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I used to think the North Pole was a peppermint stick. That was when I thought a jolly old fat man and a bunch of short guys lived there spending their days making toys to fulfill my wish list at Christmas time. I even believed in flying reindeer.

In many ways I wish I'd never grown out of that notion, but there you have it. Still, it doesn't keep me from enjoying the sweets of the season with as much enthusiasm as I did as a kid.

Every Christmas my grandmother would purchase a huge box of old-fashioned candy for our holiday treats. Ribbon candies and fondants, gumdrops, chocolates and of course, peppermint sticks offered a sugared delight of colors and shapes. My siblings and I believed we discovered the idea of popping a candy cane in our cup hot chocolate and shared the idea with all our friends (who, of course, had already gotten wind of the idea).

I don't know how the peppermint candy cane became associated with Christmas. I've read numerous undocumented accounts, one of them being that in 1670 a German choirmaster handed these out to his young singers to keep them quiet during a long church service. There is also controversy as to the origin of the shape. Some believe the shape represents a shepherd's staff, others, the letter "J" for Jesus. As for me, I thought the shape was so you could hook the candy over the cocoa mug so it wouldn't fall in. There are other accounts of the creation of this confection — many of them dealing with Christian symbolism — but like my belief in Santa Claus, they seem to have roots in charming folklore rather than facts.

This time of year the peppermint stick and candy cane are everywhere, from hanging on the tree or in other holiday decorations to keeping a young child occupied while parents are shopping or in line to see Santa. And even though I long ago gave up the practice of putting a candy cane in my cocoa, I now make a grown-up eggnog and still use peppermint in the kitchen when I'm making and baking up some holiday treats.

If you want to have some fun, (and don't mind the mess) transform a blob of sugary goo into your own candy canes; although be forewarned, it's not as simple as it looks. It takes some time and practice to get it to work out right. Otherwise, grab a box or a bag of peppermint candies and come up with your own creations. Just don't forget to leave some out for Santa.

KLawson@detroitnews.com

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White Chocolate-Peppermint Eggnog

Recipe from Sara Moulton, Associated Press

4 cups whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

12 large egg yolks

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup bourbon, brandy or rum

8 ounces of finely chopped white chocolate

12 candy canes

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk and vanilla bean. Bring just to a boil, then let stand off the heat for 10 minutes. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk and discard the pod.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar and cornstarch until light and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on, slowly add about half the milk in a stream. Add the egg mixture to the remaining milk in the saucepan. Set the pan over moderately low heat. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat until the mixture coats a spoon when you run your finger through it and registers 160 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

Quickly strain the custard through a mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Add 8 ounces of finely chopped white chocolate to the hot strained custard. Let the eggnog stand for 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Add the cream and bourbon, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled.

In a saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is melted. Transfer to a small shallow bowl and let cool. In a food processor, pulse 12 candy canes until they are finely crushed. Transfer a heaping tablespoon of the crushed candy canes to a small plate.

Working with 1 serving glass at a time, dip the rim of each glass in the sugar syrup, letting the excess drip off, then into the crushed candy canes, making sure the edge of the rim is coated well. Discard the peppermint on the plate each time and add a fresh tablespoon (the candy gets wet after dipping and will not stick properly to the next glass). Let the crushed candy canes dry on the side of the glass for 5 minutes before adding the eggnog. Serves 10.

Per serving: 550 calories; 34 g fat (20 g saturated fat; 56 percent calories from fat); 45 g carbohydrates; 40 g sugar; 334 mg cholesterol; 93 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Quick and Easy Peppermint Fudge

Recipe from Ree Drummond/Food Network

Cooking spray, for spraying the foil

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Red and white peppermint candies, crushed, for topping

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk and stir until it's all melted and smooth. Pour it into the prepared pan and spread to even out the surface. Sprinkle on the crushed candies. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Lift the foil out of the pan and peel it off the fudge. Cut into small squares. Serves 12.

Per serving: 325 calories; 16 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 48 g carbohydrates; 26 g sugar; 11 mg cholesterol; 48 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Peppermint Meringues

Recipe from Bon Appetit

3 large egg whites, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup sugar, divided

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract

12 drops red food coloring

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute. With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions, beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. Add powdered sugar and peppermint extract; beat to blend, about 1 minute.

Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip. (alternatively, spoon into a plastic freezer bag, then cut 1/2" off 1 corner.) Twist top; pipe 1-inch rounds onto prepared sheet, spacing 1inch apart.

Bake meringues until dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Let cool completely, about 1 hour (meringues will crisp as they cool).

Make-ahead tip: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature between sheets of parchment or waxed paper. Makes about 60.

Per serving: 9 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 7 mg sodium; 0.2 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

Recipe from Bon Appetit

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped red-and-whitestriped hard peppermint candies or candy canes (about 3 ounces)

2 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with long strip of 9-inch-wide parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sides of pan. Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into prepared baking pan, spacing evenly. Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form even layer over bottom of pan. Pierce dough all over with fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges begin to come away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes. Place pan on rack; immediately sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over. Let stand until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Using small offset spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer. Immediately sprinkle chopped peppermint candies over.

