How to Make Picture-Perfect Candy Cane Cookies

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Candy cane cookies are such a fun addition to your holiday cookie tins. Learn how to make these twisted, buttery treats at home.

Everyone in my family has their signature Christmas cookie that they bring to all the holiday parties. My mom bakes up batches of almond-flavored spritz, my sister decorates gorgeous sugar cookies and I make the kolachkes. My favorite, though, has to be my aunt Mary’s candy cane cookies. I look forward to these twisted treats every Christmas season.

Candy cane cookies are so near and dear to me because I know that my aunt takes the time to carefully shape each one. The result is a pretty cookie that has a wonderfully delicate texture and simple buttery flavor. While I’ll wait on Aunt Mary to make her annual batch of these cookies, I’ll walk you through how to make these cookies yourself.

How to Make Candy Cane Cookies

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To make candy cane cookies at home, try this cookie recipe from Shannon NorrisTaste of Home‘s senior food stylist. To make these cookies, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Red paste food coloring

Step 1: Make the dough (it’s easy!)

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Stirring up the cookie dough for these holiday classics is super easy. Start by creaming together the butter, sugar and salt until nice and fluffy. Then add in the vanilla and egg yolk. Once combined, gradually beat in flour.

Next, divide the dough into equal halves. Set one half aside. Beat red food coloring paste or gel into the other half until the dough is candy cane red.

Editor tip: Be sure to use gel food coloring or food coloring paste (not liquid food coloring). It will give you that rich and vivid red color. Liquid coloring just isn’t potent enough for that. Our Test Kitchen uses this gel food coloring.

Step 2: Roll and portion the dough

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Next, roll out the dough into six-inch squares. Start with the undyed dough to prevent any color carryover on your work surface. Wrap each square in plastic wrap or a reusable wax wrap and pop in the fridge for at least an hour—up to overnight.

Once chilled, break out your ruler. Slice each six-inch square into 36 one-inch square portions. This seems like a lot of math and fussing, but it makes getting the right proportions in your candy cane cookies much easier.

Step 3: Shape the candy cane cookies

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Next, take a square of each color dough and soften it a bit in your hands. Then roll into a rope about six inches long. From there, twist the two ropes together.

All the measuring, rolling and twisting can be a bit of work, so enlist the help of a buddy to help you out. The work will go more quickly if you crank up our Christmas cooking baking playlist.

Editor tip: Cover your work surface in a sheet of parchment paper. This will prevent the red food dye (which is particularly strong) from staining your work surface. Marble and wood are particularly susceptible to staining.

Step 4: Bend and bake

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All that’s left is to give these cookies the finishing touch. Give each rope a bend as you place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then pop in a 350ºF oven and bake for seven to nine minutes. Once baked, move to a wire rack to cool.

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The end result is a wonderfully buttery cookie that goes great with a cup of coffee—or a cold glass of milk if you want to try them Santa-style. I guarantee if you add these to your treat tray, they’ll be gone in an instant, just like these other recipes perfect for a Christmas cookie exchange.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.