Christmas is fast approaching. If you are anything like me, your time management skills are really putting you through the wringer this time of year. But I wanted to share with you a simple recipe for everyone’s go-to Christmas candy. Everybody likes candy canes, either hanging on your Christmas tree, or maybe even your coffee cup. Santa gives them to you after you sit on his lap for Pete’s sake. You love them. Admit it!
Most of us have never thought about making home made candy canes. Its ok, nothing to be ashamed of. Sugar, especially when boiling can be scarey. I totally get it. The idea that you put a pile of sugar in a pan on the stove and light the fire and just let it go for a while brings to mind Mount Vesuvius, or napalm. But with a little patience (and a Valium if you need it. Its ok, I’m not going to blab.), you can do it. Let me say in advance, this is totally not a recipe for kids to try. I would keep tiny humans away from the kitchen until they are finished, but teens can do this responsibly enough with some supervision.
First, a little history. The origins of the candy cane are not completely known. We have all heard the story of the Choirmaster in Germany, that wanted to keep unruly kids quiet, and the religious poems about the shepherds visiting the baby Jesus in the manger. As the story goes, the white of the candy cane represents the clean and sinless life of a Jesus, and the red representing the blood he shed at crucifixion.
But is that story really myth? We may never know. There was a choirmaster in the 1600s in Cologne, Germany that requested sweet sticks to hand out to children to keep them quiet, but we will never know if they were peppermint flavored, or truly bent into crooks. But in all honesty, to me, it really doesn’t matter. They taste good and get rid of your coffee breath at the same time. The first Recipe for peppermint sticks was printed in 1844, Candy Canes were first mentioned in association with Christmas in literature in 1874, and were first hung on Christmas trees as early as 1882. Oh, and the red stripes? they didn’t appear until 1900. They had always been white before that. A greeting card company added the red stripes on a Christmas card, and candy makers followed suit.
On with the Candy making!
We have this small mom and pop candy shop downtown (yes, they make their own candy there) that is rather well known for making their small batch candy canes. I always buy a couple dozen to send to friends that have moved away from the area. But this year, they are totally out of stock and backlogged. What am I going to do?? Why make my own, duh. This is a baking blog after all. I dug out recipe after recipe looking for one that seemed simple enough to try but not be a huge hassle. My Kitchen isn’t very big either, so I needed to get organized. Luckily, I have an oven that can set to 200° F and I have enough counter space to spread out if needed.
First things first, I had to find peppermint oil. NOT EXTRACT. None of my local grocery stores had it. I went to Trader Joe’s, which is a small grocery/specialty store chain, that is nationwide, but not in very many cities. They were out. Finally, I drove three towns over to a really specialty grocery store and found some. Why on earth I did not check the craft store is beyond me. I am not a huge fan of craft stores, I guess. After my experimental batch, I did happen upon Hobby Lobby, which carries LorAnn oils, which are pretty superior in my opinion. I used that for my second batch, and they were much more rich in peppermint, with less oil.
Everything else, I bet you have in your pantry. This Recipe calls for corn syrup. Be not afraid! If you are worried about HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup), buy Karo light corn syrup. It is HFCS free. Also, you will want a couple of pairs of disposable gloves. I used the vinyl gloves used for hair dye. Get Powder free, that powder tastes pretty nasty and clashes with peppermint. It will also clash with any other flavor you decide to try, so go with it, get the powder free gloves. Wear two pair, or even three. They help block the heat pretty well, and you can take the third pair off after you mix in your red food coloring, thus eliminating pink smears in your pristine white candy.
All in all, this was really easy (even if it was a bit of a workout!) to do, and only took an hour and a half to make 4 dozen candy canes, about 8 inches long.
Here’s how I did it:
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- ⅓ cup water
- ½ tsp. cream of tartar
- ⅛ tsp. Kosher salt
- 2 tsp Flavor Oil (I used LorAnn peppermint oil, you can use any flavor you want)
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- ½ tsp red, or any color liquid food coloring.
- Candy thermometer
- Disposable gloves (vinyl type, powder free worked well for me)
- Vegetable Oil
- Bench Scraper
- Preheat oven to 200° F.
- Oil two large baking sheets generously with vegetable oil. Also oil your bench scraper generously. Place one baking sheet in the oven, leaving one on the counter at room temperature.
- In a straight sided sauce pan (I used a small stock pot), combine sugar, corn syrup, water, cream of tartar, and salt. Sir to combine, and make sure everything is wet.
- Turn burner on, set to medium high. DO NOT STIR
- Clip candy thermometer to pot, making sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pot.
- Once boiling, you can brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in plain water to wash down any sugar crystals on the sides, but DO NOT STIR.
- Watch your thermometer constantly, do not walk away, and DO NOT STIR.
- Boil until mixture reaches 305° F (Hard crack stage) and turn off the burner.
- Remove Thermometer, add flavor oil and stir quickly. Pour near boiling mixture onto generously oiled pan, and, using oiled bench scraper, scrape and lift the hot candy (you should have your gloves on before your candy reaches 305° F) and fold it over onto its self 2-3 times.
- Add Vanilla extract (you can leave it out if you like, but it does add a nice creamy flavor) and continue folding over and over until extract is mixed in.
- If candy becomes too stiff, or starts to crack a lot on you, you can put the baking sheet in the oven for a couple of minutes to warm back up.
- Working quickly, cut the candy blob in half, and put half on the hot tray in the oven. (this will eventually become your red stripes)
- With the half you have left, scrape it up from the pan, and, using your well-gloved hands, pull and stretch. Stretch it out, bring both ends together and twist, pull both ends together. Repeat. A LOT. Its a great workout. If at any time your candy starts to get too stiff, you can put it back on the oiled tray and in the oven for a few minutes to soften. Continue to stretch and pull until your candy is a nice shiny pearly white. Then put it back on the tray and in the oven.
- Remove your reserved candy from the oven, and working quickly, add the food coloring. Using the same technique as with the flavorings, fold and turn the candy until it is well combined. You can also pull and stretch the candy to combine the color more thoroughly. If at any time, the candy becomes to stiff, put it back in the oven to rewarm. you can do this over and over, it will rewarm indefinitely, until you have finished.
- Remove both trays from the oven, and roll each one, red and white into a log, about as long as the baking sheet. Cut both logs into four equal pieces, and keep one of each color out, returning the rest to the oven to stay hot.
- place the white and the red candy next to each other, and gently stretch to thin out the diameter to about double the thickness you will want your candy canes.
- Start twisting. I set one end down, and did a little twist and pull until it was the length and thickness I wanted. for an 8 " Candy cane, you want about 10" long rope, to allow for bending the crook.
- Using a pair of kitchen shears (or a knife will work) snip the rope at the length you want, and form the crook, laying the finished candy cane on ether some parchment paper, or aluminum foil to cool completely.
- Repeat this step with all the pieces in the oven, working quickly and returning the candy to the oven for a minute or two to warm back up as needed.