Sunday, January 3, 2010

Homemade Play dough

Last week we had a stretch of days so cold that my chickens never ventured outside. No fears though, they still gave us eggs every day. When the cold snap ended I went outside and found the temperature so balmy that a hat and gloves was enough to keep me warm. On a whim I checked the weather to find out what I now considered too warm for a coat. It's almost short season with the temperature at 27° Fahrenheit (-3° Celsius). It is amazing how your internal temperature gauge can be reset so quickly. The last 2 days we have had a snow storm that dumped over 33 inches of snow, a record breaking total for a single snow storm.

At a solstice party this year a neighbor told me how nice it is to watch my boys play outside together. She described them as "old fashioned boys". By that she meant they will happily play together for hours with just a shovel and a pile of snow, a pile of rocks and containers, a scooter and a tricycle, a wading pool and a hose or anything else they can lay claim to. Last winter Julian managed to shred one kids snow shovel and totally deform and mangle a kids hoe, chopping up ice. This year we gave them each a tempered aluminum avalanche shovel for Christmas. So far they have shoveled the driveway, made a jump at the sledding hill, used them as toboggans on an icy hill and generally already gotten my moneys worth.

However when they want to warm up inside I can guarantee a peaceful, although not quiet, couple of hours by making a batch or 2 of play dough. Really I am not sure why anybody would buy Play-Doh. For pennies I can make a large enough batch that they can share without fighting. In addition the boys love the process of making it, it is a little like magic. Sometimes we add scented oil to the batch and they each get to choose a food coloring and add it. I know some people like to add instant Kool Aid mix to both color and scent the dough, personally that just sounds gross and sticky to me. If I won't feed it to my family I am not going to mix it in to their toys either.

The play group Julian and I go to uses way less salt when they make play dough and the texture is smoother. However the high salt content acts as a preservative so if you reduce it the playdough will need to be refrigerated when not being played with and thrown away more frequently. I still remember the time we took some of theirs home wrapped in plastic wrap. I found it a week later and had a moment of horror trying to remember what food item I had left to become completely covered in white, green and black mold. Slowly I remembered the piece of green play dough we had brought home.

Homemade Play dough

1 cup cold water
food coloring of your choice
1 cup white flour (I think this is the first recipe I have posted with only white flour)
1/2 cup table salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp cooking oil (I often use Extra Virgin Olive Oil because it is all I have in the house)
scented oil or extract (optional, just for scent)

Combine the ingredients in a heavy saucepan (I use a 3QT pan) and stir to mix and review the color. The color will deepen when the playdough is cooked. I usually let the boys add the ingredients and judge the color. The measuring does not have to be precise and I am much better at not micro managing them when we are not eating the finished product. To get really good purples and colors like black I bought gel food coloring.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the play dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. About 3 to 5 minutes, or until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes or well, play dough (I like it to be a ball already).

Remove from the heat, normal people should allow it to cool for 1 minute before kneading the dough. I however have asbestos hands from all the cooking I do and knead it right away.

Store, after cooling, in a plastic container or resealable plastic bags. If stored in an air tight container or bag it can be kept for months or years (although we always let ours dry out by accident and have to start over after a few weeks).


  1. Robin, those cupcakes look good enough to eat. Great colours.

  2. Thanks Ann,

    I have to admit there were many failed attempts at making attractive food out of play dough yesterday. I finally figured out anything that is natural (strawberries, peas in a pod, corn on the cob etc) did not look good. Cupcakes however look good in garish fake colors ;-)


  3. We tried it this morning. And you are right...I will never buy play-doh again. Connor (almost 4) loved the process of making it and was able to combine all of the ingredients and color himself. He was so proud, and had so much fun. The "cooking" process was quick and painless....and the consistency is just like that of "fresh" or just opened play-doh. and cleanup was a snap. Hurrah!! Kiley is going to want to try this out when she gets home....

  4. Kate, Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I am happy to have made a convert to homemade play doh. Plus this means I know the directions work.


  5. oh so enchanting! I thought they were real. but they could be!beautiful :)