I've always been meaning to make salt dough ornaments, so this year I finally got my act together and did and I also made greetings cards from it as well. This was helped along by the fact that my friend who has a shop found some weevils in a big bag of organic spelt flour so she gave it to me. I've been making paint from it but I was guessing it would also be good for salt dough.
I did a lot of research around the recipe, the baking methods and drying temperatures. There was a lot of conflicting ideas and if you are interested I'll put a link to my blog at the end where I go into all of this in detail. This is the final recipe that worked for me:
1 cup of flour = 140g of = 4½ oz
¾ cup of hot water = 240ml = ½ a pint
½ cup of salt = 150g = 5oz
PVA Glue (for the glaze - this both seals the dough and makes it sparkle!)
Glue gun and glue sticks to add motifs and découpage
Decorative ribbons - I save them from previous years
Ready made heart motifs, or hand-cut them yourself from sheet music and/or old broken books
Vintage ephemera - you can buy these or upcycle them from old cards
For optimal even drying, I found 120°C - 250°F to be the best.
If the temperature rises to say 150°C - 300°F, then the ornaments will begin to cook rather than dry and they will maybe 'puff up', creating a not displeasing 3D effect and they will also darken in colour. Again you should experiment with one or two ornaments at this temperature to see if it works, you will certainly get them ready for decorating more quickly, however you will need to survey them otherwise you can end up with overcooking or burning them! You also don't want them to dry too quickly as this may cause them to crack at a later date, in particular if your dough was not mixed/kneaded well enough at the outset. You can however troubleshoot this with the ubiquitous glue gun!
Step 1: Mixing Natural Colours, Method - Experiments and Tips
SPICING UP THE SALT DOUGH
I used kitchen cupboard ingredients to add colour and perfume to my basic salt dough mix. These were dried hibiscus flowers to make pink. The spices I used were cinnamon and I also used ginger, paprika and turmeric to make a 'gingerbread'. Cocoa gave me a rich chocolate fragrance and deep colour.
For the cinnamon I used one cinnamon tea bag, this I found a lot more economical than using cinnamon itself. By steeping it in the hot water required for the dough, I got a really good colour and perfume ( see above).
For the other spices I used 1 heaped teaspoon per basic mix and for the cocoa, again 1 heaped teaspoon per mix.
Add your flour and salt and mix well. If you use raw sea salt, as I did, you will need to grind it up first.
Add the spices and mix again.
Add the hot water slowly until you get a stiff dough, neither crumbly nor too sticky.
Knead the dough until it feels elastic and well-mixed - some recipes suggest kneading for 5 to 10 minutes. I have to admit that I didn't knead it for this long!
Put a piece of baking paper on your counter top, table or bread board and sprinkle it with a little flour.
Roll dough out to an ⅛ of an inch (3mm). You are now ready to cut out your shapes. At this thickness the ornaments will dry in around 3 to 4 hours on a low heat in the oven.
You can make them thicker. I made some (see photo above) at ¼ of an inch (6mm) but they will take up to 24 hours to dry in the oven and a week to air dry!
I used a drinking straw to make the hole for the ribbon or jute hanger.
Baking Paper or Flour?
Many salt dough recipes on web sites recommended some sort of baking paper to stop the salt dough from sticking during drying. I started by using my usual waxed ecological baking paper but I found this gave the one side of the biscuit that was in direct initial contact with the paper, a wavy appearance, which is not altogether displeasing. However, by dusting the cooking tray with flour and then placing the salt dough shapes directly onto the tray I avoided that problem.
Baking Tray & Wire Rack Combination I found in baking the salt dough, that once the biscuits/cookies released easily from the cooking tray with the aid of a fish slice, I could then turn them over and dry the other side. This definitely cut the drying time and particularly if I continued to turn them several times. I also found that once the shapes were reasonably 'rigid', I could place them on a wire rack and that this would speed up the drying process even more.
Step 2: Marbling, Beads, Hand-cut Shapes, Finishing & Cards
I found that by twisting several strands of colours together, cutting off short sections, putting these in an upright position and then rolling them out, I could make a very pleasing marbled effect. I also found that by gathering up the excess dough and remoulding it and rolling it out again, the marble effect became even more striking. I took small amounts of this dough and also made beads to add to my decorations.
I also cut out some cardboard shapes to place on the dough as a template and using a sharp knife, cut out gingerbread men and birds.
GLAZES & ICING
As the ornaments dry, the salt will leave a white residue on the top of the biscuit crust, I didn't find that a problem aesthetically, as it resembles icing sugar.
However, I decided to glaze my ornaments with a glue glaze and as I was pressed for time I went out and bought a craft PVA glue. I mixed it at a ratio of :
2 parts glue to 1 part water.
I then used a paint brush to apply it to the biscuits. I also added a touch of cocoa powder to one batch. I'm not sure if it was the glaze itself or the cocoa in the biscuit but it made the PVA go stringy, so I rubbed it in with a cotton bud. This gave the ornament/biscuit a rich dark chocolate colour and the smell was pretty good too!
With the spices and hibiscus biscuits, I just used the basic PVA glaze recipe and this, on drying, brought out the shine of the salt crystals in the dough and gave natural sparkle to the ornaments which was very satisfying.
SALT DOUGH ICING
Raw sea salt does not make a pristine white icing, well not at first. I used:
1 part salt to 1 part flour by volume.
When it dried, I was left with a frosting that resembled snow on the edge of a roadside after the snowplough has been through. However, I persevered and added a coat of my glue glaze over the top and once it was dry it lost the grimy snow look!
I used a glue gun to stick on some extra sparkly bits and as I love découpage I used old sheet music, felt and handmade paper scraps from other projects. I also added a touch of glitter to the chocolate ornaments with some faux gold poster paint. I applied it sparingly with a brush and then burnished it in with a piece of cloth.
I took some of my ornaments and made them into cards by using orange box/fruit crate wood that I'd cut into squares/rectangles. I painted these latter with a simple white eco paint and then added layers of decorative card, handmade papers, ephemera, sheet music....
I drilled two holes in the wood, so as they could be used as tree ornaments or, as most of my friends and relatives do, they hang them as pictures, all year round.
I think the heart design makes for a really good Valentine's card too!
Have fun! For more info on possible problems with salt dough recipes and some exciting edible dishes visit. Simply Organic Recipes