Homemade Candy Canes

Homemade candy canes
Ana Guisado Photography / Getty Images
Prep: 75 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 90 mins
Servings: 12 to 18 servings
Yields: 12 to 18 candy canes

Although homemade candy canes require some time and energy, everyone's amazement and delight—including your own—will make the endeavor worthwhile. Candy canes from scratch look just as fun and festive as store-bought ones. They'll have a beautiful glossy sheen, twisting, bright stripes, and that traditional minty taste.

Like most hard sweets, candy canes call for a few basic ingredients: sugar, water, corn syrup, along with some peppermint extract for flavor and food coloring. The challenge lies in boiling the sugar, then pulling the candy until it's stiff but pliable, and finally, forming it into the right shapes. Because molten sugar requires careful attention, make sure to read the whole recipe thoroughly and set up your work station before you embark on this project. It's definitely wise to invest in a candy thermometer as well as heat resistant plastic gloves, since burning your fingers is a real danger. However, as long as you use the right equipment and exercise caution, you should not have trouble with this foolproof recipe; in fact, it should be fun.

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray, for baking sheets

  • 3 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 cup light corn syrup

  • 1/2 cup water, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract

  • 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring

  • 1 teaspoon white gel food coloring, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for candy cane recipe
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  2. Spray 2 rimmed baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200 F.

    Two rimmed baking sheets coated with nonstick spray
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup of the water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir with a heatproof spatula until the sugar dissolves.

    Sugar, corn syrup and water combined in a pot
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  4. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup water into a small bowl and use it to wet a pastry brush.

  5. Using the wet brush, wash any sugar crystals off the side of the pan. Do not stir the syrup.

    Wet a pastry brush
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  6. When the syrup comes to a boil, insert a candy thermometer and continue to cook, without stirring, until the thermometer registers 285 F. At this point, the candy will have reached the soft-crack stage.

    A candy thermometer inserted in the boiling hot sugary syrup
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  7. Remove from heat. Let the bubbles subside, then stir in the peppermint extract.

    Remove the candy cane syrup from the heat
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  8. Pour about half of the syrup onto a prepared baking sheet and place it in the preheated oven.

    Pour syrup onto baking sheet
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  9. Stir red food coloring into the remaining syrup. If necessary, add more dye to achieve a vibrant shade.

    Red food coloring added to syrup
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  10. Pour the candy onto the remaining baking sheet and allow it to sit briefly until it forms a “skin.”

    Pour candy into baking sheet until it forms a skin
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  11. Spray a bench scraper or metal spatula with nonstick cooking spray, and use the tool to "knead" the candy. Flatten the candy, then fold it back over itself. Repeat this process for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the candy is significantly cooler.

    Spray a bench scraper and knead the candy
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  12. Using heat-resistant gloves, stretch the candy into a long rope, then fold the rope in half and twist the candy until it melts back into itself.

    Red candy twisted into a rope-like shape
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  13. Repeat this process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the candy takes on an opaque color and a satiny finish. At this point, the candy will be warm—you should have some trouble pulling and folding it.

  14. Stretch the candy into a rope, about 2 inches in diameter, then return it to the oven, where it will stay warm and pliable.

    Red candy stretched and twisted into a rope shape, on a baking sheet
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  15. Remove the other baking sheet from the oven. At this point, you can knead white food coloring into the candy if you like.

    Kneading white food coloring into the syrup
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  16. Pull and fold the candy in the same fashion, until it becomes opaque, glossy, and difficult to manipulate.

  17. Stretch it into a second log, about 2 inches in diameter.

    White half of candy cane pulled and twisted into a rope shape.
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  18. Remove the red candy from the oven. Cut a 2-inch segment from the white log and another from the red log, then put the remaining candy back in the oven.

    Red and white candy ropes cut into 2-inch segments
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  19. Squeeze the 2 segments together until they form a two-toned log.

    Squeeze red and white candy segments together
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  20. Stretch the candy again. This step will determine the thickness of your candy canes—you can make thinner ones (with a 1/4-inch diameter) or thicker ones (with a 1/2-inch diameter).

  21. When you're happy with the candy's width, twist the rope to form those distinctive candy stripes.

    Twist and stretch the candy into a longer rope
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  22. Oil or use cooking spray on a pair of cooking shears and cut the candy into smaller pieces. Again, you can choose to make long or small candy canes. A 7-inch piece of candy will yield a medium-sized candy cane.

    Candy canes cut into smaller segments before twisting into shape
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  23. Immediately form the hook at the top of the cane and place it on a clean surface to firm up at room temperature.

    Candy canes formed into their signature hook shape
    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt
  24. Cut off another segment from each log, returning the remaining logs to the oven, and repeat the twisting and stretching process until you have used up all the candy.

Tips

  • Make sure you have a calibrated clip-on candy thermometer before you begin this recipe. The thermometer will tell you when to take the sugar syrup off the stove; if yours is faulty or incorrectly calibrated, then you may undercook or overcook the syrup.
  • Invest in heat resistant gloves, which will protect your hands from the hot candy and the dye. They are available online.
  • If the candy cracks or hardens, return it to the warm oven for just a few minutes. (Any longer and the candy will lose its shape.) At room temperature, your candy canes should be as hard as the store-bought variety.
  • Be sure to wrap them in plastic wrap or cellophane to preserve their shelf life.

Variation

Candy canes are fun to eat on their own, but there are plenty of creative ways to use them in other recipes around the holidays.

Crush them up and use them in peppermint bark.

Make chocolate truffles and sprinkle them over the truffles like snow.

Melt white chocolate, crush up candy canes, and combine both with popcorn for a fun holiday treat.