The trickiest part was getting the sugar to the right temperature," noted Jordan Hill. "Pulling it was the most fun.
As the song goes, "candy canes and silver lanes aglow," are signs that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
In fact, candy canes have been part of the Christmas celebration for centuries, although not necessarily in the red-and-white version that is today's standard.
Making your own candy canes is a fun challenge, and they taste great, said Richard Port of Wales (in Utah, not the United Kingdom). The former professional baker enjoys candy making, and taught a hands-on class on making homemade candy canes at the Gygi kitchen store on Dec. 4.
"They are a great memory-maker," he told the class, which was sold out with 12 students.
But it takes some practice to work quickly with the hot syrup and pull it into long ropes as it cools. He had the students wear two pairs of gloves for protection.
"I was hoping this would be a fun activity for children, but it's not," he said. "It's too hot for small hands."
When Port first tried his hand at making candy canes, he was frustrated that his finished product didn't look like store-bought candy canes. But now, he's OK with it.
"If you want them to look like store-bought candy canes, go and buy them in the store. They are a lot less expensive," he said. "Homemade ones are different, they are more rustic, and they're not supposed to look store-bought.
And like the current homemade marshmallow fad, there's the novelty of doing it yourself.
"They are more work, but well worth the effort," Port said.
Two students in the class, Kim Hill and Jordan Hill, said the process was fun, once they got the hang of it.
"The trickiest part was getting the sugar to the right temperature," noted Jordan Hill. "Pulling it was the most fun."
Candy canes evolved from candy sticks that were straight and white, according to the folks at www.candycanefacts.com.
But that changed in about 1670. In Cologne, Germany, part of the cathedral's Christmas celebration included pageants of living nativity scenes, or crches. The tale is told that the choir master passed out sticks of candy bent in the shape of a shepherd's to children who attended the ceremonies (possibly as a way to keep them quiet). This became a popular tradition, and eventually the practice of passing out the sugar canes at living nativity ceremonies spread throughout Europe.
This was a time when European Christmas celebrations included tree decorations of cookies and candy. It wouldn't take much thought to realize that a crook on the end of the candy stick made it easier to hang on a Christmas tree.
The crooked cane made its way to America by the mid-1800s, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, began using candy canes as a tree decoration, according to the Spangler Candy Co. Christmas cards made before 1900 show them as being pure white. It wasn't until the early 20th century that they appear with their familiar red stripes.
Some of the early candy cane makers are still in business today. The Spangler Candy Co. of Bryan, Ohio, was founded in 1906, and you can still find its candy canes in local stores.
Bob McCormack of Bob's Candies in Albany, Ga., began making candy canes in the 1920s, and was later the first to successfully mass-produce them. Now owned by Farley's & Sathers Candy Co., Bob's Candies also makes Starlight Mints and other hard candies.
More than 1.76 billion candy canes are made each year.
Some people have given religious meaning to the shape and form of the candy cane. It is shaped like the letter "J" in Jesus' name, and also like a shepherd's crook, which could symbolize Christ's role as the "good shepherd."
It could also be a reminder of the shepherds who came the night that Jesus was born.
Others have taken the religious symbolism a step further, noting that it's a hard candy, like a rock, or the foundation of Christ's church. Peppermint is similar to another member of the mint family, hyssop, Port noted. In the Old Testament, hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice, and this is said to symbolize the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.
Some say the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe represents God's love. The three fine stripes are said by some to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Others say they represent Christ's blood as a sacrifice for mankind.
That's quite a bit of symbolism for a common stick of candy, but there's no historic documentation that candymakers had these symbols in mind when they made the original candy canes. It's likely that most people don't consider any symbolism as they hang their candy canes on a tree, twirl them in a cup of cocoa or suck on a bite of minty candy.
The traditional candy cane flavor is peppermint, but they can be made in other flavors, such as cinnamon, and with other colored stripes, Port said.
Port dipped the ends of some of his finished candy canes in melted white chocolate. "They will be fun to stir in a cup of cocoa," he said.
Homemade candy canes are fragile and can easily crack or break. But the pieces can be used in hot cocoa or crushed into a flavorful topping for brownies, ice cream, pies or other desserts.
Port cautioned his students that weather can play havoc with candymaking. "Don't try making them if there's a snow storm, because the humidity makes a big difference in candy," he said.
