Is there anything more festive than a candy cane? Well sure, if I’m being honest, Christmas trees, holiday music, red and green versions of all our favorite candies, the sound of Salvation Army bells, lights of all colors on every tree, shrub, window and roof in the neighborhood, making and eating Elf spaghetti – these things are also pretty darn festive.
Candy canes are right up there, though! You only see them at this joyful time of year, and the cheerful red and white stripes bring the taste of peppermint to your mouth long before the cane actually gets there. There are those other candy canes too, of course. The green and white ones, and all the fruit flavored varieties. My kids find a candy cane from Santa under their pillows every Christmas morning, and my son still gets the fruit flavored cane instead of the traditional. Strangely, he is not a mint fan.
So naturally when I was thinking up some new Christmas cookies to share with you, candy cane cookies came to mind first. There are no actual candy canes in these, but they have the shape thanks to a cookie cutter, and they have the flavor thanks to some peppermint extract. By the way, have you used peppermint extract lately? WOW, is it strong! Using it was a good reminder that you can’t just swap extract flavors in and out at the same ratio… some pack way more of a punch. When I baked these cookies the pepperminty aroma when I opened the oven door instantly cleared my sinuses, and the scent filled every corner of the house! Which is fine because most of us like peppermint. (My apologies to my son!)
Red and green M&M’s create a playful holiday pattern on the cookies, and give a milk chocolate pairing to the peppermint, which is just divine.
They are really fun cookies to bring to a Christmas party, share with your neighbors, or to leave for Santa! (And I have it on good authority that he IS a peppermint fan.)
Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies with M&M's
- 1 cup butter, unsalted and softened
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1-3/4 teaspoons peppermint extract
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 7 ounces (about 1 cup) red and green holiday M&M's candies
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and confectioner's sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the bowl a couple of times during the mixing, it should be smooth. Add in the peppermint and vanilla extracts and beat the mixture on low to incorporate them.
In a separate, large bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Add this into the butter mixture in two additions, and mix everything together on low speed, scraping down the bowl often, until the dough has come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and squeeze the dough together a few times until it is smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Unwrap the chilled dough and place it on a large piece of parchment paper. Move the dough to one side of the parchment and fold the other half of the parchment over the top of the dough. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough inside the parchment to a 1/4-inch thickness. (Tip: on a toothpick, measure up from the tip 1/4" and mark it with a Sharpie. To see if your dough is at 1/4" thickness, poke the toothpick into the dough and check it against the mark.) Use a candy cane cookie cutter (mine measures 3-1/2" tall and 2" wide at the crook) and cut cookies from the dough. Place the cookies onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between them. Roll scraps together and continue cutting cookies to fill the baking sheet. (Note: keep the rest of the dough wrapped in the fridge until you're ready to roll and cut the next batch.)
Gently press a line of 7 M&M's into each candy cane, following the shape of the cane and alternating between red and green M&M's.
Bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, only until the edges of the cookies just barely show a little color. Carefully remove the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat the rolling, cutting, M&M-ing and baking until all of the cookies are done. You may have a few M&M's left over, but probably not since you'll have snuck a few into your mouth while working on the cookies!
The cooled cookies can be stored wrapped or in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes about 35 cookies.
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