Dec. 26 is National Candy Cane Day and a logical time to celebrate the most iconic candy of the Christmas season. Available in all sizes and colors — and even flavors besides the usual peppermint — candy canes offer an inexpensive way to add a festive air to your home.
Even better, once the holiday season ends, there are a number of ways to put your leftover candy canes to good use. Here are some candy cane crafts, recipes and affordable decorating ideas to help you enjoy the taste of the holidays.
1. Stir Sticks for Hot Chocolate
Chocolate and mint are a classic combination, appearing in many favorite holiday treats. So, it’s no surprise that some of the best uses for surplus candy canes revolve around chocolate. A beloved holiday beverage, peppermint hot cocoa is the perfect treat when the temperature plummets.
How you make your hot chocolate depends on family tradition and your own ambition. You might opt for cocoa powder, finely grated dark chocolate or instant cocoa mix from a can. Once your steaming mug of sweetness is ready, unwrap one of your leftover Christmas candy canes and dunk it into your chocolate as a stir stick. As the candy cane dissolves, it will add a pleasant hint of mint to the drink.
As an added benefit, candy canes hook neatly over the lip of your cup, so you don’t have to worry about them falling in and “drowning.”
2. Dipping Sticks for a Chocolate Fondue or Fountain
Gathering around a chocolate fountain is a festive way to mark the end of a Christmas gathering, and it offers a clear opportunity to use up some candy canes. Bite-sized canes make fine “dippers,” while larger ones can replace bamboo skewers for dipping other foods. There are so many delicious treats, including candy canes, that are perfect to dip in chocolate.
You can push candy canes right into softer items, such as marshmallows, pieces of pound cake, crispy rice treats or even certain fruits. For shortbread or sugar cookies, you’ll need to take a different approach. Press the candy canes into the cookies before they’re baked and then bake as directed. The candy canes will melt slightly but should hold their shapes. Leave them on the tray to cool and harden before using them to enjoy your treats.
3. Rims for Mugs and Glasses
Bartenders often use the rim of a cocktail glass to accent their creations with complementary flavors (the salt on a margarita, for example). Fortunately, you can copy this technique at home when you make your own cocktails.
Before your guests arrive, crush a handful of candy canes to a fine powder in your food processor and then decant the powder into a saucer or shallow bowl. Wait until the last minute, so the crushed candy won’t absorb moisture and turn into a sticky lump. Before you fill a mug with hot chocolate, a tumbler with eggnog or a cocktail glass with your favorite holiday drink, wipe the rim with a damp cloth and then press it firmly into the candy cane powder. Pour the drink carefully, so the candied rim stays unblemished.
A candy cane rim isn’t suitable for every beverage — it would clash badly with mulled wine, for example — but when it works, the end result is delicious.
4. Infused Vodka
If you and your family members share a love of creative cocktails, some of your candy cane surplus can happily re-surface in a glass. Dissolving some of your candy canes in a bottle of vodka gives the clear spirit a seasonally vivid red hue, as well as a strong peppermint flavor.
Infusing vodka can be a fast or slow process. You can simply break the candy canes into small pieces and leave them in the bottle for a couple of weeks, shaking regularly. Alternatively, you can grind the canes to powder in your food processor and funnel them into the bottle. Two good shakes and about 30 minutes are all you’ll need with this method.
Strain out any remaining pieces of candy before serving and turn your imagination loose to create some frosty, minty cocktail recipes.
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5. Candy Cane Milkshakes
Milkshakes might seem more suited to summertime, but they can also serve as a delicious cold-weather beverage. And spiking your shake liberally with crushed candy canes provides all the excuse you need to call it a Christmas treat.
Fill your blender with ice cream and milk (or eggnog, if you prefer) and then add a generous handful of finely crushed candy canes. Process the mixture until its consistency is thick and even and then pour it into tall glasses, garnishing each with a sprinkling of coarse candy cane pieces.
If you really want to double down on your candy cane usage, rim the glasses with crushed candy canes first and add a healthy shot of candy cane-infused vodka to each shake.
6. Treasure Hunt Game
If you’re expecting a full house for your New Year’s celebration, consider using your extra candy canes for a holiday treasure hunt. If you have candy canes in multiple colors, assign one color to each child. If you only have the striped variety, tape different colored ribbons to the candy canes.
To set up the game, hide a small gift for each child with a matching candy cane or colored ribbon taped or tied to it. Use the candy canes to make a trail through the house, leading to the gift.
Line the youngsters up at a designated starting point and then turn them loose to track down their treasures. The kids get to keep the candy cane clues, as well as their prizes.
7. Twisty Kids’ Crafts
You might already know that heating candy canes causes them to soften. As a result, you and the kids can bend and twist them into shapes.
Heat your oven to 250 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Unwrap your candy canes and lay them out on the sheet, leaving plenty of space in between. Small canes will be soft and flexible after a couple minutes, while larger ones might need longer. Pass them around — they’ll be cool enough to handle after a few seconds — and start pulling, bending and twisting them into the most creative shapes imaginable.
8. Candy Cane Sled, Sleigh or Toboggan
The turned-up ends of candy canes make ideal runners in this simple, kid-friendly craft.
