These healthier candy cane cookies are inspired by Betty Crocker, made with less sugar, use real pieces of crushed candy canes and are flavored with peppermint! This is PERFECT with a cup of crockpot hot chocolate!
Making cookies at Christmas is a tradition my step-mom started and one that I hope to continue for years to come.
Although my step-mom always made sugar cookies, I stepped out of the box one year and made candy cane cookies.
Ever since that one year, my daughter has asks me if we can make them again!
I’ve often said no for various reasons, but mostly because the recipe we used called for a lot of sugar.
I wasn’t quite ready to tackle the science and work behind making classic recipes healthier.
This year though, I spent several nights working on making a healthy sugar cookie recipe. Those efforts paid off, because the whole family LOVES those cookies! And there’s not one ounce of guilt for making them (or eating them!).
After perfecting the sugar cookies, I thought it was time to try my hand at healthier candy cane cookies. When I dug up the original recipe, I realized it’s nearly the same as a sugar cookie!
With just a few tweaks, candy cane cookies were in the oven. And my daughter couldn’t be happier!
Why Make Candy Cane Cookies?
Now, you might be wondering, why would you make a SEPARATE type of cookie using the exact same dough?
Oh friends – these cookies look like candy canes!
First, half of the dough is tinted red. Then you roll scoops of dough into ropes. Then twist them together into candy cane shapes and bake them into amazingly delicious cookies!
Healthier Candy Cane Cookies Ingredients
As always, there are a lot of variations on this classic recipe. Let’s talk about them so you know what kind of options you have.
- Flour. I tested several batches of cookies using all purpose and whole wheat. 100% all purpose flour works the best for these cookies.
- Sugar. I recommend using Turbinado sugar. The larger granules help to reduce the amount of sugar even further.
- Food Coloring. Not the healthiest, but I used this food coloring. If your family has sensitivities to food dye, you can make your own. If you want to buy a healthier option, these food colors are made from plants, vegetables and seeds.
- Extracts. Traditionally, this candy cane cookie recipe calls for both vanilla extract and peppermint extract. I’ve made batches this way, and also testing substituting almond extract and vanilla extract for the peppermint extract. For me, peppermint extract is where it’s at.
- Toppings. Cut-out sugar cookies are typically iced, but candy cane cookies are not. Instead, they’re sprinkled with a mixture of crushed peppermint candies and sugar. (See my method below!)
How to Make Candy Cane Cookie Toppings
I took 6 mini candy canes and 2 tablespoons of Turbinado sugar and pulsed them together in my blender. I ended up using only half of the mixture, so I wrote the recipe below using less.
If you don’t have mini candy canes, substitute with other red and white peppermints. But honestly, any candy mixture will do! Peppermint candy comes in all shapes and sizes and colors.
I also don’t recommend whizzing these into oblivion. That makes a super fine powder that isn’t as pretty on the cookies. Plus, it doesn’t carry quite enough mint for my tastes.
Tools for Making Peppermint Cookies
One last tip for these cookies: be sure to read the entire recipe through all the way. There’s no hoops to jump through or anything tricky, but there are a few moving parts. There’s rolling and twisting and I want your cookies to be amazing!
- KitchenAid Mixer (check out 30+ Creative Ways to Use a KitchenAid Mixer)
- Parchment Paper (buy what you need now, then watch for sales after the holidays and stock up for the year!)
- Silpat Mats (great for rolling out dough and keeping the counters clean)
- Large Cookie Sheet (Large cookie sheets are perfect for batch cooking.)
- Cooling Rack (I use these for cooling cookies of course, but also to stack cookie sheets when flash freezing foods!)
- Kitchen Scale (I use this to make sure that I start with two equal pieces of dough)
- Cookie Scoop (to make sure that each color rope is the same size!)
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar (I used Turbinado)
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla (how to make homemade vanilla)
- 1 tsp peppermint extract (or almond extract or vanilla extract)
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ tsp + ⅛ tsp baking powder
- 8 drops red food coloring
3 mini candy canes (or equivalent in hard mints)
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar (I used Turbinado)
- Make the Cookies: In a bowl of a stand mixer OR using a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the sugar and butter until it is very light in color, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the egg and extract(s) and mix until well combined.
- Next, add 1 cup of the flour, the salt and baking powder and turn on low. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough is no longer crumbly and starts to stick together, possibly cleaning the sides of the bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
- On a silpat mat OR on a counter lined with parchment paper, add 8 drops of food coloring to one piece of dough and knead until the color is evenly distributed, about 5 minutes.
- Using a cookie scoop, or eyeballing it, divide each color of dough into 16 pieces.
- Take one piece of white dough and roll it into a rope about 5 inches long. Repeat with a piece of red dough.
- Wrap the white rope and red rope together around each other and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Curve the top in a candy cane shape.
- Repeat this process with the remaining pieces of dough.
- Bake in the oven for 7 minutes, and then rotate the pan. Bake for another 2-3 minutes, just until the edges start to turn light brown. Remove the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.
- While the cookies are baking, prepare the topping.
- Make the ToppingPlace candy canes and sugar in a food processor or blender and pulse until the candy is broken into small pieces.
- Pinch the topping with your fingers and sprinkle on the cookies immediately after you pull them from the oven.
- Let the cookies cool completely at room temperature for at least 2 hours before stacking.
- Store cookies in a container with a lid for up to one week.
What’s your favorite holiday cookie to make?