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Candy Canes: History, Lore, Recipes, and More!

What would Christmas be without candy canes? But how did these peppermint treats come to be associated with Christmas? We have the answer.

What would Christmas be without candy canes, those sweet, peppermint-flavored, sticks of red and white hard candy deliciousness? But what is their origin, and how did they come to be associated with Christmas?

Origins of the Candy Cane

There are many popular explanations for the origin of candy canes, and all of them sound plausible. Depending on who you ask, you may hear that the canes are meant to be a letter J, for “Jesus,” that the white color stands for purity while the red stripes represent the stripes on Christ’s back when he was beaten before the crucifixion, that the hardness represents the church’s strong foundation, or that the peppermint flavor harkens back to hyssop, a sacred Old Testament herb. While any or all of these meanings can easily be applied to make the candy more meaningful, the truth is actually much simpler.

The Real Story of Candy Canes

Starting in about the 17th Century, when sugar became more widespread thanks to trade with the “New World,” European confectioners began producing hard candy sticks. At that time, anything made with sugar was still considered a treat and mostly reserved for special occasions (such as Christmas). Eventually, parishes began giving the hard candy sticks to children during advent to keep them quiet during service. These versions were bent on end to resemble a shepherd’s crook and, by extension, a bishop’s crosier.

These first “candy canes” were not flavored, but were made from plain sugar. Over time, in countries where Christmas trees were popular, people found that the candy canes made the perfect edible decoration. The crook at the top of them held them in place on the tree’s limbs. Candy canes remained this way — plain white and unflavored — until the first half of the 20th Century when stripes and peppermint flavoring were added.

Today, candy canes can come in many colors and flavors, from traditional peppermint to fruit-flavored, chocolate, and more. The following is a recipe to make your own candy canes at home, plus a few recipes using candy canes:

Candy cane - Design

Make Your Own Candy Canes

Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Equipment

  • Candy thermometer
  • Bench scraper or metal spatula

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract
  • A few drops red food coloring
  • A few drops of white food coloring
  • cooking spray

Instructions
 

  • Place sugar, water, and corn syrup into a saucepan and bring to a boil. This is when to add the candy thermometer. Without stirring allow it to reach the "soft crack stage" (285°F). Remove from heat. When the bubbles subside, stir in the peppermint extract.
  • Divide the candy into two parts, pouring out one half of the candy onto a baking sheet that's been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. To the remaining part left in the saucepan, add a few drops red food coloring. Mix and pour onto another baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Place it in a 200 degree F oven to keep it warm.
  • When a skin forms on the red candy, use a metal spatula to knead and fold the candy over itself. Do this for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
  • Using heat-resistant gloves, pull the red candy into a long rope, fold it in half, doing this a few times until it starts becoming difficult to work with. Finally, twist it together until it's about a 2-inch-wide rope. Place it back on the baking sheet and into the warm oven while you work on the other half of the candy (which you'll add white food coloring to) and repeat the process, creating a white rope.
  • Cut a 3" section of each rope and press them together. Then pull and twist together, and bend a shepherd's crook—these are your candy canes! Let them fully harden. Store in an airtight container.
Keyword candy cane sweets, Make Your Own Candy Canes
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Fudge - Candy cane

Candy Cane Fudge

Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 2 10-oz  packages vanilla baking chips
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed candy canes

Instructions
 

  • Line a square, 8” baking pan with greased aluminum foil.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the vanilla chips and sweetened condensed milk, stirring frequently.
  • When almost melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth.
  • Stir in the peppermint extract and candy canes.
  • Spread evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan and chill for at least two hours.
  • Cut into squares and serve.
Keyword Candy Cane Fudge
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Candy Cane Whoopie Pies

Candy cane - Chocolate cake

Candy Cane Whoopie Pies

Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon   baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup+ 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2   cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 large candy canes, crushed

Instructions
 

  • Directions:
    Preheat the oven to 350° F. In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a measuring cup, stir together 3/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together the brown sugar and 1/4 cup of the butter.
    Add the egg and reduce speed to low. Add about a quarter of the combined dry ingredients and a third of milk mixture and beat together. Repeat until all ingredients have been thoroughly and a smooth batter forms. Using a tablespoon, portion out mounds of batter, spaced about 2” apart, on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
    Bake for 11 min. Transfer the baked shells to a wire rack to cool. Using a mixer, whip together 1/2 cup of butter, until fluffy. Add mint extract and 2 tablespoons milk. With the mixer on low, gradually add powdered sugar. Beat until fluffy. Fold 1/4 cup crushed candy canes into the filling. Using level tablespoons, top half of the shells with icing, then add a second shell to create a sandwich. Be sure to spread the filling to the edges of each. Roll the edges of each whoopie pie in the remaining crushed candy canes, and serve.
Keyword Candy Cane Whoopie, Candy Cane Whoopie Pies
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Gerry Mattern

Why are they all made in Mexico?

Susan

I will make the Candy Cane fudge this afternoon for my family to enjoy along with our beautiful Tree, decorations, and gifts to each other to celebrate Winter Solstice and our love for one another 🙂

Yoya

Many countries celebrate Christmas as Christ’s Birthday. They spend Advent season in preparing their hearts for His coming and they give Him the gifts of their hearts. In these other countries they exchange their gifts on the feast of Epiphany when they also celebrate the arrival of the three Kings with their gifts fot the Christ Child. That is considered the day to exchange gifts with everyone else. This is not a pagan feast. I think this stoy is wonderful and would wish all children were taught this about the candy cane. I wish I had known it when my children were young.

sharebear72

I agree. Most children think it’s all gifts when it’s not

Yvonne

love the candy cane story .everytime i see one i;ll think of Jesus .I’ll be trying the recipe .i love this site

Jessica

I thank that is a great story to tell kids. And no we dont worship the tree or lights or the dang candy canes. But I know some people might, I guess if they r that dumb let em thank what ever it’s Jesus birthday so let’s have fun and celebrate him 🙂

Donna

Yea, they want u to believe all of that nonsense but the candy cane has nothing to do with CHRIST. It’s just another pagan idol like the Xmas tree, the lights, the wreath, the mistletoe, the gifts. Speaking of gifts, why, if it’s Jesus’ birthday does everybody gets gifts but him? If u want to know where Xmas came from, it’s the day chosen to worship the sun god. Pagan, all of it…..

Amy

No time left this year, but I’m making candy canes next year for sure! Thank you for interesting information along with the recipes.

LarryD

Your Food, Recipes, and General Information is of great interest to me most of the time. For example the Candy Canes story was informative. Keep it up

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