To create a sled, have your young helpers put together a platform from Popsicle sticks or old Christmas cards and then glue appropriately sized candy canes to the underside as runners. You can make a sleigh using the same basic technique, but you’ll need to use a small box as the body. Cut down the sides to make the classic sleigh shape and then decorate with paint or leftover wrapping paper before attaching the runners. If you have a Santa figure of the right size, glue in a decorated toilet tissue roll to use as a seat.
For a toboggan, cut a strip of brown construction paper. Glue one end of the strip to the curved end of the candy cane and let the glue set. Then glue the rest of the strip to the straight portions of the runners.
9. Decor for Next Christmas
If you wound up with a few too many candy canes, don’t hesitate to stow some away for next year. While they won’t be as tasty — candy canes get soft and sticky with time — they’ll work fine as decorative accents around the home.
For best results, if you live in a humid climate, pack them in an airtight container (a Christmas cookie tin is ideal) and save a few little packets of silica gel from your Christmas presents to keep them dry.
If you do this, you should decorate the leftover candy canes with glitter, ribbon or dots of colorful craft glue so it’s clear come next Christmas that you should not be consuming these particular candy canes.
10. Holiday Mobiles
If you’re up for a more elaborate candy cane craft, create a colorful, aromatic holiday mobile. You’ll need sturdy thread or fine twine, several cinnamon sticks to act as the cross pieces and a selection of candy canes. You can choose to keep the canes uniform or mix things up with candy canes of various sizes and colors.
The bigger your cinnamon sticks, the bigger the mobile you can make (online spice suppliers carry sticks up to 18 inches long). If you have a small drill bit and a steady hand, you can drill holes for the thread to pass through; otherwise, simply tie the cinnamon sticks and candy canes in place. At a minimum, you’ll need two cinnamon sticks and four candy canes to build your mobile.
11. Candy Cane Wreath
Evergreen wreaths are traditional but expected. This year, create a candy cane wreath that makes use of your extra canes.
Start by arranging the candy canes in a large ring, either facing the same way or “nose to nose,” so they form a ring of heart-shaped subsections. Use a hot glue gun to attach the canes together at each end until the main ring is done. Then flip it over (place a sheet of cardboard on top first, for support) and glue the candy canes thoroughly from behind, where any excess adhesive won’t be visible.
For a truly showy wreath, soften candy canes in a 250-degree oven for four or five minutes and knot or braid them. Then glue them to the center of the wreath or around its edges.
12. Ice Skates for Your Christmas Figures
If you’ve accumulated a large number of decorative Christmas figures, you can use candy canes and your handy hot glue gun to add new life — and a dash of whimsical fun — to characters from your collection. The candy canes, with their iconic hooks, already resemble old-fashioned skates. All you need to do is attach them to the feet of your figurines for a fun, festive touch.
Sort through the figures you’re willing to re-purpose and then find candy canes in appropriate sizes. Carefully glue a cane to the underside of each foot (two for Santa or Frosty, four for Rudolph) and then set the figures aside until the glue hardens.
13. Candy Cane Ice Cream
You might be able to find candy cane or peppermint stick ice cream at your local budget-friendly ice cream spot, but you can likely mix up a more delicious blend at home to get your ice cream fix.
Start by buying a quart of your favorite vanilla ice cream. Let it soften slightly on the kitchen counter and then turn it out into a mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of crushed canes per pint (depending on how minty you want the end result to be). Knead in the candy quickly with a wooden spoon and then pack the ice cream back into the tub. Return it to the freezer for an hour or two before enjoying.
14. Candy Cane Truffles
For many chocolate lovers, truffles are the ultimate temptation. Delicious and easy to make, these treats are even better when you add crushed candy canes.
Start by shaving four 3-ounce bars of good-quality dark chocolate into a mixing bowl. Then heat a cup of cream in a microwave or saucepan until it boils. Pour the cream over the chocolate, stir until all the chocolate has melted and then let it cool and become firm. If you want, you can add butter (for richness) or liquor (for flavor) at this point and stir until everything is incorporated.
Scoop the mixture into small balls and roll them between your palms, so the surfaces become slightly sticky. Drop the candies into a bowl filled with finely crushed candy canes and roll them until they’re coated. Set them aside until they’re firm again and then serve.
15. Seasonal Cake Decor
If you’re a baker, surplus candy canes can be your best friend when the time comes to decorate your holiday cakes.
Crushed up candy canes provide a festive border when you apply them to the sides of your fully iced cake. Place the cake on a wire rack and spoon or sprinkle the candy fragments so they stick to the sides, periodically gathering up the ones that have fallen to the counter and re-applying them. Alternatively, draw decorations on the cake with icing and fill them in with the crushed canes.
For a true showstopper, choose candy canes that are slightly taller than the cake. Unwrap and press them to the cake sides and use a broad red ribbon to hold the final product in place.
16. Candy-Coated Cake Balls
Chances are, you’ll have a wide array of holiday leftovers clogging your fridge after Christmas has come and gone. If you have a few slabs of cake left (and maybe some crumbly cookies), re-make them into a new dessert quickly and easily by whipping up a batch of cake pops.
