Candy canes are practically synonymous with Christmas. Even if these peppermint treats aren’t your cup of tea, you have to admit just the sight of them hanging on the branches of a Christmas tree sparks a lot of holiday joy. But did you know you can make candy canes in your own kitchen?
Yes, it does take a little elbow grease, but making homemade candy canes can be a great creative outlet. If you love making candy for the holidays but are tired of the old sugar-cookie-and-gingerbread-house routine, learning how to make candy canes might just be the perfect DIY activity for you.
Why do we eat candy canes at Christmas anyway?
The truth is, no one really knows how candy canes became so popular at Christmas, or even why they were invented.
One theory says a candy maker in Indiana created them to symbolize Jesus (white for purity, red for Jesus’s blood, and of course, a “J” shape for Jesus). Another legend has it that a 17th-century choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, invented white candy canes to mimic shepherd’s canes and handed them out to well-behaving children at church.
However, these stories are mostly myth, making the origins of the red-and-white candy canes we know and love just another Christmas mystery.
Tips for Making Homemade Candy Canes
Though making candy canes at home IS super fun, it’s also a little more complex than your average Christmas treat. Since you’ll be working with very hot sugar, you’ll need some special equipment and skills to ensure safety.
Here are a few things to do before getting started:
- Read your chosen recipe very carefully before starting to make sure you understand all the steps. You can’t work with the sugar if it cools down too much, so once you get started, you’ll need to work quickly.
- Make sure you have all the necessary tools and equipment you need to measure the temperature of the candy, cut and shape the canes, and protect your hands from the hot sugar.
- Do not touch sugar dough with your bare hands! If you don’t have heat retardant gloves, simply wear latex or plastic food-safe gloves over a pair of normal winter gloves.
What You’ll Need
- 2 baking sheets
- Parchment paper or silicone baking sheet liners
- Candy thermometer
- Bench scraper or wide spatula
- Heat-retardant gloves OR a combination of winter gloves and plastic food-safe gloves
- Paring knife or kitchen shears
How to Make Candy Canes with Red and White Stripes
Before getting started, read your recipe thoroughly to make sure you know the steps. You can also watch a video like this one from Cookies Cupcakes and Cardio, which gives a super useful overview of how to make your candy canes.
Amounts will vary by recipe, so choose one that fits your needs. Making candy canes is hard work, so you may not want to be stuck making 100 of them! No matter what recipe you choose, you will need the following basic ingredients:
- Corn syrup
- Peppermint oil or peppermint extract
- Pinch of salt if desired
- Red and white food coloring (or any other color you desire for the stripes)
- Cream of tartar or vinegar to keep the sugar crystals as small as possible, creating a smoother dough (though you can skip these ingredients if you want)
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. You will use this to keep the candy cane dough warm while working on other batches.
- Set up your workstation. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Spray or oil your bench scraper (which you will use on the hot sticky sugar dough) with nonstick spray.
- Mix and heat candy cane “dough.” Combine sugar, corn syrup, water, cream of tartar/vinegar, and a pinch of salt in your saucepan. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the bowl, then heat and stir the mixture until it reaches about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, or the “hard crack” stage. (Some recipes say 295 degrees is fine, while others suggest going all the way to 320.)
- Add peppermint oil. Once the mixture reaches about 300 degrees, remove it from heat, add the peppermint oil and stir.
- Dye the dough (Method 1). The easiest way is to separate the dough into two batches, then dye one half red and one half white. To do this, pour out half your sugar mixture onto one baking sheet and half onto the second baking sheet. Let each batch spread out, then add two to three drops of red food coloring to one batch and a few drops of white food coloring to the other. Use the oiled bench scraper to fold the dye into the dough until it reaches the desired redness.
- Dye the dough (Method 2). If you don’t have white food coloring or want to try a new skill, you can “pull” the half of the dough you want to turn white. The more you work with the sugar mixture, the lighter it will become. Simply pour the mixture onto a baking sheet and, wearing heat-retardant gloves or plastic gloves layered over winter gloves, stretch the dough and fold it onto itself repeatedly until it reaches the desired whiteness. Always keep the other batch of dough in the oven while you work to prevent it from cooling down too much.
- Form the red and white stripes. Pick a color to start with and put the other batch in the oven. Roll your chosen batch into one long strand, about as long as the baking sheet you’re working on. Then cut the strand into smaller pieces, about 4 or 5 of them, using a paring knife or kitchen shears. Put your pieces back in the oven. Repeat with the other color dough.
- Twist the stripes. Keeping the remaining pieces in the oven, take out one red piece and one white piece at a time. At this point they will be fairly thick, and you will be able to make several candy canes out of one twisted “rope.” Carefully twist the red and white pieces around each other, creating enough pressure to make the rope as thin as you want your candy canes to be. Once you have one long red-and-white striped rope, cut it into pieces about 6 inches long.
- Form the canes. Bend each piece into a cane shape, then set aside to harden.
- Repeat steps 8 and 9 until there is no dough left. Voila! You have homemade candy canes to share with all the sweet-toothed loved ones in your life.
How to Make Candy Canes in Solid Colors
Want a slightly easier method? Using the same ingredients as above, you can use an alternative recipe to create candy canes in solid colors.
Simply separate your heated sugar mixture into as many batches as you need for the colors you want. For example, if you want red candy canes and green candy canes, separate your dough into two batches and dye one red, one green.
Then, instead of twisting the dough to create stripes, simply roll and cut strands of dough until they are small enough to fit your tastes. Bend them into cane shapes, let them harden, and you’re done!
Whether you want to get into the DIY spirit or simply give the gift of candy to someone you love, there are so many ways to enjoy sweets this season!