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Dec 01 2013

#FirstOnTheFirst: Homemade Candy Canes

With Christmas only a few weeks away, we decided to try our hands at making candy canes this month for First on the First–a terrifying challenge, at least to me. Any time you’re handling burning hot lava and trying to fashion it into something edible, I get nervous. And let’s not forget, I wasn’t exactly lucky the last time we tried candy-making.

homemade candy canes

Searching the internet, you’ll find a lot of articles on how big companies make their candy canes, but not many from the home cook’s perspective. It could be that this is an exercise in insanity–the yield isn’t particularly high compared to the perceived work involved. Or it could just be that, with candy canes being so inexpensive, few people feel it’s worth attempting them. It’s not like you’re saving a whole lot of money here–in fact, you’re probably spending more by making them yourself. Regardless, there’s a certain satisfaction from presenting a project from your own kitchen that can’t be beat. So we marched on, timid but hopeful.

It’s important to note that this is not really a project to be shared with younger children. Candy-making, in general, involves precise (scalding hot) temperatures and quick movements. Let the kids help you with the sugar cookies and leave the candy canes to the adults. The kids will be more than happy to assist in eating them once they’re completed.

homemade candy canes

I’m not a fan of corn syrup, given the likelihood that it is genetically modified and I’m still not sure how I feel about ingesting such things. But many candies are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make with substitutes. They’ll crystallize, the texture will be all wrong, and you’ll just end up angry and frustrated. This is a once a year thing; I can accept it. (You’d be eating it in commercial candy canes, anyway.)

Hand protection is important. Because you have to act when the candy is pliable, it will be quite hot. Get some of those $1 bin tight-fitting gloves, cover them with non-latex food-safe gloves, and oil up. You’ll have to suck it up to play this game; as candy cools, it turns brittle and you won’t be able to work it anymore. If it cools off too much, you can set it in a low-temperature oven to warm it up again. The recipe I used suggested 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’ve seen as low as 170 degrees Fahrenheit recommended. I’ve also heard that you need to be careful about letting the dyed portion of the batter sit too long in the oven, so keep that in mind when you’re planning it all out.

homemade candy canes

After reading through several recipes, I selected the one from Bay Area Bites for my experiment. It had the best explanation I could find and better estimates of how long each step would take. Plan on an hour to an hour and a half of uninterrupted time to devote to the candy canes. That’s not always easy to do, but I luckily found a kid-free morning to tackle it.

Before we get to my version, why don’t you check out how the other ladies’ candy canes turned out here:

homemade candy canes

Alright. Are you ready? This will go fast. Read through it a couple times before you start, because there won’t be time for second-guessing once you’ve begun this journey. Hold on tight! Let’s hope it’s not a bumpy ride!

