Monday, December 12, 2011

Salt Dough Ornaments

We have been busy around here, so I haven't been as good about writing every day. Well, that and a certain amount of innate laziness I have to try and overcome. It can be a huge effort to overcome inertia and actually do something more creative some evenings. In a similar fashion, the days are generally filled so I don't get to sit down without interruption very often. Even trying to plan certain activities during the day can take an overwhelming effort to accomplish.

I have been wanting to help the kids make salt dough ornaments for a few months now. I have run across the recipes in too many places to count for the last several years, and always thought it would be an easy and fun project to do with the kids. Things always seemed to get in the way, though. I was finally able to sit down (ha, ha. Actually I didn't get to sit at all for several hours!) with the family and help the kids make ornaments last night. While Greg worked on making the dough, I helped them roll it out, cut, and transfer the ornaments. As usual, my little independent-minded children wanted to do everything themselves so I tried to let them as much as possible. The kids did most of the decorating, and we left a few undecorated so they could be colored or painted after they were dry.

As with any new project we have a few little learning experiences that will hopefully prepare us for the next round of making decorations. We all had a good time, and made quite a few nice ornaments for the tree. I want to send a few to family members too, so I'll let the kids pick those out. I'm looking forward to having these on the tree soon. Growing up, we often made new ornaments every year; I think this was mainly in school, especially when we were little. I have fond memories of so many of these ornaments, and I want my children to have the opportunity to have these same kind of connections as they grow up.

For our dough, we ended up using some whole wheat flour and kosher salt as that is what we had lying around. Normally this wouldn't be a problem in baking, as the salt would be well incorporated. Our ornaments ended up looking more grainy (as Greg jokingly called it, more like some rawhide dog treats), but I like the texture of it. They appear more homey to me, and since it was a craft project for the kids to enjoy I think it is just fine. With this recipe the dough is only slightly cooked at a low temperature to actually dry out the dough. Please remember, this dough is not edible, and quite nasty if you try to eat it. Make sure your animals don't get to it either; I imagine the salt content would not be healthy for pets if ingested.

Before I actually get into the recipe, I want to talk a little about the lessons we learned. Since we used the materials we had on hand, our dough turned out a little different than it might have otherwise. Had we used a generic highly processed white flour and table salt, the dough would have been more paste-like and less grainy. I have also seen recipes with only 1/2 cup of salt, but I think a larger amount might act as a preservative and drying agent for the dough over time. I have read about adding other ingredients to the dough to change its consistency (cooking oil, lemon juice). I have no experience using them so I cannot say how they will truly effect the dough. We may experiment at some point in the future and I will update you later if we do.

For the dough:

1 cup flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup water

Food coloring

We ended up using one batch of dough per color (4 colors overall), as each batch made a small amount of dough. Dissolve salt in the water first, then stir in the food coloring. More food coloring will create a darker, intense hue while less will create a lighter shade. This will make it easier to incorporate into the flour more evenly. Add the water/salt/color mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly.

If you make several colors at once, I suggest you put the dough into plastic bags or under cling wrap to prevent it from drying out too quickly. If your dough turns too crumbly, add a little water. Sculptural elements can also be added using a little water to bind the pieces.

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters or a cup to cut out ornaments. Lay on a cookie sheet on top of waxed paper; unless you want to take a chance they will bond quite well to your baking pans, that is. Be sure to poke a hole with a straw or toothpick so you can put a ribbon through the ornament when it is dry.

Bake in an oven at 250 degrees until they are dry. Depending on how humid your area is and the thickness of the ornaments, it can take an hour or several days. Ornaments can also be dried in the air over several days. If you use plastic decorating elements in the oven, check them often to make sure they don't melt.

Ornaments can be decorated while wet or dry. I sprayed the ornaments a little with water before adding the decorations then we used some sequins and small plastic beads while the ornaments were wet, and pressed them into the dough so they would stick better. Once dry, ornaments can be painted with a variety of paints, glitter glue, spray paint, markers, etc. Be creative and play around! Clear spray paint can also be used to seal the ornaments. Be sure to store them in a box wrapped in tissue or paper to protect them when not in use, as they can be fragile.

This dough can be used to make ornaments for any occasion, or just for fun. Here are a few images of ours.