Candy Cane Cookies
Recreate the most popular Christmas candy in the form of a cookie! Candy cane cookies use red and white peppermint shortbread cookie dough twisted together to look like candy canes. They will look stunning on your cookie plate this holiday season!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Aka, baking season 🙂 I’m getting a kickstart on my Christmas cookie list and baking twist candy cane cookies. They have a buttery peppermint taste that melts away in your mouth and I just love their festive shapes! They are guaranteed to stand out on the cookie plate.
Why this recipe works
The shortbread cookie dough does not spread easily so the cookies keep their candy cane shape. The dough is also chilled before baking so the shape is guaranteed to stay in tact. The addition of peppermint extract makes the cookies taste like candy canes (just like my chocolate peppermint brownies).
- Butter: Unsalted butter is best for baking. Make sure it is room temperature to ensure a nice smooth dough.
- Peppermint extract: This adds the signature candy cane flavor! (I use it in my white chocolate peppermint cookies too).
- Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioners’ sugar, this will sweeten the cookies while giving them a signature shortbread texture that melts in your mouth.
- Red food gel: This is needed to dye half the cookie dough. Gel is preferred as liquid dye will make the dough too soft.
You can switch up the food gel colors and make red and green candy cane cookies for a more festive color palette. You can also do peppermint sticks and skip the step where you turn the dough down into a hook.
I love peppermint so sometimes I add a finely crushed peppermint topping and/or a sprinkle of sugar to the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. If you’re not a fan of peppermint (but still want a festive cookie), you can omit the peppermint extract and substitute it with almond extract or use only vanilla extract.
How to make candy cane cookies
- Combine wet ingredients: Mix butter and confectioners’ sugar, then add egg, vanilla and peppermint extract.
- Add dry ingredients: Mix in flour just until combined.
- Dye cookie dough: Divide cookie dough in half. Mix half the cookie dough with red food coloring.
- Chill the cookie dough: Separately wrap the plain cookie dough and red cookie dough in plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour.
- Shape cookies: Measure about 1 1/2 tablespoons of regular dough and 1 1/2 tablespoons of red dough. Roll into 6-inch long ropes.
- Pinch the ends together, then twist the two ropes together.
- Hook one end to look like a candy cane. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
- Chill cookies and bake: Place baking sheet with cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. While they chill, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Cool and serve.
- Use room temperature ingredients and weigh your ingredients with a kitchen scale. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level it with a knife (never pack down flour). Do the same for the powdered sugar.
- Use red food gel not liquid food coloring. Gel is more concentrated and will give a brighter, stronger hue to the cookies. Liquid food coloring will add too much liquid/moisture to the dough making it a softer consistency than the white dough that you’ll be twisting with.
- Chill the dough. This recipe requires you using your hands to roll the dough, which will warm the dough. If the dough is chilled it not only makes it easier to work with, but it prevents the cookies from spreading. In other words, they will keep their candy cane shape!
- Roll and shape one cookie at a time. If you roll a bunch of red dough ropes, then a bunch of white ones, the dough will dry out and be difficult to work with.
Make ahead and storage tips
Candy cane cookies should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. When stored properly, they will stay fresh for up to 1 week.
Cookie dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Whereas the shaped cookies (unbaked) may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours. Be sure to cover baking sheet with plastic wrap to prevent the cookie dough from drying out.
The cookie dough may be frozen for up to 3 months. After dying the dough, wrap the two discs in plastic wrap and freeze. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before shaping into candy canes.
Frequently Asked Questions
The dough is easier to shape when it’s chilled so it’s likely the cookie dough got too warm. Chill again in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. If you’re still having trouble, it’s likely you used too much flour. Add 1-2 Tablespoons milk to make the dough less dry.
The dough was too warm, which is why I recommend placing the cookies in the refrigerator while the oven preheats. If it’s your second batch, make sure the cookie sheets are not hot/warm and have cooled completely.
Yes, you can make slice-and-bake cookies by rolling the dough into a log and chilling for 1 hour. Use a sharp knife to cut 1/4-inch thick discs and bake at 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes.
Here are few more of my favorite Christmas cookies I’m sure you’ll love too!
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Candy Cane Cookies
- 1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (120 g) powdered sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
- 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon red food gel
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until the batter looks soft, about 90 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg, vanilla, and peppermint. Mix until combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the flour and salt. Mix just until combined (avoid overmixing).
- Remove half the dough from the mixing bowl and set aside. Add 1/2 teaspoon of red food coloring to the remaining dough and mix on low speed. Add additional food coloring as needed until the dough is a bright, vibrant red.
- Form each dough into 1-inch thick discs, wrap each separately in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours days.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Remove both pieces of dough from the fridge and unwrap. Scoop off roughly 1 1/2 tablespoons of white dough and 1 1/2 tablespoons of red dough. Roll each into a thick rope about 6 inches long. Pinch the two ropes together at the top and gently twist them together. Transfer the twisted ropes to the baking sheet and gently "hook" the top to create a candy cane shape. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- When all the cookies have been shaped, chill both baking sheets for 15 minutes. This helps the cookies hold their shape during baking.
- While the cookies are chilling, preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges and tips of the cookies are just barely golden. Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.