Play Dough or Salt Dough Recipe Plus Useful Tips and Tricks

by Rashmie on December 20, 2011 · 11 comments

in Art & Craft,Cook & Learn

Yesterday, I'd shared Pari's beaded salt dough ornaments and had promised to share the recipe for the salt dough we made at home. 

Scoop up the story (read mistakes) behind all the fuss that we went through before coming up with the recipe that worked. Or scroll to the end – straight-away – to get the recipe!

Like I had mentioned, we were hoping to get an elastic and smooth texture for the dough so that our ornaments would turn out neat. But, this was not to be. Not with the recipe we started off with, which was – 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 tbspoon oil and about 1/4 cup warm water.

The challenge was – we didn't have cream of tartar - which seems to be an important ingredient to get a stretchy, elastic dough.  I went through a number of recipes – both cooked and uncooked – on the internet and most of them mentioned 'cream of tartar'. 

They said, cream of tartar acts like a preservative but also gives an elastic property to the dough.

I looked for it in our local market but no luck.

So, we decided to go ahead without it.

To begin with, I let Pari explore mixing the flour and oil. Just that. No salt, no water. 

cloud dough sensory play

Did you know that this mixture of refined flour and oil actually has a term in the world of sensory play for kids.

And, it's called – Cloud Dough! Yeah, I found this out recently via this post about Cloud Dough exploration on Tinkerlab. Interesting and funny that this recipe is the starting point to make an Indian snack that we call – 'mathri'. To this, after kneading nicely, we add cumin and carom seeds, salt and finally knead with warm water. We then roll it out, cut shapes, let it air dry and then deep fry in oil or ghee (clarified butter). It's yummy to have with ginger tea!

I digress! So going back to our play dough….

Pari was very sure she wanted pink dough and I thought adding couple of drops of essential oil would really add to the sensory play.

So, we added few drops of red food colour to some warm water and added to the mixture of flour+oil+salt, which turned it pink.

Next we added couple of drops of citronella essential oil. And gasp! The aroma was so pleasing, so alleviating to the senses, we could have gone on kneading and playing and filling ourselves with the uplifting sensory joy. Really!

Pari thoroughly enjoyed the kneading – using her palms, fingers, knuckles! 

But, when it came to rolling, our dough was quite crumbly. It wouldn't roll out smooth and uniform to be able to cut out shapes for our ornaments! Sigh! What were we to do? Was it due to too much oil or too much salt or the granular texture of the salt?

We added some more flour and a little warm water. Try again. Better but not desirable.

Gosh! Not being able to make ornaments would have been very disappointing – for her as well as for me.

And then – an light bulb moment! One final try with it and let's see the result. 

Instant Starch! It occured to me that this might save our day. Or, damage it beyond repair…(hold your breath!)

But, it's worth the try. If nothing, we'll have some fun seeing how it might 'react' with the mixture.

So, I dissolve roughly 1.5 teaspoons instant startch (the 'Revive' brand in India) into water and our eyes widen as the powder turns gooey immediately. 

Pari added it to the flour mixture and kneaded again. We could feel that the mixture became more pliable.

Alright, add some more starch. This time, I dissolved nearly 1 table spoon and kneaded again.

Much, much better. We could see how the whole mixture had become more cohesive.

Not a single crack when Pari rolled it out. The granular texture (due to the salt) was almost gone.

Our experiment was a success! The aroma of the dough was not affected either. It retained the invigorating smell of Citronella.

Pari went on to cut out shapes and then decorated the ornaments with beads.

I decided not to bake them or else the beads would melt. We air dried them and it took nearly three days. Long time but the wait was well worth it.


I'd like to share that half way through the drying, I applied a coat of diluted PVA glue (fevicol) to seal the beads nicely. You could also use a coat of varnish or even mod podge.

The Recipe for this pink, aromatic salt dough (uncooked)

  1. 2 cups refined/all-purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup fine salt
  3. 1 tbspoon refined oil
  4. 1/4 cup warm water (start with less and add as you go to get the correct consistency)
  5. 2 drops essential oil of your choice (lavendar, rosemary, ying-yang, lemon grass, orange). We used Citronella
  6. A few drops of liquid food colour – red. You can use the powdered food colour after dissolving in water
  7. 1 tbspoon instant starch (dissolve in water to get thick, gooey consistency) 
    • You can use cream of tartar if you have it
  8. Mix and knead thoroughly

Other tips and tricks that I've learnt along the way when making homemade playdough:

  1. If you decide to bake your ornaments, make sure you do so at low heat - 100 degrees C or 200 degrees F, or else they will puff up and may spoil the shape and look
  2. Using very fine salt will ensure you do not get a granular texture. The salt grains make the dough crumbly.
  3. Make sure the water is warm so as not to form lumps
  4. Some recipes on the do not mention vegetable oil for uncooked dough. But, I think the oil will give a nice texture and smoothness
  5. You might even consider adding some white glue to the mixture to make the dough cohesive
  6. Adding a few drops of glycerine may improve the shine and smoothness. Tip via The Imagination Tree
  7. You can store your salt dough for a couple of days by wrapping it up in a cling film and storing it away in the refrigerator
  8. Finally, you can add any colour and flavour to your dough. You can use cinnamon powder, cocoa, strawberry essence etc to make it flavourful and add to the sensory play for your child

Playdough is such a versatile tool for play and learning. And, homemade playdough is THE best! I think every kid should have plenty of opportunity to knead his/her dough, explore, play and have hours of relaxed play.

Is there is any other tip for making super smooth playdough that you'd like to share?