There’s a reason why generation after generation, parents teach their children how to make candy cane cookies, preserving the a holiday food and cooking tradition for years to come.
Actually, there are a few good reasons why this easy decorated holiday cookie recipe is beloved. First off, they have a perfect balance of flavor: buttery-sweet mixed with the extract of your choice, be it vanilla, almond or peppermint. Equally important: they’re easy and fun to make, with a variety of different cookie decorating variations. Here is a recipe for how to make candy cane cookies, including some helpful baking tips to guarantee sweet success.
Like snowball cookies, this is a simple recipe with just six ingredients. That means that this is a good recipe to make use of quality ingredients. Fancy Madagascar vanilla? Homemade confectioners’ sugar, or homemade butter? Farm-fresh eggs? This is a good recipe to showcase them.
Rolling the dough
This recipe asks that you roll the dough into 4-inch logs in red and white, which you will then spiral together to form a candy cane striped pattern. The dough is ever so slightly sticky on its own, so roll it on a lightly dusted surface. While many cookie recipes will call for rolling dough on a lightly floured surface, you may find that this recipe tastes even better if you use a surface lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar. These cookies aren’t overly sweet to begin with, so the extra touch of sweetness is not excessive. The white color of confectioners’ sugar will mostly disappear while the cookies bake.
This recipe calls for two teaspoons of vanilla extract. However, this is more a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. You can simply and deliciously substitute almond extract, peppermint extract, or really any extract of your choosing. Feel free to experiment as long as you maintain the two teaspoons — try one each of vanilla and almond, or part peppermint.
Coloring the dough by hand
It’s best to wear gloves when you tint cookie dough. If you do it by hand, it will combine just fine, but you may be left with hands as colorful as the cookies. Although it might be a good conversation starter, it might not be the look you’re going for.
Shaping the cookies
How do you want your cookies to look? Do you prefer more dimensional candy canes, or do you prefer a smooth, flat surface? This can be done easily. When you spiral the two logs of dough, lightly roll — not so much that you flatten it, but enough to roll the dough into a smooth log with the colors combined.
Guess what? Candy canes aren’t the only shape these cookies can be molded into. You can also twist the ropes of coiled dough into circles, so that they look like wreaths, or spiral them, so that they resemble starlight mints, and adhere a small triangle of white dough to either end to bring the point home.
Also, you can get creative with the color of the dough. Try dividing the dough into three portions, and leaving one white, and tinting the other two green and red. You can create holiday-hued candy canes or wreaths in a number of combinations!
Chilling the dough
Chilling the dough before shaping the cookies is not suggested, as it will become more stiff and harder to work. However, if you shape the cookies, place them on the sheet, and then refrigerate for an hour or freeze for 30 minutes — this will help them keep their shape during baking. To preserve energy, if you choose to chill the dough, don’t preheat the oven at the beginning of the baking process; instead, preheat the oven near the end of your chilling period.
How to make candy cake cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 5-8 drops liquid red food coloring
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set to the side.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Set to the side.
Cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and mix on high speed until combined and very fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flavoring and the egg, and mix thoroughly, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the flour and salt mixture into the wet mixture. Stir until combined, but don’t overdo it — only mix until it’s combined and uniform-looking.
Now that the dough is combined, divide it in half. Leave one half as-is (white); blend red food coloring into the other half until it is completely combined with that portion. Now you have a red and a white portion of dough. If desired, you can tint more colors; simply put each color in a different container.
Pinch off a walnut-sized piece of white dough, and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured or confectioners’ sugar dusted surface. Form a log that is about 4-inches long. Repeat this with the red dough, and press the two logs of dough side by side.
Press lightly together, and twist like rope. Don’t twist too many times or the dough will thin out too much and break. But 3-4 coils should do it. If you want a smooth appearance, gently (gently!) roll the coiled dough to flatten the colors into one another.
Note: For best results, complete cookies one at a time — if all the dough of one color is rolled first, it may become too dry to twist.
Transfer to the prepared sheets, and twist the tops to curve like the tops of candy canes.
Bake in the preheated oven about 9 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Remove the cookies from the sheet very gently, using a flat spatula. Especially at the curve of the candy canes, they can be rather delicate.
Now, we want to see what you’ve made! Don’t forget to share your most impressive homemade cookie creations in our Holiday Cookie Contest. The winner will be announced on Thursday! A sweet Mystery Prize Box is up for grabs!