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

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

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?

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.

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 at 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 Canes
Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 cup of water
1 teaspoon of peppermint extract
A few drops red food coloring

Directions:
Place all ingredients into a saucepan. Boil without stirring until it reaches the soft crack stage (285°F, measured with a candy thermometer). Remove from heat. Divide candy in two parts. To one part, add a little red food coloring. Pour onto a buttered surface. When cool enough, pull each separately, then twist one around the other. Cut into 6″ sections, form them into canes, and allow them to harden.

Candy Cane Fudge
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

Directions:
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.

Christmas Whoopies
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

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.

7 comments

1 Susan { 12.23.13 at 10:19 am }

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 :)

2 Yoya { 12.30.11 at 2:12 am }

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.

3 Yvonne { 12.23.11 at 8:11 am }

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

4 Jessica { 12.22.11 at 4:37 pm }

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 :)

5 Donna { 12.22.11 at 3:46 pm }

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…..

6 Amy { 12.22.11 at 1:29 pm }

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

7 LarryD { 12.21.11 at 11:08 am }

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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