Why is peppermint the flavour of the holiday season? The Epicurious writes that the answer probably lies with peppermint candy canes, though there are competing theories on how the iconic treat became so closely associated with the holiday. Peppermint itself—the plant—is native to the Middle East and Europe, where the stuff has been around forever, including in medicinal uses, and where a lot of U.S. candy-making techniques come from. Whither candy canes? According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, a local choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, sometime around 1670, was looking for a way to keep rowdy young people quiet while they were watching the live Nativity and asked a local confectioner to create a special hard candy for the kids to keep busy on for a while. It was shaped like a cane—or, more to the point, a shepherd’s staff.
The Companion also suggests another interpretation: “Owing to the Christian nature of the confection, it has also been suggested that the inverted candy cane was intended to form a ‘J’ for Jesus.”
The religious symbolism may extend further to the colouring of the candy canes we see today (in their original version they were simply white): “A story from seventeenth-century England posits that the white ‘body’ of the candy can refer to Christ’s flesh, while the thick red stripe references his blood; the three tiny red stripes symbolize the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
The Wise-Geek explains that most recipes for peppermint creams call for only basic ingredients. Traditional versions start with the whites from a raw egg, though people concerned with the potential health impact of raw eggs may switch to condensed or regular milk instead. A sweetener like a confectioner’s sugar or molasses is also included, though this may take the form of icing sugar or even frosting in some recipes. Finally, peppermint oil or extract is used to add a minty flavour. Some users may also add mints like spearmint or wintergreen for variety.
The Wise-Geek thinks that while no one knows exactly when and where peppermint creams originated, they have a rich history in Scotland and other Celtic regions. Just as peppermint cane has long been associated with Christmas, peppermint creams play a longstanding role in Christmas and Easter celebrations in some areas. These treats can also be enjoyed year-round, as many are sold prepackaged in grocery and candy shops. Most commercial versions feature a dark chocolate coating designed to complement the minty flavour.
Wherever they originated from they are rather deeeelicious. Here is a great recipe for them. It’s very easy if I can make them anyone can…
With an abundance of pretty box’s and jars around I decided to join the homemade brigade and make some peppermint creams.
425g/15oz sieved icing sugar (plus some for rolling out)
White of one small egg
One teaspoon of crème de menthe or peppermint essence
½ lemon, juice only
175g/6oz plain chocolate
Some greaseproof paper
Whisk egg white until you have soft peaks then slowly add the crème de menthe into a stiff paste
Dust your board with icing sugar
Roll out the mixture very thinly
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water
Brush a sheet of greaseproof paper with oil
Cut your mint mixture into 2in rounds
Dip half the rounds in the chocolate mixture then place on the greaseproof paper to set
Of course, you can always buy the made-up ones like these Holdsworth Chocolates Dark Chocolate English Peppermint Fondant Crémes – Dark Chocolate Fondants Infused With English Peppermint – £7.67 from Amazon