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Culinary Capers: Candy Canes Aren't Just for Kids Anymore

Try these recipes to give cookies, brownies and even martinis some added flavor.

They’re a tree trimmer, a gift tie-on and the crowning glory on your holiday stocking. That’s right; the candy cane. 

With the holiday season in full swing, the candy cane has assumed its annual role as the grand poohbah of holiday symbols. Its colorful stripes and distinctive shape makes it a shoo-in for easy decorating and a sweet treat available by the dozens in countless stores around town. 

According to food historians at the National Confectioners Association, the candy cane has a long and not-so-colorful (literally) past. Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at a cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during lengthy services. In honor of the Christmas services, he had the candies bent into shepherds' crooks. It wasn't until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors were added, making it the candy cane we know and love today.

When first developed, candy canes were a laborious task to create as they were formed and decorated by hand. Thankfully, modern technology has made candy canes accessible and plentiful. In fact, each year 1.76 billion candy canes are made and distributed across the world. And I am going to assume most of you did not know that National Candy Cane Day is celebrated Dec. 26 in the United States. That was news to me, too!

There are some terrifically simple ways to use the candy cane to sweeten some favorite treats. For example:

  • Serve a candy cane as a stirring stick with a cup of hot cocoa or coffee.
  • Crush a candy and sprinkle it on vanilla ice cream.
  • Sprinkle them on iced Christmas cookies.
  • Dip the curved end into melted chocolate and cool on a wax paper line tray for a new twist.

There are some great seasonal recipes highlighting the beloved candy cane. This week we’ve featured a peppermint snowball cookie and a peppermint brownie (both ideal for any cookie swaps in your future!) and a fun cocktail called a candy cane martini for you and yours to enjoy in the weeks ahead.

Peppermint Snowball Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white sugar, or as needed
  • 1 cup finely crushed peppermint candy
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
  2. Beat 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar with the butter, peppermint extract, vanilla extract, and egg in a mixing bowl at Medium speed until well blended and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to Low, and gradually mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy using a wooden spoon.
  3. Place the white sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll a small amount of cookie dough between your hands to make 3/4 inch diameter balls. Roll in sugar. Place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets.
  4. Bake in preheated oven until light brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool on racks.
  5. Meanwhile, to make the glaze, stir the remaining 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar together with the milk in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle cooled cookies with the glaze, and sprinkle immediately with the remaining crushed peppermint candy.

Peppermint Brownies

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5-6 ounces of chocolate squares with peppermint filling, unwrapped
  • 4 small candy canes, crushed

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
  3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or whisk, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, peppermint extract, and salt until combined. Beat in the chocolate mixture. Gently stir in the flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the brownies comes out clean. Arrange the mint squares on top in one layer and return the brownies to the oven until they are just melted, about 1 minute. Evenly spread the chocolate with a spatula and sprinkle with the crushed candy canes. Cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

Candy Cane Martini

Serves 1.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 2 ounces vanilla vodka
  • ½ ounce white creme de menthe
  • 1 teaspoon whole milk
  • 1 small candy cane (for garnish)

Directions

  • In a microwave-safe cup, heat the sugar and water for 30 seconds or until the sugar dissolves.
  • Spread crushed candy canes on a piece of waxed paper.
  • Fill a martini glass with ice cubes, swirl it around, then tip out the ice.
  • Fill a metal shaker with ice and add the vodka, creme de menthe, sugar mixture, and milk. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Decorate with the candy cane.

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