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AUSTIN — The sights, smells and bells of the holiday season are familiar: homes lit up, freshly cut Christmas trees, steamy apple cider, nostalgic seasonal tunes, and oftentimes sugary, minty canes striped white and red.
Candy canes have a long, storied history with Christmas. Many legends and myths surround the holiday treat, few of which have any verifiable details. One thing is for sure -- they are plentiful this time of year and have helped institute peppermint as a traditional holiday flavor.
Whether you’re brainstorming a gift, something to serve at a party or simply want to scratch the holiday baking itch, peppermint treats are a surefire way to satisfy the desire to spend some festive time in the kitchen.
Homemade marshmallows might seem like more trouble than they are worth, but they offer an entirely different, softer texture and a more naturally sweet flavor, even though they share some of the ingredients (gelatin, sugar, cornstarch) as their store-bought counterparts. They are a versatile treat as well and can be flavored with different extracts depending on the season or personal preferences. Flavored with peppermint, they are delicious toppers for steamy cups of hot chocolate.
Another great use for homemade marshmallows is melting them into a batch of peppermint fantasy fudge. Cook up a syrup of sugar, butter and evaporated milk, then melt in homemade or store-bought marshmallows and chocolate before sprinkling the top with crushed candy canes, and you get a decadent chocolate treat to share.
During the holiday season, you can buy your peppermint candies pre-crushed for baking purposes at grocery stores. If you can’t find peppermint pieces, it’s easy enough to crush candies using the bottom edge of a heavy jar or an unopened 15-ounce can.
The bounty of alternatively colored and flavored candy canes available means that you can make visually interesting candies, barks and brownies just by sprinkling crushed up canes in just about any color you like.
One of the more familiar uses for peppermint around the holidays is in peppermint bark. Bark can be as simple as one layer of white chocolate melted down and sprinkled with crushed candy canes, but a layered version makes for an even lovelier gift or party treat.
In between two layers of white chocolate and peppermint pieces, the middle layer is made of dark chocolate softened up with the addition of cream and peppermint extract. Let the bark sit out for about 10 minutes before serving to accentuate the texture difference in between layers.
If you choose to package peppermint treats as holiday gifts, remember to use parchment or wax paper in between layers to prevent the desserts from sticking to one another.
Peppermint sticking to your teeth, however, is part of the fun.