Just before 8 a.m., the gates to the park open and the mad rush begins. A stampede dashes down Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A., past the cinema, the penny arcade and the cart selling overpriced cotton candy. Run.
These ambitious guests aren't racing to be the first in line at Space Mountain or The Matterhorn.
Nope, they want candy canes.
The line forms at Candy Palace, the park's longstanding sweets shop with the green-and-white-striped awning. Guy Klender, positioned near the head of the pack, woke up at 3 a.m. to get his hands on one of these prized confections. For the Burbank resident, the adrenaline-fueled pursuit of the Disneyland candy cane has become a beloved holiday tradition.
“I have no idea how they taste,” he says. “They're too valuable to eat.”
What makes these candy canes special is that they're made entirely by hand using a Disneyland recipe that dates back to 1965. A limited number of canes are made on select days throughout the Christmas season, and tickets are handed out to those who've come early enough to get 'em.
Customers crowd around the window of the Candy Palace Kitchen, some tiptoeing to snap photos and shoot video of the two-hour process, one that many believe is a lost art.
Inside, three candy makers, dressed in white uniforms and their signature red-striped neckerchiefs, are hard at work in the room that's heated to 93 degrees.
Master candy maker Rob McHargue explains the science behind the temperature: “Corn syrup retards the granularization of sugar. Because we have a hot kitchen, we can use a lot of sugar and very little corn syrup, just enough to keep it pliable. If you were to break our candy canes, you would see little pinholes like a honeycomb, which make them nice and crisp.”
McHargue, who has been making candy canes at Disneyland for 37 years, uses a metal spatula to work through a gold-ish, blob-like concoction of sugar, water and corn syrup atop a warm, lightly greased metal table. This mixture, cooked up at exactly 313 degrees, will yield 45 candy canes.
Candy maker Matt Caldwell then adds the peppermint oil–just a quarter ounce to flavor 45 candy canes.
“If I don't pour right, you'll know,” Caldwell says with a laugh.
“It will definitely open up your sinuses,” McHargue adds. [
After each batch is made (three batches per day), customers pose for photos with the candy makers.
“Seeing this is really special,” says Bela Baliko. Each year, he and his family drive to Disneyland from Alberta, Canada. It's a five-day car ride.
“It's kind of like coming home,” he says of the tradition.