as a straight stick flavored with peppermint oil that was enjoyed in Germany at Christmastime. There is a theory that in 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne shaped the straight sticks to reflect the staff of the shepherds who visited Jesus at his time of birth, but this has never been definitively proven.

What we do know is that candy canes are one of the most iconic symbols of the holiday season, enjoyed by all ages for centuries. While they’re readily available in the supermarket, a homemade candy cane is something special, an unexpected addition to the holiday celebration that will surely be appreciated and admired for the effort it took to make them and for their charming homemade aesthetic.

Here’s how to make homemade candy canes to kick this festive season off right:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This is to keep the candy warm and pliable throughout the process.
  2. Spray a liberal amount of cooking spray into two rimmed baking sheets to prevent the candy from sticking to the tray after it’s poured. Don’t hold back on the oil. There should be a generous layer standing between the pan and the candy.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, thoroughly stir together a third of a cup of water, three cups of granulated sugar, one cup of corn syrup, one half teaspoon cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Continue to stir until the candy thermometer reaches a temperature of 295 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not stir during this step in order to prevent the sugar crystals from attaching to the side of the pan. Should crystals form, use a pastry brush to carefully brush them from the sides.
  5. Liberally spray a bench scraper with cooking spray while the candy reaches temperature.
  6. Once the candy reaches the proper temperature, carefully pour the liquid into one of the baking sheets.
  7. Sprinkle the dough with 2 1/2 teaspoons peppermint oil. Put on heat-retardant gloves, or if you don’t have them, put on thin winter gloves and three layers of plastic gloves to prevent the hot candy from burning your hands.
  8. Using your prepared bench scraper as a mixer, stir the oil into the dough while also scraping up the bottom layer of the dough to the top in order to cool it down and create uniform pliability. Continue this step until the dough cools and becomes pliable.
  9. Using a sharp, oiled paring knife, cut the dough in half. Transfer half of it to the second baking sheet and put it in the oven to keep it warm and pliable.
  10. Now it’s time to add the sheen. Be sure your gloves are still well-oiled. Pick up the dough and pull it out to lengthen it until a rope is formed. Double the rope up and pull the dough into another long rope. Continue working the dough in this way until it starts to become glossy. This step not only adds the shine but it will also transform the clear dough into the trademark white candy cane color. Should the dough start to stiffen while you’re working, just put it in the oven for a minute or two to soften it up again. Transfer the cooking sheet to the oven once your desired sheen and white color has been reached.
  11. Remove the other half of the dough from the oven and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of red food coloring. Using the bench scraper, fold the coloring into the dough until it’s fully incorporated and the color is uniform. Add more food coloring to reach your desired red color. This half does not need to be stretched like the other portion did. Place the baking sheet back into the oven.
  12. Let both portions warm up for about six to seven minutes until they are both soft and pliant.
  13. Remove each pan from the oven and, still wearing your gloves, form a log out of both pieces as long as the baking sheet. Cut each log into five pieces. Remove a red and a white portion from each pan and place them next to each other on a clean, oiled work surface. Return the two sheets back to the oven.
  14. It’s time to form the candy canes. Do this by stretching out the logs and then gently twisting them. Stretch and twist until your desired thickness and twist is achieved. Using the oiled paring knife, cut the rope into individual canes and bend the top into the familiar candy cane shape. Let your canes cool down on the work surface for at least 20 minutes.
  15. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Store your canes in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for up to three months.

Here are recipe ideas for your fresh batch of homemade candy canes:

Chocolate Candy Cane Truffles

candy cane chocolate truffles

Your Cup of Cake

This simple truffle recipe is festive enough for a party and also perfect for a homemade holiday gift. The ingredient list is a short one, belying the enticing flavor of these merry flavor bombs. The crushed candy canes add a nice crunchy textural component to the silky chocolate tucked inside. Get the recipe.

Candy Cane Cupcakes

candy cane cupcakes

Boston Girl Bakes

Cupcakes are virtually a universal vice and when they’re piped with mile high cane buttercream and garnished with crushed candy canes, not even the most jaded holiday curmudgeon will be able to resist. The rich chocolate base is the ideal counterpoint for the fluffy frosting that’s minty through and through due to peppermint extract that’s mellowed by the addition of heavy cream. Get the recipe.

Peppermint Bark

peppermint bark with white chocolate and dark chocolate

Brown Eyed Baker

Peppermint bark is a holiday staple that is an instant crowd pleaser; when it’s comprised of only three ingredients, it becomes a favorite of the person preparing it too. Chocolate does double duty in this recipe with dark chocolate serving as the foundation for a layer of white chocolate that’s sprinkled with crunchy candy canes. Get the recipe.

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate

candy cane hot chocolate

My Second Breakfast

This recipe is not only fun, it’s a stress reliever since it calls for smashing the candy canes that rim the glass with a hammer, a step that’s sure to relieve some of the tension that can arise during the busy holiday season. Fresh mint leaves are infused into the hot chocolate for added mintiness and an orange segment is rimmed around the edge of the mug before it’s dipped into the candy canes for an extra flourish of flavor. Get the recipe.

Candy Cane Cake Roll

candy cane cake roll

Life in the Lofthouse

This unique cake recipe is your go-to dessert for every holiday party this season. It includes three steps that are each unfussy and headache free, just what it needed during the holidays. The crushed candy canes the cake is sprinkled with once it’s rolled, find their counterpoint in the peppermint essence added to the creamy filling. Get the recipe.

Peppermint White Russian

peppermint white Russian cocktail

Foodie Misadventures

A White Russian is one of the holiday season’s iconic cocktails. In this recipe, the jovial nature of the drink is intensified with the addition of crushed candy canes and a candy cane garnish. Get the recipe.

For more tips, hacks, and recipes, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas and Holiday Entertaining Headquarters.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of JodyEddy.com, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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