Make these either with a hook at the top for hanging on the Christmas tree or keep them as straight sticks of rock. These are definitely a bit more tricky than the average recipe but are very rewarding and great fun. It is best for two people to be involved, particularly for folding and twisting the sugar mixture, as one person can work on each colour before it sets hard. Make sure you are working in a warm environment to help prevent the sugar mixture hardening too quickly.
1. Place the sugar, glucose syrup and cream of tartar in a heavy- based saucepan, add the water and bring to the boil over a high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low–medium and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the temperature on a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 150°C (302°F).
If you don’t have a thermometer you can use the cold water test. This involves dropping a teaspoon full of the heated mixture in to a bowl of cold water. As the syrup gets hotter it begins to condense and solidify faster. When it is at the correct temperature (150’C/300’F) it is at the hard crack stage. This means a spoon full of the mixture will quickly solidify and lightly crack when dropped in to the mixture and the threads that solidify in the water will crack if you bend them.
2. Meanwhile, grease two non-stick baking trays with 1 teaspoon of the vegetable or sunflower oil. As soon as the correct temperature has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and add the peppermint extract, stirring briefly. Working quickly, carefully pour about two-thirds of the mixture onto one of the prepared trays. Stir a few drops of your chosen food colouring into the remaining mixture and pour onto the second tray.
3. Once the bubbling sugar settles, leave for about 1 minute to set a little. This is where you will need a hand. Both cooks should wear gloves to protect them from the hot sugar mixture (heavy washing- up gloves are ideal). Rub the remaining oil over the gloves, rubbing off any excess with kitchen paper. Using a separate metal spatula for each tray, flip each slightly set edge inwards, continuing to do so for about 2 minutes until the mixture gathers into a stiff mound that is cool enough to handle (while still wearing gloves).
4. Each person should gather up a ball of mixture and roll this between their gloved hands into a long sausage shape about 15cm (6in) long. Fold in half, twist a little and then pull into the sausage shape again. Continue to do this until both pieces have cooled, begun to stiffen and the piece from the uncoloured mixture turns white. This will take 5–8 minutes in total.
5. Pull each piece into a sausage shape about 15cm (6in) long, lay them on top of each other on a clean work surface and twist together. Each person can work from opposite ends. Pull and twist the end of the mixture until it is about 5mm (1/4 in) thick and then cut off 18cm (7in) long sections and quickly bend one end to give the cane shape (or leave straight if sticks of rock are preferred). Continuing to work quickly, repeat with the rest of the mixture until it is all used up.
6. Place the candy canes or sticks of rock on the greased baking sheets for about 5 minutes to completely cool and harden. Be careful not to snap the candy when removing it from the trays. Wrap individually in parchment paper and store in a cool dry place.