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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

This Christmas, Decorate with Dough!

This Christmas, Decorate with Dough!

Love rolling out dough for tasty Christmas cookies? Is your freezer chock full of smooth cookie dough ice cream? Well how about decorating your tree and home with merry and bright dough-based Christmas ornaments, holiday candle bases, place cards, paper weights, and candy, nut, and potpourri holders too?

With the holidays an annual event, trotting out the same boxes of angels, snowmen, rocking horses, gnomes, snowflakes, sleighs, stars, and Santa Clauses year after year can sometimes feel less than inspiring. But what if you could create and personalize these festive favorites using a base of salt dough (a modeling material made from flour, salt, and water), and adding a little food coloring, glitter, maybe some hard candies, beads, acrylic or spray paint, ribbon, leaves, pinecones, fabric, buttons or tinsel, and of course a little imagination! Homemade decorations can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like (cookie cutters come in handy here), and turn your holiday preparations into a dough-lightful event where kids will love to participate and truly express themselves. What’s more, dough decorations are not limited to Christmas. Mix up a batch and decorate accordingly for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, even the Fourth of July.

The following recipe will add lots of fun and creativity to your family’s holiday to-do list, and an afternoon or evening spent designing with dough makes for a great holiday party idea–with homemade gifts everyone gets to take home!

Basic Salt Dough
Ingredients:
1 cup salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup lukewarm water

Directions:
Mix salt and flour in large bowl. Gradually stir in water. Mix well or use a mixer until a sticky doughy consistency is achieved. Form a ball with your hands and knead for 5 to 10 minutes. The longer you knead the smoother it will be. Store in air-tight container up to several days if not prepared to use right away.

To color dough, try adding powdered tempera paint to your flour, or food coloring or paint to the water before mixing with flour and salt. Natural colorings such as coffee, cocoa and curry powder are fun alternatives, and/or paint after drying with acrylic paints and seal with varnish or polyurethane spray. If using a salt dough creation as a candle holder, be sure to check flammability issues with varnishes or sprays.

Salt dough creations can air-dry, however they can also be dried in the oven. Bake at 200 degrees until completely dry. Amount of time needed depends on size and thickness: thin flat ornaments may only take 45-60 minutes while thicker designs can take 2 to 3 hours or more. An increase in oven temperature to 350 degrees is possible, though while dough will dry faster it may also brown (not a huge issue if painting afterwards).

Tips and Techniques:
- Use only a portion of the dough at a time; keep remaining dough covered to prevent from drying out.
- Complete ornaments one at a time–don’t use an assembly-line principle. If the surface of the basic shape dries out, it may be difficult to work with.
- Indications for clothing, features, and texture can be marked with a sharp knife or wooden pick. A wooden pick is best for small details.
- Small appliques add a nice touch: a star on Christmas tree, a heart on a teddy bear, holly on a place card. Roll a small portion of dough very thin (about 1/16-inch). Cut out all appliques at one time using small canapé cutters or sharp knife. Put a dab of water on ornament where applique is desired, then top with applique. Baking will secure the applique in place.
- When adding small molded pieces (arms, legs, hats) to a three-dimensional ornament, always put a dab of water in the spot where the piece is going to be added. As with appliques, baking will secure the piece in place.
- When cutting dough around a paper pattern, be sure to use a sharp knife.
- To make tiny ropes of dough for curls or texture, put dough through a garlic press. Work on a lightly floured surface to keep the tiny ropes from sticking.
- Form larger ropes of dough by hand-rolling.
- If making a complicated ornament, work directly on a cookie sheet to minimize handling.
- If using a craft-wire loop to hang an ornament, be sure to spread the ends before inserting in the ornament. This adds support.
- Small hairpins can also be used to hang ornaments. Spread ends apart and insert in ornament.
- If using a plastic straw to make a hole for hanging, be sure the hole is at least ¼-inch from any edge.
- After baking, smooth any rough edges with fine sandpaper. An emery board will also do the trick.
- Remember to paint the sides and backs of ornaments.
- When adding painted accents, be sure the base color is dry first.

2 comments

1 Linda Alaimo { 12.29.13 at 2:39 pm }

Thanks so much for this article. Christmas is over but I am going to try Valentines.

2 Barbara { 12.11.13 at 10:27 am }

I have used this salt dough in the past and have some pretty ornaments for our Christmas tree that were made from this receipe.

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