Recipe: Candy Cane Cookies

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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Over my years of writing for The Kitchn, I’ve shared almost all of my favorite holiday cookies with you, from my mother’s famous Peppermint Cream-Filled Butter Cookies (followed by the much less finicky Peppermint Cream Squares the following year) to Rugelach and Gingerbread Men.

I’ve saved one of my most beloved cookies for last. These candy cane cookies are the best. As a kid, I loved them for pretty spiraled colors, their soft vanilla-mint sweetness, and the fact that they hooked so perfectly over the edge of a mug of cocoa. Simple pleasures. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

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(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

I also may have loved these cookies because I could actually help make these — unlike the more delicate cut-out cookies. The dough is as soft as playdough and easy for little hands to roll into “snakes” and twist into candy cane spirals. Do note, however, that this dough is easiest to work with when it’s slightly chilled; chill it in the fridge for at least an hour before shaping the cookies.

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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

My brother wasn’t a huge fan of peppermint flavor as a kid, so my mom sometimes made these with almond extract instead. As grown-ups, we both love that vanilla-mint flavor, but if you or your kids are similarly averse to the strong flavor of peppermint, know that almond is a perfectly acceptable and time-honored substitute!

One last thing to share about these cookies: they’re better the second day. I don’t know why this is, but I always find it to be true. Just after baking, they’re okay — a perfectly decent butter cookie. But the second day, suddenly I find myself making excuses to walk through the kitchen just so I can break off another nibble.

I hope you and your families enjoy these cookies as much as mine!

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(Image credit: Elizabeth Graeber)
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
102 Ratings

Candy Cane Cookies

Makes2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

    • 2 sticks

      (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

    • 1 cup

      powdered sugar

    • 1

      large egg

    • 1 teaspoon

      vanilla extract

    • 1 teaspoon

      peppermint extract, or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

    • 3 cups

      all-purpose flour

    • 1/2 teaspoon

      salt

    • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon

      red food coloring

    Instructions

    1. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until fluffy and frosting-like. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and peppermint or almond extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the flour and salt just until no more visible flour remains.

    2. Use a stiff spatula to mix the dough a few times by hand to work in any last bits of flour. Divide the dough in half and remove half of the dough. Add 1/2 teaspoon of red food coloring to the remaining dough in the bowl. Work the color into the dough with the spatula, kneading by hand, or in the mixer on low speed, whichever method seems easiest to you. Add additional food coloring as needed until the dough is a bright, vibrant red.

    3. Pat both pieces of dough into 1-inch thick circles and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. This will make the cookies easier to roll out and shape.

    4. When ready to bake the cookies, arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.

    5. Unwrap both pieces of dough. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the doughs (about 2 tablespoons each). Roll each into a thick rope about 6 inches long. Pinch a red and white rope together at the top, then gently twist them together. Repeat wtih the remaining dough. If the dough starts to break as you roll it or become hard to work with, put it back in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes. Transfer the twisted ropes to the baking sheets and gently "hook" the top to create a candy cane shape.

    6. Refrigerate the cookies on the baking sheets for 15 minutes before baking — this helps the cookies hold their shape during baking.

    7. Bake until the bottom edges and the tips of the cookies are just barely starting to turn golden-brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Transfer the cookies to wire cooling racks and cool completely.

    Recipe Notes

    Storage: Store the cookies between layers of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container. They are actually best the day after baking (their flavors have time to mellow) and will stay fresh for about 2 weeks.

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