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Goldilocks and the 3 batches of play dough

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My daughter is a play dough connoisseur. Store bought or homemade, she has had oodles of exposure to both. So when I was asked to be the ‘play dough mom’ for her class, I was honored and confident in my ability to step up to the challenge. This confidence, however, was totally unfounded as I had made exactly one batch of play dough in my mothering career and it turned sticky once it cooled. I blamed that failure on the recipe (it was one from a magazine which will remain unnamed, but the recipe involved elmers glue, so I should have known something was amiss), not on my own play dough inadequacy.  How wrong I was.

I eagerly whipped up a batch of play dough for Pia’s class following one of the recipes I had been given. I proudly sent this batch to school and assumed that was a wrap. Pia came home from school and told me the play dough was crumbly. I was crushed. I had let down an entire class of 4-year-olds. I had to make it up to them.

The very next morning Pia and I got to work in the kitchen and made another batch of play dough with a different recipe (you would not believe how many play dough recipes there are out there). It seemed better. It wasn’t crumbly. I was proud that we had so quickly remedied the problem by making a new batch and confidently sent the new batch to school with Pia that afternoon. Three hours later she returned with the news that this play dough was too gooey. My inability to produce a satisfactory batch of play dough was beginning to weigh heavily on my self esteem.

As luck would have it I have a mother-in-law who has been an early childhood teacher’s aide for nearly 30 years and over the years she has raised her play dough making to an art form. She swooped in to the rescue and taught Pia and I how to make perfect play dough. I will share these secrets with you now.


The main difference, it seems, between this superstar play dough recipe and all the others out there is the amount of salt (LOTS of salt):

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 20-30 drops of food coloring


Mix all the ingredients together, adding the wet ingredients last. We added the food coloring to the water before stirring it into the mix.


Over medium heat, cook the mixture while stirring constantly and scraping the bottom. The mixture will start out liquid-y and slowly begin to pull away from the sides of the pot. Your arm will hurt from the stirring and it will become harder and harder to stir, but don’t give up! And don’t pull it off too soon! Once the mixture is no longer shimmery you can pull it off the heat and turn it out onto a clean surface. (A picture would be helpful here, I know.)


This is the heavenly part of the process, kneading the warm dough. You really only need to knead (hee, hee) until it is all smooth, but you will find yourself kneading it much longer than that because is feels so good. At this point you can play right away with your fabulous homemade play dough, or you can let it cool completely and store it in an airtight container.

Thanks once again to Fish Grandma for helping us make great play dough! Goldilocks gives this 3rd batch a thumbs up.


3 responses »

  1. I am quickly becoming the boring mom in this family of 4 boys, so I’m looking for something fun to do with the boys while Hubby is at the Packer game tomorrow. This might just fit the bill! Thanks Courtney and Fish Grandma!

  2. I’m pretty sure this is our old family recipe too. I know it’s the same ingredients at least, and uses a ton of salt. I’ve always loved the smell and kneading it while still HOT is exquisite, even when I can feel it burning between my fingers.

  3. Oooh!!! Thank you for the recipe! I’ve been meaning to make some for a long time but was overwhelmed by all of the different recipes and I knew there were plenty of “flops” out there so wanted to figure out which was a good one. We’ll have to do this soon!


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