These cookies were my favorite childhood Christmas cookie, and I still make them every year. My mom was given the recipe by my Godmother, but she thinks the origin is a Betty Crocker children’s cookbook. They are basically a shortbread-style cookie with a little bit of a peppermint kick. And while there is a bit of work involved in forming them, it’s nothing a couple of eager kitchen elves can’t handle; make them a family baking project. With a light and buttery texture, subtle flavor and whimsical presentation, they are sure to become one of your family’s favorites, too.
1 cup Butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup Powdered Sugar
2 1/2 cups Flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1/2 teaspoon Red Food Coloring
Using a standing mixer or a hand held beater, cream together the butter and the sugar (starting on a low speed so you don’t end up covered in powdered sugar!). Once the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, incorporate the egg. Blend in the flour and the salt. Add in the peppermint extract. Remove half of the dough from the bowl, if you have a food scale this is a perfect application for it because you can ensure you have the dough equally portioned. To the dough that is remaining in the bowl, add the red food coloring and incorporate. It will be more of a pink than a red.
Using 2 pieces of plastic wrap, shape each half of dough into a cylinder (they will be roughly the same size and shape as a tube of sausage). Place in the refrigerator and allow the dough to chill for 30 to 60 minutes (go longer if your house is a little on the warm side, this dough is not very workable when warm).
Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Once the dough is chilled, remove the cylinder and cut each one into 4 equal pieces (if you chill the dough longer than an hour you may need to let it sit out for about 5 minutes before it is easy to work with). Leave one piece of each color out to work with and return the other pieces to the refrigerator. Now cut each of your working dough quarters into eight more equal sized pieces (alternatively you can just break off pieces, but cutting the pieces ensures you have enough of each color to match together). Roll 1 piece of each color out into about a 6 inch long and 1/2 inch diameter thick “snake.” Line your red and white snakes up next to each other and gently push them together. Twist the two colors together and hook the top so it resembles a candy cane. Repeat for all eight cookies in the batch. If the dough breaks a little just use your finger to patch it up. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Bake for 8 to 13 minutes, or until there is just a touch of color on the edges of the cookies. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Repeat the process three more times until all your cookies are made. Santa is sure to appreciate all of your effort, if you don’t eat them all before he gets a chance!
Tips and Tricks:
Forming one batch while the previous is baking will work even if you don’t have a second sheet pan, just place the formed dough on a piece of parchment while you wait for your sheet pan to be free.
If you do have little helpers and they are not the patient kind, make the dough the night before after they are in bed and then just let it sit out for 5 minutes or so before you let them get to rolling and twisting.
Next year I am going to try professional gel coloring (which you can get at any baking supply or craft store) instead of the classic drop food coloring you get in the grocery stores, I think it will achieve an actual red color that way.
This recipe makes 32 cookies.