Whether you’re using them as decorations or a sugary treat, candy canes are deeply connected to Christmas. They’re usually peppermint flavored and store-bought in massive quantities, but what if you could make them for yourself? This could allow you to make them whatever flavor you want or to do it as a craft with the family. For the most part, the recipe is pretty easy to follow and lends itself well to working in a group. With that in mind, what’s to stop you from making your own homemade candy canes this year?
Why are There Candy Canes?
If you look back to the origins of candy canes, you likely won’t recognize them, except for their shapes. The original candy canes weren’t peppermint flavored or red and white. Instead, they were sugar canes that were entirely white, since the dye would have been incredibly expensive. That said, the folklore surrounding the invention of candy canes may have some truth in it, though it’s impossible to say for sure at this point. In 1670, the choirmaster of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany was looking for a way to keep choir children quiet during the annual live nativity. In order to bribe the children, he looked to give them pulled candy sticks. To pacify the parents who may object to giving children candy in church, he bent the cane into a hook, explaining that it symbolized the shepherd’s crook while the white color symbolized the purity of Jesus. Since these treats were handed out to children during the live nativities, the connection to Christmas stuck.
Modern candy canes owe a lot to Father Gregory Keller, inventor of the Keller Machine (which helped mass produce the candies and made them the Christmas icons they are today).
Regardless of their origins, the canes would eventually make their way to the United States like many Christmas traditions. German-Swedish immigrant August Imgard is often credited with the first documented use of candy canes in the United States as decorations for a Christmas tree, though an article from 1938 has his family remembering a type of cake decorating the tree instead of the canes. The one modern story about candy canes we are sure about is how they came to be mass produced. In the early 1900s, Bobs Candies, owned by Bob McCormack of Albany, Georgia, was the largest producer of candy canes in the world, but there was a problem. At least 20 percent of their candy canes were breaking in the production, so a better method was needed. McCormack turned to his brother-in-law Father Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, who invented a machine that helped make the candy canes without them breaking. It would become known as the Keller Machine and could create anywhere from a few thousand to a few million candy canes per day. With that invention, candy canes took the next step in their climb to Christmas icon status.
Making Candy Canes
You may not have a Keller Machine at home, but it’s not difficult to make your own candy canes. First, there are a few things you’ll need outside of the actual ingredients. It’s quite important to have a culinary thermometer, specifically a candy thermometer, to ensure the candy mixture reaches the right temperature (between 270°F and 305°F) when you’re forming the base dough that makes the candy canes. The other important piece of equipment are heat-resistant gloves. At a few points in the process, you’ll be handling fairly warm candy dough, so it’s smart to protect your hands.
There are two ways to add white color to your candy canes: white dye or sugar pulling. If you want to learn a neat new technique, we suggest sugar pulling!
The other technique you may need for this is called sugar pulling. This technique is used to shape sugar and add a shininess that we know from many hard candies. While you can get away with simply adding dye and forming sugar logs, like we do below, sugar folding is the traditional way of shaping sugar and candy canes. If you want to pick up a neat new culinary skill, we suggest you try sugar pulling. The basics have you pour your sugar mixture onto a silicone baking mat, allow it to cool a bit, then work the sugar mixture into rolls. You’ll then begin folding the sugar roll in half, twisting and rolling it gently, and stretching it out before repeating the process. If you haven’t added a dye to the sugar mixture, as you pull it, it’ll turn white, which is how you can make the white part of candy canes without adding dye. While you can try your hand at sugar pulling from these descriptions, it’s definitely worth watching a video or two to see how it’s done.
The Candy Cane Recipe
Homemade Candy Cane Recipe
- 3 cups of sugar
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2/3 cup of light corn syrup
- 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar
- 2 tsp of peppermint extract
- 5 drops of red or green food coloring, or enough to reach the color you desire
- 5 drops of white food coloring
- Butter for greasing
- A candy thermometer
- Preheat the oven to 200°F.
- In a thick-bottomed pot or saucepan, add the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar to a gentle boil.
- Without stirring, cook the mixture until the candy reads about 275°F, though it can go as high as 300°F.
- Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the peppermint extract.
- Pour half the candy mixture into a greased baking sheet and the other half into another.
- Allow the candy to spread out on both sheets before adding a few drops of red food coloring to one sheet and a few drops of white to the other (this is where you could pull the sugar if you don’t have white food dye).
- Gently fold the food coloring into the candy mixture with a greased spatula or bench scraper.
- Now begin forming the candy canes, but it’s important to note whenever you’re not working with one of the trays, it should be in the oven so that the candy doesn’t harden too soon.
- Wearing a pair of heat-resistant gloves, form the candy mixture into balls before rolling them out into about 2-inch-thick logs roughly the length of a baking sheet.
- Cut the logs into 4 equal pieces. Place the sheets back in the oven.
- Take a red piece and a white piece off the baking sheets and gently flatten them on parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Place the red piece on the white piece and begin twisting them until they’re about even lengths and well-spaced.
- Begin rolling out the log (like a clay or Playdough snake) until it reaches your desired thickness for the candy cane.
- With a sharp and greased paring knife or kitchen shears, divide the log into even pieces (roughly 8-inches long) before curving one end of each piece to form the hook of the candy cane.
- Repeat these steps with each log and store them on piece of parchment paper until they are fully hardened.