For decades, my Grandma re-used the same dusty candy canes on her Christmas tree. So as a kid at her house, I was neither allowed to eat them nor tempted by them. While I’ve long loved them as an adornment, it took me years to discover that I also cherish them as a holiday treat.
Today, I find myself eagerly bringing home a big batch of candy canes to nosh on each winter. I savor their refreshing, minty sweetness and whimsical, snack-friendly design. It was only a matter of time until I finally gave them a nod in my own holiday dessert.
I decided on a cool, creamy sherbet to highlight their beloved flavor, with just the right amount of candy to keep the mint’s intensity at bay. Light coconut milk would provide a bright, velvety backdrop for a not-too-heavy treat. I added the perfect pinch of salt and vanilla bean to provide balance, and a splash of rum that offers a tinge of flavor and warmth, meanwhile keeping the sherbet from freezing too hard.
The result is a delightfully delicate frozen treat that showcases the candy canes’ subtle but unmistakable peppermint, alongside a whisper of soft coconut. Its vanilla and rum notes harmonize deliciously with the minty, creamy base — adding up to a sherbet that’s refreshing, light and satisfying, but not overly sweet. What’s more: it happens to be dairy-free and usually vegan (see note).
Candy Cane Coconut Sherbet
Makes about 5 cups
Like many frozen dessert recipes, this one requires some lead time for chilling and freezing, though the steps are all quite easy. I like to start 24 hours ahead of serving time, beginning with melting the candy candy canes into the coconut milk. Once the mixture is thoroughly chilled, the churning and a generous stretch in the freezer are all that’s needed.
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces or 56 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- half a vanilla bean or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste/powder
- 5 ounces (140 grams) peppermint candy canes, from 10 standard size candy canes
- 3 13.5oz cans (5 cups plus 1/2 ounce) light coconut milk (not full-fat)
- 2 tablespoons coconut rum (about 42 proof), OR 1 tablespoon plain clear rum (80 proof or lower), chilled
Place sugar, salt, and vanilla bean in a small to medium saucepan. Unwrap candy canes and break them into thirds or quarters; add to saucepan. Add the light coconut milk.
Place over low heat and whisk regularly, until candy canes have completely melted.
Watching closely, let mixture simmer for 2-3 more minutes, then quickly remove from heat (avoid letting it come to a boil; it can suddenly bubble up and spill over).
Keep pan uncovered to avoid condensation, and stir occasionally while mixture comes to room temperature. Once cooled, cover and place in refrigerator. Chill thoroughly, until very cold — ideally for at least 8 hours. Meanwhile, place rum in freezer.
When ready to churn the chilled mixture, whisk it well, and add half the cold rum (1 tablespoon if using coconut rum; 1.5 teaspoons if using plain rum), whisking until fully incorporated. Keep remaining rum in freezer.
Pour mixture through a sieve into the bowl of your ice cream maker. This will catch your vanilla bean husk and any coconut solids. (Check machine instructions; it may need to be churning before you pour in the mixture.)
Following your ice cream maker instructions, churn mixture thoroughly, until at least soft serve consistency.
[Note: Every once in a while, the mixture will stubbornly not thicken past about smoothie consistency when churned, even when the rum is omitted. This seems to be an effect of varying ingredients in different brands of candy canes. If this happens, don’t worry – just pour the mixture at its maximum thickness into your container, and freeze it an extra hour or two.]
Quickly mix in the second half of the cold rum (1 tablespoon coconut rum or 1.5 teaspoons plain rum).
Immediately spread sherbet into a 9 x 5″ loaf pan (or another freezable container that’s easy to scoop from). Working quickly, cover sherbet with a lid or foil, and place in freezer. Freeze until scoopable consistency (usually a minimum of 6 hours).
When ready to serve, remove sherbet from freezer and, if too hard to scoop, set on counter for 5 minutes to let soften. Serve and enjoy. It’s lovely plain, or with a pinch of cacao nibs or crushed candy canes for complementary crunch. Sherbet tastes freshest within a day of freezing, but leftovers can be covered tightly in freezer and eaten within week.
*Notes on ingredients:
- After experimenting with full-fat coconut milk, I found that light coconut milk is superior for this sherbet, as it prevents separation of waxy coconut oil and is just less heavy. The result is not overtly coconutty, so even my coconut-averse friends have proven happy with this treat.
- While I don’t tend to like flavored liquor, I admit I prefer the coconut rum in this recipe for both taste and texture — but as noted, plain rum in half the volume works well, too. Do not use more rum than noted, or the sherbet won’t freeze properly.
- No rum? You can skip it, or use a total of two teaspoons vanilla extract in its place if you don’t mind a more pronounced vanilla flavor than the vanilla bean yields, alongside the delicate peppermint and coconut. Without rum, it will be a bit stiffer to scoop, but nothing a few extra minutes on the countertop can’t remedy.
- Candy canes can be replaced with peppermint sticks, of course. Beware of pre-crushed candy canes which sometimes have additives and additional flavorings; I’m not sure how they’d affect the outcome here. Sometimes these additives include confectioner’s glaze which is technically not vegan: an important factor for many. A tip for peeling that pesky wrapper from a candy cane: pull the plastic outward, 90 degrees, rather than straight down.