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Feature Fri Dec 18 2009
'Tis the season for house parties, cookie exchanges, ornament exchanges, and family-get-togethers. With all things going thrifty, including gift giving, sometimes it's hard to balance the purse strings with holiday cheer. But being on a budget doesn't mean crafting macaroni cards covered in glitter--all you need is a few cups of sugar and a heaping spoonful of patience to bring delicious, holiday gifts without looking like Scrooge.
If you have time to impress, I suggest harnessing your candy-making skills and twisting up some homemade candy canes. Yes Virginia, it can be done (and no, you do not have to be Martha Stewart)! It is time-consuming, and moderate candy-making skill is involved. If you're a newbie at hard candy-making, that's okay...just be prepared to end up with peppermint goop a few times. The "goop" actually tastes fantastic, and even after two failed batches, your failures are worth sharing with a friend...or being selfish and spooning it out of the pot, by yourself, in your kitchen (yes, I'm admitting to that).
3 c. sugar
1 tsp. peppermint flavoring
1/2 c. water
3/4 c. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. red coloring
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Combine sugar, water, light corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan until the mixture has dissolved into a fine syrup. Pour 1/3 of the mixture into another saucepan and heat each lot until both reach a temperature of 280°F. Once 280°F is reached, add in 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint flavoring in each pot, and into one pot add the red coloring.
Pour the content of each pot onto a lightly oiled hard surface to cool slightly. Do not wait until the mixture is completely cool or else you will end up with a hard lump of deliciousness stuck to your counter. This does cool quickly, so once the candy is cool enough to touch, go for it! If the candy is super sticky and isn't forming a soft but tough exterior, then you didn't cook the sugar long enough and the candy will never harden (check out the peppermint goop above...if your candy is looking even sort of like this, it's time for a do-over). If you want to turn the clear mixture white, quickly knead the sugar dough as you would bread dough. Kneading the mixture will cause it to cool quickly, so you may want to buck up and start kneading right when you pour it on the counter. If you're finding working with this amount of candy is daunting, you can work with smaller amounts of candy at a time. Put any remaining candy in a metal bowl and place it over a pot of warm water. If the candy starts to melt remove it immediately!
Take the two colors and place them side by side and firmly, but quickly start pulling into ropes until the desired thickness is reached. You may want to keep a mug of hot water nearby, if the candy seems to be harden in your hand, simply hold the mug for a few seconds to raise your hand temperature, helping keep the candy pliable. Once you are satisfied with the thickness of the ropes, using scissors (this will make for a cleaner cut) snip the rope into pieces and twist each piece. Work fast or else the candy will become brittle and break. This isn't exactly horrible, the scrap peppermint pieces aren't beautiful but they're still tasty!
Gently bent each end to make the crook of the candy cane and leave each piece of candy on an oiled surface to completely harden. I personally wasn't too impressed with my "crooking" - so I left most of my candy has just canes.
Don't have time to spend twist and twirling the candy ropes? No problem! Whip up a batch of candy but instead pouring it on a hard surface before pulling, twisting, turning it, pour the sugar into a shallow, oiled, baking pan. Spoon on the red-colored candy and swirl it to make ribbons of red. Let this sheet of candy cool, then break into pieces. You can sprinkle these peppermint pieces as decoration on any store bought goodies - frosted cookies, brownies, or cakes! You can even add the pieces to a steaming cup of coffee or hot cocoa (before it's been sweetened, unless you like your sugar with a side of sugar).
Have a happy, safe, and delicious holiday!