Stir white chocolate in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies. Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhang as aid, lift cookie from pan and transfer to work surface. Using large knife, cut cookie into irregular pieces. Makes about 36.

Make-ahead tip: Can be made 1 week ahead. Store in refrigerator in airtight containers between layers of waxed paper or parchment paper.

Per serving: 136 calories; 8 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 53 percent calories from fat); 17 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 20 mg cholesterol; 20 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.

Homemade Candy Canes

Recipe from candycanefacts.com

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teasoon peppermint extract, divided

3/4 teaspoon red food coloring

Combine the sugar, water, syrup, and cream of tartar and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Divide into two saucepans, boil, but don't stir until each lot is 280 degrees. Add 1/2 teaspoon peppermint to each pan and add the coloring to one. Place on an enamel or marble table to cool. (First oiling the table, as a general rule). Stretch and pull like taffy and form into ropes of red and white, then twist them around again and again and form them into your cane. Allow to harden on the oiled surface. Depending on size, this should make about 8 canes.

Per serving: 345 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 95 g carbohydrates; 85 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 37 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Cake

Recipe from Bon Appétit

For the crust

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 packages chocolate wafer cookies (about 61 cookies) See note

For the glaze

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup light corn syrup

6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

For the filling

7 cups premium vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

1 1/4 cups coarsely crushed red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies (about 10 ounces)

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

Red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, whole or broken into pieces

Note: Famous Chocolate Wafers by Nabisco are sometimes located in the baking aisle or ice cream topping aisle instead of the obvious cookie aisle. The cookies come in 9-ounce sleeves; you will need 1 1/2 packages for this recipe.

To make the crust: Melt butter with chocolate in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Finely grind cookies in processor. Add warm chocolate mixture; blend just until crumbs are moistened. Reserve 1 cup crumb mixture in small bowl. Press remaining crumb mixture onto sides, then bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Freeze.

To make the glaze: Bring cream and corn syrup to boil in heavy large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about 1 hour.

To make the filling: Working quickly, mix ice cream, 1 1/4 cups crushed candies, and extract in large bowl just until blended. Spoon half of ice cream into crust; spread evenly (place remaining ice cream mixture in bowl in freezer). Sprinkle reserved 1 cup cookie crumbs over ice cream in pan; press gently. Pour 1 cup chocolate glaze over ice cream in pan. Freeze 1 hour. Top with remaining ice cream; spread evenly. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours. Stir remaining glaze over low heat just until pourable but not warm. Pour glaze over ice cream; spread evenly. Freeze overnight.

Run sharp knife between crust and pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides. Transfer cake to platter. Garnish cake with peppermint candies and serve. Serves 12.

Per serving: 736 calories; 41 g fat (24 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 92 g carbohydrates; 59 g sugar; 91 mg cholesterol; 307 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Hot-Cocoa Affogato with Peppermint Ice Cream

Recipe from Bon Appétit

3 cups whole milk

1 cup chilled heavy cream, divided

1/3 cup sugar

1 large pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 72 percent cacao), chopped

1/3 cup (loosely packed) natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon finely ground espresso or dark-roast coffee beans

2 pints peppermint or mint chip ice cream

8 small candy canes (optional)

Combine milk, 1/2cup cream, sugar, salt, and 1/4 cup water in a large heavy saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chocolate and cocoa powder; whisk until chocolate melts and mixture just comes to a boil.

Make-ahead tip: Cocoa can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Bring to a simmer before continuing from this point.

Whisk remaining 1/2 cup cream and ground coffee in a small bowl until firm peaks form.

Remove vanilla bean from hot cocoa; discard. Transfer cocoa to a blender and purée until thick and foamy, about 2 minutes.

Scoop ice cream into teacups; pour hot cocoa into cups, dividing evenly. Top each with a small dollop of coffee whipped cream. Garnish with a small candy cane, if desired. Serves 8.

Make-ahead tip: Whipped cream can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Rewhisk if needed before using.

Per serving: 440 calories; 28 g fat (17 g saturated fat; 57 percent calories from fat); 44 g carbohydrates; 39 g sugar; 84 mg cholesterol; 124 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 2 g fiber.

White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse

Recipe from Food Network

1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided

12 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Garnish: crushed peppermint candies

Heat 3/4 cup cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat, and add chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in peppermint extract; cool completely.

Beat remaining 3/4 cup cream until firm peaks form. Fold chocolate mixture gently into whipped cream mixture. Spoon mousse into 8 (3-ounce) cups or glasses; garnish, if desired. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 8.

Per serving: 377 calories; 29 g fat (19 g saturated fat; 69 percent calories from fat); 31 g carbohydrates; 27 g sugar; 62 mg cholesterol; 48 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 0 g fiber.

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