I am willing to debate on many topics. Should you put up a real or artificial Christmas tree? Answer: Artificial. When is the right time to open presents, Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Answer: Morning. When should stores start displaying their Christmas merchandise? Answer: For the love of Santa, not before Halloween.
One issue is simply beyond any sort of disagreement: the best Christmas movie of all time is unquestionably the 2003 cult classic Elf. Starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, it’s a story of a human who is accidentally raised at the North Pole by Santa’s elves. When he discovers he is not an elf himself, being 6-foot-3 and all, he goes to New York City to find his real, on-the-naughty-list father.
Sure, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story are all good for some wholesome holiday entertainment, but if you think any of these films are the absolute best here-comes-Christmas movie of all time, then you, my friend, sit on a throne of lies.
As an adult, Buddy would certainly be entitled to enjoy some grownup holiday refreshment, and since he likes to stick to the elves’ four main food groups — candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup — I am quite certain that candy cane infused vodka would be his favorite.
Second to smiling, of course. Smiling is his favorite.
Of course, you could buy premade candy cane vodka, but that would make you a cotton-headed ninny muggins. Store-bought peppermint vodkas have an artificial flavor and an aura of deceptiveness, like a beef-and-cheese-smelling department store Santa. They can also be expensive and are only available during the holiday season.
And you should treat every day like Christmas.
Making your own candy cane infused vodka is considerably cheaper than store-bought. It’s also easy to do — much easier than, for example, toy testing a bunch of make-you-jump-out-of-your-yellow-elf-tights-scary jacks-in-the-box; and, if stored properly, the infused vodka will last for years.
Plus, going overboard is welcomed and encouraged — like an extravagant winter wonderland Christmas display — so go ahead and make a big, big batch. Mason jars filled with your own sensational candy cane vodka creation make wonderful gifts, especially when tied with 6-inch ribbon curls. Okay, yes, that is impossible. Please make the ribbon curls much longer.
When making any flavored alcohol, remember to put your infusing ingredient in the jar first, then stick to the four S’s — add the spirit, seal, shake, and store. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better, so don’t steep your alcohol longer than is necessary. How long depends on your base alcohol and your infusion ingredient. Vodka doesn’t have an original flavor to overcome, so steeping time will be shorter than if you were making a flavored gin. Fruit-infused vodkas take longer than sugar- or candy-steeped drinks because, unlike the sugar, fruit doesn’t immediately dissolve.
The steep time for candy cane infusions can range anywhere from several hours to several days but not for several weeks. If left soaking too long, your sugar-based infusion will become an unattractive, syrupy concoction that even Buddy wouldn’t want to put in his coffee.
The best way to determine how long is long enough is with frequent taste tests. If it’s not quite to your liking, put the lid back on, give it a shake, then come back later for another taste. Use caution with these throughout-the-day taste tests though. Despite its innocent candy cane flavoring, it is still alcohol, and you don’t want to find yourself, midday, dancing on the table in some dark and dingy mailroom.
Once completed, correct storage of your fabulous candy cane creation is important. All infused alcohols should be stored at room temperature. It doesn’t have to be exactly 71 degrees but close to that and away from any direct sunlight. Otherwise — Son of a Nutcracker! — the color will go cloudy, and the flavor will be “off” and disappointing — like tasting a cotton ball when you were expecting cotton candy.
Follow these tips and you’ll have a drink that will most certainly ensure you a place on Santa’s “nice” list — and there’s room for everyone on the nice list. Vodka and candy canes might seem as if they go together like spaghetti and chocolate syrup, but guess what? You’ll love it, you’ll love it, you’ll love it! A brief look at both ingredients, as well as some Buddy-worthy recipes, follows.
It’s just nice to share my affinity for elf culture with other humans.
The Candy Canes
You probably thought that candy canes originated from the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, which is just past the Sea of Twirly-Swirly Gum Drops and not far from New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel. But their real origin is actually more charming.
Candy canes are thought to have been invented in 1670 by a boys’ choir director who wanted to keep his young vocalists quiet when they weren’t performing. The original canes were made purely from white sugar, with no added peppermint flavoring, and were completely straight. The elders of the church frowned on candy in the cathedral, so to make them seem more like religious paraphernalia, the choir director bent the tops so that the canes resembled shepherd’s crooks.
It wasn’t until 1919 that Bob McCormick, the owner of an Albany, Georgia, candy company, added the peppermint flavor and gave the candy cane its now-traditional red swirl. I’d like to believe that he settled on red by introducing himself to customers saying, “Hello, I’m Bob the Candy Maker. What’s your favorite color?” and getting a consensus from that, but it is more likely that red looked best against the white stick.
Both the candy cane swirls and the crook had to be done by hand, which was time-consuming and resulted in a lot of broken canes, so Bob’s brother-in-law, a priest by the name of Gregory Keller, invented a machine that automated this process.
