LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Caroline Cestaro of Nolan Middle School celebrated her 13th birthday Sunday with a red-velvet cake covered in white frosting with black polka dots.
When she and her mother, April, walked into Pastries By Design on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch to pick up the cake Sunday they immediately smelled peppermint.
It brought April Cestaro back to her childhood in Clearwater, where her family always had edible treats on the Christmas tree, especially candy canes.
As the Cestaros looked around they saw a whole table of individually wrapped thick, handmade candy canes and a huge marble table in a nearby room. The table was made to pour boiling candy cane mixtures on to form 40-pound candy cane balls, from which 100 candy canes can be rolled out.
The Cestaros, who didn't see the 40 pounds of sugar and secret ingredients boiling in a copper kettle in the back, had walked into the newest candy cane store in Lakewood Ranch.
"Wow, they look like little works of art," April Cestaro said of the canes.
Pastries By Design and new owner Sandra Byers have joined forces this Christmas season with third-generation candy cane maker Peter Vrinios and his business, "Create a Cane," to create a magical holiday place where children can make their own candy canes.
Dozens of children did just that Sunday.
"My kids were so excited they could hardly wait," said Parrish's Christy Williams, who brought her daugh
ters, Addison, 7, and Lila, 3.
Addison was a natural candy cane maker, Vrinios said, observing her perfectly shaped cane "hook," which Vrinios said initially represented the first initial in the name of Jesus to the Indiana candy maker who first made the confection.
Children can shape their own warm candy canes for $5 from 1-6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Christmas at Pastries By Design, 10667 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch, Vrinios said.
Adults who just want to buy handmade candy canes can find them at the store from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Byers said.
The bakery is closed Mondays.
Joining forces with Pastries By Design was a big relief for Vrinios, who has moved around from place to place each Christmas season, finding a business niche for just a month of production difficult to secure. But Byers made space for him in her store this season.
"We think it's great fun," Byers said.
A big candy cane fan in Pastries By Design was baker Bree Barnard , an intern at Keiser University in the baking and pastry program. Barnard was making marble cupcakes and other cakes.
"I so appreciate the art that goes into it," Barnard said of Vrinios' work, which includes stretching out the sugary glob of candy cane just enough on a steel hook to make it white, then mixing in other colors. "Mr. Vrinios is going to let us try it. He's a true artisan. He wants to share his art."
The sugar and other secret ingredients are boiled to 300 degrees in the kettle and the smoking mixture is then spread over the marble table. Vrinios does things by feel, a gift he inherited from the family candy cane bloodline, which dates to 1898.
"Now I splash the flavor in," Vrinios said, filling the bakery with peppermint.
After kneading the glob for a half hour or so, Vrinios begins rolling it out and his helpers, including his son, Sam, a Manatee High School junior, and Sam's friend, Karim Khaybullin, a Manatee High sophomore, snip it with scissors. Then, they place the 6-inch clipped strips before waiting youngsters to be shaped.
Besides peppermint, Vrinios can also make cinnamon, orange, root beer, cherry, licorice, wintergreen, chocolate mint, bubble gum and cotton-candy canes.
In honor of Pastries By Design, Vrinios has made a cane half covered in chocolate on the outside.
"We hope we are here now forever," Vrinios said, with a smile.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond