Something about the holidays brings out the kid in all of us. There’s an instant magic in the air. It’s most potent in the smiles of children when talk of the big man in red starts up. Growing up, my family went to great lengths to keep my brother and me believing Santa was real. One year, my dad sneaked outside on Christmas Eve and rang some sleigh bells before getting up on the roof and stomping around. My mother never had an easier time getting us off to bed. Another year, when we sprinted into the den at daybreak to see what loot had been left for us, we found sooty boot prints marking Santa’s path from the chimney to the tree and then back again. I was old enough to have begun questioning the whole “from the North Pole around the world in one night” idea, but that “evidence” kept me going just a little bit longer.
But you don’t have to believe in Santa anymore to revel in this season’s childlike joy that so easily transforms into enchantment. Just look around. It’s still there. It floats along on every note of holiday music, hangs off the branches of evergreens, and twinkles coyly behind the sparkle of a thousand brightly-colored lights.
Despite the stress that’s induced by our long to-do lists (that somehow only grow longer this time of year) masquerading as Scrooge and trying to replace the merry moments with instances of bah-humbug, I find the wonder again each holiday when I pull out my stand mixer and the ingredients to make Candy Cane cookies.
I’ve done it every year for as long as I can remember, beginning this baking ritual with my mom when I couldn’t even reach the kitchen counter without a stool. Every time I start it again, I can see her dog-eared cookbook sitting to the side of her mixer and her squinting to read the directions obscured by a thin dusting of flour. I recall my impatience as I quickly moved through my duties—measuring sugar, crushing peppermint candies with a rolling pin, getting the baking sheets down—so we could get to the really good part, licking the beaters and the bowl, and the best part, eating the finished product.
Baking Christmas cookies with your kids—not for them—is a tradition they’ll cherish long into adulthood. And these Candy Cane cookies are easy and so good. I’ve modified the original recipe (a Southern Living standard) to make them even easier and, I think, even tastier. So slow down a bit this year and spend some time with your little ones whipping up memories and making your own magic.
CANDY CANE COOKIES
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
1 cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
red food coloring
crushed peppermint candy (about 1 cup at least)
12 ounces of white chocolate
Using an electric mixer, combine the butter, shortening, sugar, egg, and extracts. Add the flour and salt slowly and mix until incorporated. Add the red food coloring. It will take more than a few drops to get it to a dark pink/almost red, but don’t try to make it dark red (unless you have some super-duper fancy concentrated food coloring, and if you do, let me know about it!). To do so will take too much food coloring, and that much liquid could alter the texture of the dough.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and use a candy cane cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Place them on a sheet pan and bake about 8 to 9 minutes in a 375 degree oven.
In the meantime, place peppermint candies (I usually use starlight mints or the mini candy canes) in a ziplock bag, and then place that bag in a second ziplock bag. Use a rolling pin or other heavy object to break the candy into small pieces. Put the pieces on a plate.
Once the cookies are done, move them from the pan to a rack to cool.
While the cookies cool down, break up the chocolate bars and melt slowly in a double boiler. Once melted, remove the pot from the heat and carefully dip the bottom part of the staff portion of each cookie into the melted chocolate; let most of the excess drip off, and be careful not to break the cookies when doing this. Next, hold each cookie and gently sprinkle pieces of crushed peppermint onto the now chocolate-covered part of each cookie. Place on a sheet of wax paper to harden. You can put them in the fridge to speed this process up. Once the chocolate is set, store them in an airtight container until they’re gone. (It won’t take long!)
NOTE: Since it can be easy to break the cookies when dipping them into the chocolate, you may want to do this part yourself and let the kiddos concentrate on helping you measure ingredients, cutting out the cookies, and sprinkling the peppermint on while you hold them. They won’t all be perfect looking, and that’s OK! They’ll still be yummy.