And thus mass production of candy canes was born, and people everywhere could enjoy their crunchy, sticky peppermint goodness. According to a recent study, 72 percent of the population start their enjoyment from the straight end of the candy cane, which, in my opinion, is just wrong.
Those of us in the 28 percent know that starting at the curved end is the only correct decision because when the little hook gets small enough, you can crunch it off and be left with a manageable little candy stick to savor. The rest of you end up with some weird u-shaped thing that will hit your nose and get your entire face sticky every time you try to eat it. In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t understand that is probably a South Pole elf — or maybe I just need a hug.
Many different flavors of candy canes are now available. They range from the tempting, like delicate peach flavored canes because nothing is more vulnerable than a peach; to the shocking, such as those made to taste like ketchup, or mac and cheese, or bacon; to the downright disgusting, like the clam-flavored candy cane. Clam. Flavored. Candy canes. I’m going to need a peppermint to calm my churning stomach.
For the recipes that follow, it’s best to stick to the original, peppermint flavored candy cane option. No one wants clam candy cane infused vodka.
Originating either in Poland or Russia sometime in the ninth century, vodka is more than 850 years older than the candy cane. With no discernable flavor of its own, vodka is the blank Etch a Sketch on which any number of drink ideas can be written, and candy canes make for the perfect Christmas cocktail coupling.
The candy cane will, in fact, be the overriding flavor in this infused spirit, so you have no need to get out a ladder and pull down that top-shelf vodka. You also don’t want to go all the way to the bottom rung — some weird taste may linger there — so a good rule of thumb for purchasing the vodka is to go one step up from the cheapest you can find.
Then let the infusion begin.
World’s Best Candy Cane Infused Vodka
1 750-ml bottle of mid-range vodka
40 mini (about 2 inches tall) peppermint candy canes
4 8-ounce Mason jars
Cheesecloth or coffee filter
Make sure your candy canes are red and white only. Additional colors, such as green, may look pretty on the candy but will make your infused vodka look brown and muddy. Divide the candy canes into four piles of 10, break the candy into pieces, and put one pile into each of the four Mason jars. Pour the vodka over the canes, distributing it evenly between the four jars. Close the lids securely and give each jar a good shake. Allow the liquid to steep for several hours, shaking each jar at regular intervals. Take a taste every hour or so, and when it reaches perfection, anywhere from 5 to 10 hours, strain the liquid through the cheesecloth or coffee filter and return it to the Mason jar.
You did it! Congratulations! World’s Best Candy Cane Infused Vodka! Great job, everybody!
Buddy’s Sweetly Spiked Hot Chocolate
This drink is so pretty, it should be on a Christmas card.
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon crushed candy canes
¼ cup peppermint infused vodka
Additional crushed candy canes for garnish
Whip the milk, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt together in medium saucepan; place over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the crushed candy canes and continue stirring until candy has dissolved. Remove from heat, stir in the peppermint infused vodka, pour into mug, and top with whipped cream. Garnish with additional crushed candy canes.
Papa Elf’s Christmas Spirit
Where does this drink get its magic? Peppermint infused vodka. Everybody knows that.
1 tablespoon sugar
Crushed candy canes
2 ounces peppermint infused vodka
1½ ounces Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 ounce half-and-half
1 whole candy cane
Stir together the sugar and crushed candy canes, wet the rim of a cocktail glass, then dip it into the candy and sugar combination. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add the vodka and the Kahlua, shake, then pour into prepared glass. Top with the half-and-half, insert the candy cane, stir and enjoy.
Angry Elf Ambrosia
If you are feeling grumpy, this drink will turn your mood around!
2 ounces peppermint infused vodka
1 ounce crème de cacao
1 ounce chocolate liqueur
1 ounce half-and-half
Garnish: Finely crushed candy cane, chocolate syrup, chopped chocolate, and one whole candy cane.
Melt the chopped chocolate, dip the rim of a martini glass into the chocolate melt, and then immediately press it into the crushed candy cane. Squirt chocolate syrup around the inside of the glass, then put it into the freezer. Fill a shaker with ice, pour in the vodka, crème de cacao and chocolate liqueur, half-and-half, and shake. Remove the glass from the freezer, pour the shaker ingredients into the glass, and garnish with a whole candy cane. Yum!
Leon’s Peppermint Snowflake Cocktail
2 ounces peppermint infused vodka
1 ounce white crème de cacao
½ ounce heavy cream
Sugar for garnish
Peppermint stick for garnish
Wet the rim of a martini glass, then dip the rim into a small plate of sugar. Put the vodka, crème de cacao, and cream into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake, and then strain into the sugar-rimmed martini glass. Garnish with the peppermint stick and enjoy.