How we tested: The play-dough scientists
I gathered a slew of flour-based recipes from across the internet, and made a spreadsheet of the ingredients. Then I made 11 batches and invited our PEPS group over to be “play-dough scientists.” I made each recipe a different color, so it would be easy to tell which ball of dough correlated with which recipe.
With five kids, three moms, one dad and a babysitter, we squished, stamped, rolled, sculpted, googley-eyed and smelled the mixtures. And yes, we tasted them, too. Two recipes were clearly the best, and there were several definite losers.
Overall findings and tips
- I used both canola and olive oil, and found no difference. I also tried different types of flour: rice flour, masa (corn flour) and whole wheat flour.
- I found cream of tartar to be the biggest difference between recipes. The cream of tartar affects the elasticity and texture of the play-dough; if you don’t use any, the dough turns out crumbly and dry. Using 2 teaspoons yields very soft dough, and 2 tablespoons makes a firm, springy dough. Since I make play-dough frequently I don’t like to buy the tiny expensive jars of cream of tartar in the spice aisle. The best bet is to buy it in bulk.
- I am heavy-handed with the food coloring: I love bright, vibrant colors. I have found that the key to bright, uniformly colored play-dough is to add the food coloring to the water BEFORE you mix it with the dry ingredients. If you wait until the play-dough is cooked to knead in color, it will be splotchy and pale, and also makes a mess of your hands. The recipes on the next page make about two cups of dough, so you can easily make a few batches in different colors.
- Finally, some of the favorite recipes had Jell-O, Kool-Aid or essential oils added. Jell-O makes the dough a little softer and stickier, but with a pleasantly soft, slick texture. Kool-Aid doesn’t affect the texture, but does scent the dough (a little too powerfully, in my opinion; the kids loved it.) We also like to add cinnamon, orange zest, chai tea, pumpkin spices, etc. to spice up play-dough.
- Store your finished dough in a zip-top bag or airtight container. I usually compost our dough after a week or so as it dries out a bit, but it can last several weeks at room temperature.