2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper
Marble or stone slab, or a Silpat silicone baking mat placed on a cookie sheet.
Good-quality candy thermometer. Port said it's best if it's an digital thermometer.
2 pair of gloves. Port gave each class member one pair of white cotton gloves and another pair of rubber gloves to be worn over the cotton ones. They help protect hands from the hot sugar syrup. The rubber gloves should be smooth, otherwise the bumps and ridges would be transferred to the candy. (Port bought the white cloth gloves at a Walmart photo lab and the rubber gloves at the pharmacy.) Spray the fingers of the rubber gloves with nonstick cooking spray to prevent sticking.
A heat lamp is helpful but optional. Port bought one at a hardware store that is used for baby chicks, and attached it to an inexpensive fan.
Red paste food color. Port said it works better than liquid food color.
Paint brush of natural fiber, to wash down the sides of the pan during cooking. "Sugar crystals will ruin your candy," Port said.
Metal dough knife for working and cutting the candy.
Peppermint oil, which is sold at Gygi and other kitchen supply stores or at a pharmacy. "Peppermint flavoring isn't strong enough," said Port, who uses an eye dropper to add the drops of oil to the candy.
This recipe makes about 1 dozen candy canes.
1 cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
10 drops peppermint oil
Turn your oven to 170 degrees and let it preheat. Spray one of the paper-lined pans with nonstick cooking spray or oil and place it in the oven.
Combine the first three ingredients in a heavy duty pan and bring the mixture to a boil. As the mixture cooks, wash down the sides of the pan with a wet brush to make sure there are no sugar crystals.
Let the mixture boil. You should not need to stir this candy. Attach a thermometer and make sure your marble slab or Silpat baking mat is ready. Spray it with a circle of pan spray about 10 inches in diameter. Have your gloves ready for use.
When candy reaches 265 degrees (Salt Lake Valley/Wasatch Front altitudes of about 4,200-4,600 feet) take it off the heat and pour onto the sprayed slab. DO NOT SCRAPE THE PAN. Immediately start working the hot syrup with a dough knife, moving the candy by folding and turning it.
Cut the candy in half with your dough knife and place half on the warm pan in the oven to stay warm. Work the other half, stretching and pulling, until it turns white and you start to feel some resistance. This will take about 3 minutes. Pull the candy out onto the counter and cut into 12 pieces. You will need to work quickly. Put the cut pieces on the other pan and place in the oven.
Re-spray the stone and take the other candy out of the oven, and add a little red food color to it. Pull and stretch the candy, incorporating the red color. You do not need to work this as much as the white.
When you start feeling a little resistance, pull it out into long rope and cut into 12 pieces.
Take the white candy pieces out of the oven. Wrap one red rope around a white rope, twisting as you go. Do not forget to make the crook. If you have a heat lamp, you can use this to help keep the pieces warm. If the candy gets too stiff, put a red rope and a white rope next to each other and place them in the oven to re-warm. Depending on the heat in your oven, you may need to leave the oven door cracked open a little.
Let the canes dry on a firm cool surface. Wrap each in plastic wrap. These are fragile and can break easily, so handle carefully.
CANDY CANE BROWNIES
4 ounces dark chocolate
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A few drops peppermint oil (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup crushed candy canes, divided
½ cup semisweet mini chocolate chips
8 single candy canes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish and line the bottom with aluminum foil. Grease the aluminum foil and dust with flour.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate with butter, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture, vanilla and peppermint oil. Beat in the flour and salt. Add 1/2 cup candy canes and mini chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining candy canes.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Invert onto a plate and then onto a cutting board. Cut into 8 brownies and serve with vanilla ice cream and single small candy cane.
NO-BAKE CANDY CANE CHEESECAKE BITES
1 pint chilled heavy cream
12 ounces cream cheese (1 ½ 8-ounce packages) softened at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup crushed candy canes
1. Spray a mini-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gently transfer whipped cream to a separate bowl and set aside.
In the stand mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Fit mixer with the paddle attachment and gently beat cream cheese mixture until fluffy. Using a spatula, fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture.
Divide mixture among the muffin cups and smooth tops with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle each bite with candy canes, gently pressing into cheesecake batter. Place in freezer for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, tap muffin tin on the counter to loosen cheesecake bites. Transfer each bite to a mini-muffin size foil cup to serve.
Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.