Photo: 427, Flickr.
But while they look like something that could only come from the metal hands of a special machine -- or at the very least, those of a seasoned professional -- they're one of the most fun concoctions you can make over the holiday season.
Candy canes are simply boiled sugar that's flavored, colored and then stretched to opaqueness before twisting, forming and cooling. But there are some finer points to understand before getting started.
While the video below might outline the professional procedure, it's a great visual run-through of how candy cane-making works, and how the candy visually changes during the process. Doing it at home is simply using the same techniques on a smaller scale.
For our candy canes, this recipe was used, using the techniques in the above video.
Candy Cane Essentials
There are a few tools that are essential to start making candy canes with precision and ease: a candy thermometer, marble cutting board, metal dough scraper, rubber gloves and Silpat.
The thermometer will get you to the precise soft-crack stage easily, while the rest make formation a breeze. The mixture will be very hot, so rubber gloves make things a whole lot easier when trying to handle the candy and prevent burns. Just make sure to use ones that don't have pronounced finger grips, because those little bumps will affect the soft and malleable candy.
You can use a cookie sheet for both the formation and warming of the candy, but it is simply easier to have marble and Silpat. A regular marble cutting board is flat, perfectly clean and has no rim to have to work around. The Silpat, meanwhile, will keep you from having to spray a cookie sheet and worry about the candy sticking, because it will peel right off the mat.
- Coloring: Most candy cane recipes suggest a "few" drops of red to achieve the proper color. Rather than using that, pour/squirt enough in so that the mixture is a deep red. When the candy is pulled, it lightens, and using only a few drops will result in a pink candy cane.
- It takes only a moment or two for the poured candy to cool enough to start folding with a dough scraper. In fact, this candy cools so quick that it is best to have helpers, and have contingency scenarios.
- Contingency scenario: Until you've gotten a lot of practice, it will be difficult to use up all the candy before it starts to harden. Rolling some quickly into a log shape and cutting it into bite-sized pieces with scissors is an easy way to use up the remaining candy.
- Remember to pull and pull, not just fold. As soon as you can handle the candy in your gloved hands, start to pull it. Otherwise, the candy will remain translucent and start to cool and firm without becoming opaque. Unless, of course, that's your intention.
- While the above video does it all in a big chunk, it's best to sub-divide your white and red segments into a few chunks. Pull out one at a time to twist and form. That way, the mass won't harden before you can get to it.
- Turning off the oven heat when you put the candy in to stay warm might not work if your oven doesn't hold heat well. Make adjustments accordingly to keep the candy warm and pliable.
- When forming candies with help, making sure you're twisting the candy the same way, otherwise you might unknowingly start to unspool the other person's work.
Finally, have fun and be creative. Create spoon-shaped candies for candy cane hot cocoa, and any other collection of shapes that piques your whimsy. And be open to the learning process! Even if your candy cane is wobbly, it'll still taste delicious.
Find more Christmas cookie ideas and Christmas recipes on KitchenDaily.