Homemade Candy Canes
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
You can make candy canes at home--with a little patience. Having your mise en place ready before starting is essential to success. You'll need to act fast!
Author:
Recipe type: Candy
Serves: 24
Ingredients
  • vegetable oil for greasing pans, tools, and gloves (and gloves!)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar (the white stuff; there are less impurities to mess up your project)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint oil (not extract; you can find this at Michael's stores, if you're having a hard time sourcing it; it comes in convenient 2 1-dram bottle packages, which is exactly how much you need)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • green food coloring (some suggest gel colors, but this recipe actually said about ⅓ bottle of the regular little food colorings, so that's what I used)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Heavily grease two rimmed baking sheets, a bench scraper, kitchen shears, and (in the absence of kitchen shears) a very sharp knife. Line your work area with parchment paper or a Silpat (that's what I used) for the candy canes to cool on. Put one of the prepared baking sheets in the oven to warm.
  2. Grab a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add to it the sugar, corn syrup, water, cream of tartar, and salt. Stir, then clip on your candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Do not stir again. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan, as needed. Cook the syrup until it reaches 310 degrees Fahrenheit (hard crack stage).
  3. Get your gloves on!
  4. Pour the syrup on the room temperature baking sheet and drizzle the peppermint oil over it. Use the bench scraper to work the oil into the syrup by scraping the bottom of the candy and folding it over the top. Do this several times, trying to distribute the peppermint oil throughout the syrup, before adding the vanilla and repeating. Keep cutting and folding until it becomes pliable, then cut in half. Put half on the heated baking sheet in the oven to keep it warm. This is the half that will be dyed later.
  5. To make the white portion of the candy canes, you don't need any dye; the color will develop as you pull the candy (in fact, that will be an indication that you've pulled it enough).
  6. Generously oil up your hands--it's time to get your work-out. Scrape up the candy into a ball and stretch it out into rope with your hands. Fold it over on itself, twist it, pull again, repeat. Go as quickly as possible--again, you can't let it cool off too much or you won't be able to work the candy (it will be hot, so you'll want to work quickly anyway). As you continue on, the candy will change color and gain a sheen. Once it has turned white, return it to its baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.
  7. Remove the other half of the batch and pour the green dye over it. You'll need a lot, but you can adjust it to how pure you want the color to be. I used ⅓ of a tiny bottle of regular ole food dye. Use the bench scraper to work the color into the candy. You don't need to pull this half of the candy. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to warm it up.
  8. Once the candy is warm enough to work with, remove both halves from the oven. Roll each half into logs and cut them into 4 pieces. Take a white and a green piece, then return the rest to the oven to keep them warm. (They may melt back into a blob again; just cut off pieces as needed.)
  9. Line up the green and white pieces next to each other, press together, then begin twisting them, working as thin as you'd like. Use the oiled kitchen shears or sharp knife to cut every 4 inches. Work a hook into each section, pinch the ends, and place on the parchment paper/Silpat to cool completely. Continue working with the rest of the twisted candy.
  10. Repeat with the remaining sections in the oven, working with a pair of pieces at a time. If they start to get too cool to work with, return them to the oven for a few minutes to soften up.
  11. Cool completely before consuming (about 15 minutes). Wrap each candy cane with cellophane or plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Candy will last for a few months.
Notes
*When you add the peppermint oil, prepare for a good cry fest. It was worse than any time I've ever chopped onions. At least my sinuses were good and clear after. And my house will smell great for eternity. Or at least through Christmas. **Everything will require a good soaking after. Including any burns (not that **I** burned myself or anything...).

So how’d that go? I’d love to see the candy canes you make! (I’d also love to play around with the flavorings–they don’t have to be peppermint or red and white!)

Next month we’ll be making Sticky Toffee Pudding. I have never even tasted this before, so I can’t wait to make it and see what it’s like! If you’d like to join us, check out the First on the First tab above for details. We’d love to have you at the table!

About the author

Carrie @ poet in the pantry

Carrie is a home baker and amateur photographer who dabbles in writing and poetry.

7 comments

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  1. Jenn- Go Running, Mama!

    These are totally gorgeous!

    1. Carrie @ poet in the pantry

      Thank you! I’m still in shock that they worked!

  2. Alyssa D. {Suitcases & Sweets}

    Wow! These are gorgeous! I am super impressed. :)

    1. Carrie @ poet in the pantry

      Thank you so much! You’re so sweet!

  3. Kate | Food Babbles

    Holy cow!! You’re candy canes look absolutely FANTASTIC!! You have distinct colors and twists and looks like you got more than the 6 I did :) I’m so impressed. Looks like this was definitely something you faired well with. Love the vibrant green and white. My pan didn’t heat evenly so one little corner of my sugar syrup became a light amber and made the whole batch turn light yellow :( This was way more fun that I originally expected and I truly felt a sense of accomplishment at the end. Usually I dread candy making but this time, I’m so glad we did this!

    1. Carrie @ poet in the pantry

      Thank you! It’s funny because reading the recipe alone, it didn’t sound that hard. I wasn’t counting on how much of a juggling act it is to twist everything before it hardens and keep the candy at the right temperature to make it malleable. Wow! What a challenge this month!

  4. Anna (Hidden Ponies)

    Love that you did green and great minds think alike on putting them together to make a heart – we’re so cutesy :) Awesome job!

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