Disneyland goes above and beyond to present an otherworldly experience wrapped in mystique without letting you in on the secrets behind the magic. But when it comes to the park’s legendary candy canes, the opposite is true. Their preparation isn’t cloaked in any sense of mystery. In fact, visitors are encouraged to observe how the sausage, or rather, candy canes are made from start to finish at the two spots where they’re crafted, Candy Palace on Main Street U.S.A. and Trolley Treats on Buena Vista St. in Disney California Adventure Park.
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Though both shops offer a number of different housemade sweets such as caramel apples, brittles, and mallows, candy canes are far and away the top draw.
There’s always a frenzy on the handful of days during the season when they’re made available and nabbing one requires some effort (more on that later).
What Makes Disney Candy Canes So Great?
The rabid fandom that surrounds Disneyland candy canes be attributed to multiple factors. First, there’s the size—at 18 inches they could easily double as a walking stick for Yoda (full-size, not baby). Scarcity also plays a role. Candy canes are only available during select dates in November and December and production levels each day do not come close to meeting demand. Which brings us to the next, and most significant reason why they are so coveted: the craftsmanship.
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These are a far cry from the mass-produced, uber-glossy candy canes most people are accustomed to during the holidays. Disneyland is one of the only places on Earth where the seasonal treats are hand-pulled, just as they were when they debuted in the park over 50 years ago.
“If you get store bought canes, you bite into them and they kind of stick to your teeth,” says Candy Maker Chris Thompson, a Disneyland vet of 36 years. “These are much lighter than that. Pulling them by hand helps you get a lot of air into it.”
The laborious process requires plenty of effort and yields only a handful of candy canes per batch (their limited availability isn’t merely a marketing ploy).
Learning the Craft of Candy Canes: Making the Cut & Standing the Heat
Disneyland candy makers who want to try their hand at crafting canes are required to enroll in a three week training program supervised by Thompson, who has been perfecting the art of candy cane making for three decades. Participation is no guarantee that you will be tapped to create the confection—some trainees are ultimately given the hook.
According to Thompson, making the cut requires a great deal of precision along with plenty of upper body strength. “When you pull it on the hook, it’s a lot of physical effort,” he says. “And you have to be able to stand the heat.”
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You wouldn’t know it, watching the candy cane making process through the windows at Candy Palace and Trolley Treats, but the kitchen feels like a sauna—the optimal temperature is around 90 degrees. Not only does the heat prevent the candy cane base from cooling too quickly, it also allows for the use of less corn syrup and more sugar ensuring a crunchier cane.
The temperature is set the night before so the candy cane making team (three people per session) can get the process started early in the morning. Step one requires bringing a mixture of corn syrup, sugar, and water to a boil inside a vintage copper kettle. “We like copper because it’s a very quick and efficient and even conductor of the heat,” says Thompson. When the thermometer hits 313 degrees, the contents are poured out onto a metal slab. A spatula is used to flip and turn the rapidly cooling liquid, until it’s formed into a large blonde blob, reminiscent of something out of a ‘50s B-horror flick.
Stretching Them Into Shape: Brute Strength & Precision Detail
Using protective gloves, the now pliable, 15-pound mass is folded, flipped, and kneaded by hand. Two pieces of different sizes are then clipped off—the larger will be dyed red, while the smaller one gets the green treatment. These are sculpted into strips which will eventually form the cane’s stripes.
The remainder is rolled into a large cylinder and then placed on a hook. It’s at this point that the warm-up winds down and the real workout commences, with a succession of rapid pulling reminiscent of an epic tug-of-war battle. Eventually, its golden hue fades into the candy’s familiar snow white. It’s at this stage that three quarter-ounce shots of peppermint oil are added one-by-one to the mix.
The base is removed from the hook and shaped into a brick. When the red and green strips are in place, the three colors are twisted together as the stripes begin to take shape (this is when precision is key). Once the final design is settled, individual canes are rolled out and snipped off. The optimal weight is 5.25 ounces and when that target is hit, a candy maker taps a bell next to the scale to mark the achievement.
A curved slab of wood is used to give the candy its signature curl and after some final inspections, the finished canes are left to cool for a few minutes, then placed in individual plastic sleeves and given a layer of bubble wrap for added protection. In all, the process takes around two hours for each batch.
How to Get Your Hands on Disneyland Candy Canes
It’s not just making the candy canes that requires plenty of effort. Since their availability is so limited, fans congregate outside the parks’ entrance, sometimes hours prior to opening, to purchase them. Once the parks begin letting people in (which could be a few minutes earlier than the day’s official opening time), a mad rush to Candy Palace or Trolley Treats (depending on which store is selling them that day) ensues.
A line quickly forms and wristbands are handed out first-come-first-serve entitling the wearer to purchase a candy cane—just one per person. Distribution is divided into multiple sales windows through the afternoon so there’s a chance you’ll have to return later in the day to retrieve it (the first group will be rewarded immediately). The full allocation is usually gone within a half hour after the park opens, so if you’re not an early riser, you’ll be out of luck.
Only a few more opportunities are left to purchase Disneyland candy canes this holiday season. Go to the Disney Parks Blog for the remaining dates. If you’re unable to make it this year, check the site a few days prior to Black Friday (which traditionally marks the first day of sales) for the 2020 schedule.
Header image courtesy of David Nguyen / Disneyland Resort