Rainy Day Fun – Salt Dough!

As a child that grew up in the eighties somewhere between analog and digital, often times rainy day activities consisted of what we could do at home: paint, color, play with kitchen utensil and even Play-doh (and movies…but we didn’t have a VHS until the late 80’s and daytime TV was not ever child-appropriate lol). Of all the things we did Play-doh was one of my most favorite – I mean where else could you make a hamburger, apple pie, a convertible car and an ice cream cone, wreck it all, and do it all again? It was a fun, creative and encouraged me to use my hands to sculpt and play. However, at some point I ended up with containers of drab brown mush with rock-hard pieces intertwined…which I hated. I’d ask my folks for more, but alas, it was expensive and I had to wait for a special occasion like a birthday or Hanukkah.

Fast forward 30-something years and here I am with kids, and while they’re not quite ready for Play-doh just yet you can bet that once they are it will be in the house – with just one caveat – I won’t purchase the store stuff. My reason is simple and truthfully it has little to do with the money. It has to do with the interactivity and lessons that I can teach my children. It’s amazing that with a few common household ingredients we can make our own Play-doh – it is [significantly] cheaper than the store bought stuff and teaches kids how to be even more creative since we can make our own fabulous color combinations with whatever food colors we have on hand.

There are two types of homemade Play-doh recipes that I am going to share – both are classified as “salt dough.” I learned both of these recipes while working in the JCC Kid’s activity room in college (thank you Charlie for teaching me!). In fact I was running a program called “Kids in the Kitchen,” which was all about teaching kids responsible kitchen behaviors, how to make fun and healthy snacks and build necessary kitchen safety skills. One recipe is cooked and the other is not. Either way, have fun, be safe and remember to store whatever you make in an airtight container (Glass jars work the best, but you know, safety first!). If stored properly these recipes should last up to 3 months or more.

Homemade Play-doh (Uncooked)

1 cup All Purpose Flour
¼ cup + 1 tbsp Kosher salt (I find this works better than iodized salt, but truthfully whatever you have works)
½ cup warm water (sometimes you may need an additional tablespoon or so to absorb the flour)
Food Color (Water soluble – not more than 6 drops)

  • Mix together the flour and the salt.
  • Mix together the flour and food coloring.
  • While stirring add the water to the flour – and more water if necessary.
  • Transfer the dough to a plastic cutting board* and knead until smooth.

Homemade Play-doh (Cooked)    

1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 cup water
¼ cup + 2tbsp Kosher salt
1 ¾ tsp Cream of Tartar (also known as tartaric acid)
1 tbsp vegetable oil (such as olive, canola or rapeseed)
Food Coloring (Water soluble – not more than 6 drops)

  • Combine all ingredients (except for food coloring) in a medium sauce pan.
  • Turn stove to medium/medium high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken (if you’ve ever made Pâte à Choux, or éclair dough, this is similar).
  • Add the food coloring once thickening begins.
  • Continue to cook until the Play-doh has bunched itself up onto the spoon and the dough doesn’t appear to be “wet.”
  • Place onto a plate or parchment paper and allow to cool for 20 – 30 minutes before playing.

* A great trick to make a cutting board “nonstick” is to put a damp dishrag underneath. This will prevent the board from sliding everywhere. I also recommend plastic as opposed to wooden cutting boards since the wood will absorb the food coloring.

Now that you’ve made your homemade Play-doh it’s time to play! Don’t forget that a trip to the dollar store for accessories is way cheaper than the fancy sets! Pick up things like mini rolling pins, cookie cutters, forks, spoons and so many other things…be creative. Have fun! Make memories!

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