Start by scraping off the icing and setting it aside. Then slice the cakes and dry the pieces gently in your oven. Pulse the pieces to crumbs in your food processor and stick them together with chocolate or the icing you saved earlier. Chill the cake balls so they’ll hold together, dip them in chocolate and quickly roll them in crushed candy canes until they’re coated.
You can also create an adults-only version by moistening the crumbs liberally with rum or bourbon before making up your pops.
17. Valentine’s Day Decorations
You’ve probably noticed that placing two candy canes face to face makes a heart. Hence, you can use your leftover treats to create some romantic Valentine’s Day decorations.
How you join your canes depends on whether or not you intend to eat them. If not, you can simply hot glue them together and then hang them or incorporate them into other Valentine’s Day crafts. If you want to keep them edible, soften unwrapped candy canes in a 250-degree oven for a few minutes and then press them together. Once they’ve cooled, you can use them as cupcake toppers, arrange them as a cake border or simply dip the ends in chocolate and set them out as part of a dessert plate.
18. Dressed-Up Bric-a-Brac
One of the challenges of Christmas decorating is deciding what to do with your current decor — vases, pencil holders, votive candles and such — to make room for more colorful Christmas items. Turning your everyday ornamentation into holiday decorations solves two problems at once and requires only candy canes, ribbon and tape.
Start by creating a ring of candy canes around the item you want to “upgrade,” using an elastic band to hold it in place. Then wrap a pretty ribbon snugly around the canes, taping the ends in place. Cover the taped-up ends with a small bow and remove the elastic. The ribbon holds the candy canes in place, and the combination of canes, ribbon and bow lends a festive appearance to whatever item you’ve chosen.
19. Crushed Cane Cookies
There are plenty of uses for whole candy canes, but that doesn’t mean you have to toss the broken ones out with the used wrapping paper. By crushing up your less-pristine candy canes, you can “upcycle” them into seasonal cookies instead of shopping for cookie deals.
Pulse the candy a few times in a food processor or place it in a heavy-duty plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin, until the pieces are the size of fine gravel. Then mix up your favorite sugar or shortbread cookie recipe and mix the crushed canes into the dough. Shape the cookies and bake them as you normally would.
Another option is to make up a log of your favorite icebox cookie and roll it in crushed candy canes. When you slice and bake the dough, each cookie will be ringed with a candy cane coat.
20. Candy Cane Meringues
Meringue is perfect for cleansing the palate after heavier holiday treats. And unlike most Christmas-time foods, it’s light and fat-free. For a refreshing holiday treat, consider whipping up a batch of meringue cookies brightened with crushed candy canes.
Make the meringues using your favorite recipe. Count out two small canes (or one large) for every egg white in your recipe and crush them to powder in a food processor. Carefully fold the powder into your meringues and then pipe or spoon the egg white mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the meringues in a 200-degree oven until they’re completely dry — about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, depending on how large you’ve made them.
Let your meringues cool completely and then pack them in an airtight container with sheets of wax paper between the layers. Serve them within two to three days, while they’re still light and crisp (they’ll be chewy, but still tasty, after that).
21. Sticks for Candy Apples
Candy apples are a sweetly nostalgic treat. If you find yourself with some extra candy canes this year, think about using them to add a fun, wintry twist to this favorite summer snack.
Start by peeling the wrappers from the straight portion of your candy canes, leaving the rounded ends covered so your fingers won’t get sticky. Set them aside on a sheet of wax or parchment paper while you make up the chocolate, caramel or hard-candy coating for your apples. Carefully skewer each apple with a candy cane (you might want to make a hole first with the tip of a paring knife).
Once each apple has been attached to its candy cane stick, dip the fruit into its candy coating. Set them out to cool and harden on a parchment-lined sheet pan and enjoy. Make candy cane apples the final dish in your epic and wallet-friendly Christmas feast.
22. Chocolate Candy Cane Bark
Professional chocolatiers create an incredible array of confections with holiday ingredients, but many of them require skills and equipment that just aren’t practical for lesser mortals. If your ingredient base is more limited, fear not; you can still whip up a batch of candy cane bark to satisfy your sweet tooth.
To make your bark, you’ll need candy canes, good chocolate (dark, milk or white) and a sheet pan lined with wax paper or parchment. Melt the chocolate gently in a double boiler or in short bursts in your microwave. Pour it on to the sheet pan and smooth it with a spatula. Then scatter the surface with crushed candy canes and pat them gently into the surface of the chocolate. Once the chocolate hardens, break it roughly into shards and put it in serving dishes. You might need to refrigerate the sheet for 30 minutes so the chocolate will break neatly.
About the Author
Fred Decker is a writer based in Atlantic Canada, specializing in food and nutrition, personal finance, technology and general business topics. He is a trained chef and former restaurateur, and in earlier careers sold mutual funds and insurance, and was a retail store manager. His work has appeared on the websites of the Arizona Republic, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; as well as TheNest.com, Livestrong.com, Zack’s, Samsung.com, Vitamix.com and other leading sites.