This basic recipe is also called "Baker's Clay." Once mixed, it has a satiny texture, a pleasant aroma and begs to be touched and shaped. Do not be surprised if everyone in the family gets involved in making ornaments!
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1-1/2 cups water
Use a dough mixer or hand mix flour with salt in large mixing bowl. Add water until dough is a good consistency for kneading. If it is too dry, it will crack. If it's too wet, it will be sticky.
Knead dough by pressing and turning it with your hands until it becomes satiny smooth. It will take five to ten minutes or more, depending on consistency of dough and how smooth you want your finished objects to appear.
Dough that is insufficiently kneaded is difficult to form and may fall apart during drying and baking.
The dough dries out quickly so keep unused dough in a plastic bag. For smaller projects, mix only half a recipe. Dough is best when used in about four hours. It may be refrigerated, but results from refrigerated dough are unpredictable.
Other Items needed to form ornaments:
cup of water
flour to keep dough from sticking
Items needed to decorate and seal ornaments:
Shape objects directly on pieces of aluminum foil. All dough parts must be joined with water which acts as a glue. If parts are not joined properly, dough may separate during baking and split when cooled. Use water sparingly. To attach thin pieces of dough adhere them firmly by pushing a toothpick or paper clip through them in addition to moistening them with water.
Large ornaments should be strengthened with wire. Dough has no strength and requires support for larger ornaments. If dough connects in small pieces (head and neck, arms or legs), insert toothpicks or wires between parts to keep portions from separating over time.
Make impressions on dough with a variety of instruments. Impressions hold up best with a stiffer dough. All kinds of instruments can be used to make impressions to give texture and design to ornaments.
Push dough through a garlic press or grater to make hair and other decorative effects. Cake decorating tubes with large nozzles can be used for making designs. Add extra water to soften dough to a good consistency.
Add a hanging device to top or back of an ornament, before baking and drying, if it is to be hung.
Use Christmas ornament hooks, bent wire, circles from pop-top drink cans, or paper clips. Push hanging device into dough at top center, close to back of piece.
Remember the final dough shape is the shape which will be baked. If there are loose pieces or undesirable marks in dough, they will exist in the finished product.
Before baking, raw dough can be precolored by adding drops of paste food coloring, watercolors, inks, and fabric dyes. Powdered colors should be mixed with flour and salt before adding water.
Liquid shoe polish or leather dye can also be brushed on lightly during the 15 minutes of baking.
Baking and Drying Dough
Dough should be baked for 2 hours at 300°F (150°C) in oven. Then transfer to dehydrator. Dry at highest temperature setting for an additional 4-1/2 hours until completely dry. [Until you become more experienced with drying dough-art in your Nesco® American Harvest® dehydrator, it is wise to place a piece of dough, same size as largest/thickest piece of your ornament, to use as a test piece. To test for dryness, break apart test piece. It is done when it is completely dry inside].
Remove ornaments when totally dry and cool prior to applying paint.
Acrylic paints are most popular and easily applied. They are available in jars, spray cans, and tubes. They mix easily and dry quickly. If you are adding different colored layers over one another, use a coat of sealer between them to prevent them from running or smearing.
When painting is complete, dry in dehydrator at highest temperature setting for 1 to 2 hours until thoroughly dry.
It is extremely important to seal salt dough ornaments to prevent moisture from re-entering and causing mold and disintegration.
There is a wide variety of final coatings which can be used, but they should be transparent and non-penetrating so surface of dough-art is strengthened with a hard protective coating. The best choice is a polyurethane varnish. Be sure to remove ornaments from dehydrator and place in a well-ventilated area (preferably out-of-doors) before applying varnish. Carefully place objects (on aluminum foil making sure that no foil covers center hole or outer ring vents) in dehydrator to dry. CAUTION: Make sure dehydrator is placed in a room with adequate ventilation or an open window.
Place ornaments in dehydrator. Set at highest temperature setting to speed drying. Most varnishes will dry in approximately an hour in dehydrator.
Repeat varnishing process until a minimum of 4 complete coats (both sides of object) have been applied, allowing ornament to dry thoroughly between coats. Again , it is handy to use your dehydrator for the process to speed drying time.