According to legend, in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, frustrated by the restlessness of children during services, enlisted a local candy maker to help him resolve the problem for the upcoming Nativity pageant. The clever confectioner fashioned hard candy sticks with a shepherd’s crook to honor the theme of the day. The noisy children were mollified and a holiday tradition was born. Whether its origins are fact or folklore, the candy cane remains a beloved icon of the holiday season. At my house this year, armed with homemade peppermint extract and an abundance of holiday spirit, we embraced the season by making homemade candy canes ourselves. Gear up for the holidays by trying your hand at this festive classic.
A couple quick tips before you get started. Our first batch came out looking shaggy and more than a little glassy. A call to a candy making friend of mine drew quick advice. Start hotter, pull more. She wasn’t kidding. Get that candy in motion as soon as your gloved hands can possibly handle it. Pulling the candy thoroughly forces air into the mix, making it more pliant and less likely to break apart when shaping.
Don’t hesitate to use the oven to keep your candy from hardening. If it becomes to hard to handle, a couple of minutes in the heat will get you right back on track.
If you’re looking for a new twist on this already twisted treat, peppermint isn’t the only candy cane in town. Feel free to experiment with different colors and extracts. The red stripes and peppermint flavor flavor didn’t show up in candy canes until the early 1900s. Tradition is what you make of it.
3 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
2 teaspoon peppermint extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons red food coloring
Preheat oven to 190 degrees.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a heavy pot and bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Once sugar is boiling, stop stirring and allow to continue to boil until a candy thermometer reads a temperature of 290 degrees.
Remove from heat and stir in peppermint and vanilla extracts.
Pour half of mixture onto a non-stick baking sheet and place in oven.
Stir food coloring into remaining mixture and pour onto a second baking sheet.
As soon as it can be handled, scrape sugar from tray with a spatula or bench scraper.
Wearing rubber gloves, repeatedly pull and fold colored sugar to force air into the candy (work quickly, as it will cool fast.)
Roll into inch thick ropes and place back on baking sheet.
Place rolled ropes in oven and remove un-pulled sugar from the oven.
Repeat pulling and rolling process with second tray.
Remove red tray from oven and pair red ropes with white.
Using kitchen shears, cut paired ropes into 5” lengths.
Pull and twist paired lengths together until smooth and bearing the traditional “barber pole” stripes. If candy becomes too hard to twist, return to oven for a few minutes to soften.
Bend end to form a hook and let rest at least an hour on parchment paper before eating (or hanging on a tree!)