Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Salt Dough Bunny Skulls

My daughter wanted to make decorations for Easter.  
I thought it would be fun to try our hand at salt dough ornaments again,
and I was itching to try a different medium for sugar skull bunnies
Quick recap since I've already done this before:
The recipe is 1 part water, 1 part salt, 2 parts flour, but don't add the water all at once because you probably won't need it all. You don't want a sticky dough.
I prefer to roll it out on wax paper and also wear latex gloves to protect my hands from drying out.
Use the end of a straw to make a hole for hanging.
Bake at a low temp for a long time or air dry for a really long time. 
After drying, rough edges can be smooth out with a small metal file or sandpaper.
After this experience this is what I plan to do next time for the drying process:
Bake on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for an hour at 200 degrees convection. After an hour bake on wire rack for another hour. If I have time to hang around the house, I'll probably bump that up to two. Then turn the oven off and let them sit as long as I can. I will also put a Post-It note on the oven to remind myself they are still in there. If some of the larger pieces still need to dry more, I'll just let them air dry on a wire rack for another day. 
Things I learned this time around:
Don't forget and dump in all the water at once because the dough will be too wet.
Don't forget to add holes for hanging before baking.
Don't think "Oh they've only been in oven 2 minutes I can quick add holes."
     They had already formed a thin crust. I didn't get nice clean holes, made a mess of things, and ended up making another batch.
Don't throw in a shrinky dink, just because you can.
Don't increase the oven temp because the shrinky dink isn't working.
     OK, I don't foresee anyone else doing the last two, but for instructional purposes it's worth noting that increasing the oven temp to 300 caused the backs of the ornaments to puff out. 
I decorated  my bunnies with a combination of acrylic paints and Sharpies. 
My daughter preferred to stick with the Sharpies, specifically the brush tip ones. 
Not a bad idea if you don't want to wait for paint to dry. 
Since it was Easter I had to make real sugar cookies too.  I made some regular sized cookies for the kids to decorate and I made a bunch of mini cookies for me to decorate.  I used the Garden Shape Cut-Outs from Wilton, they're supposed to be for fondant, but they are perfect for bite size cookies.   
Most of the adults I know like the smaller size without all the sprinkles.  I usually only make the round flower with a single star of frosting in the center. Quick and easy, zero skills needed. So I'm really not sure exactly what happened.  I felt fine and I thought I was doing alright, but the next thing I know I've gone all Martha Stewart and I've got like a hundred of these little buggers all decorated to the nines (for my skills, those cookies are ultra fancy). And it didn't stop there. 
I thought it would look really pretty to cover some of the salt dough eggs in strips of lace. I had visions of white eggs striped with an assortment of vintage white or off-white lace.  In reality I had one piece of white lace removed from the bottom of a tank top. The yellow flower and frilly ribbon were salvaged from a broken headband.  The rest of the bits were leftovers from various craft kits my daughter had.  

It always feels weird when I get inspired to make things that don't appeal to me. I mean I like the way they turned out, but I don't actually like them. This is probably exactly what crafting would feel like if I was cloned by aliens from the planet Stepford.  Best not to think about such things and just concentrate on finding a good home for these ornaments where they'll be appreciated.

We also made some mini salt dough cutouts, I used a toothpick to make a hole in the end before baking.  Here is an easy way to make tulip leaves.

2.5 inches from the end bend a pipe cleaner. 
Curve the sides a bit and give the end a twist.

 Make another 2.5 inch leaf the same way. 
Fold the rest of the pipe cleaner straight up the middle. 
Bring the leaves up towards the center and give the ends a little curl.
Put a little glue on the stem and stick it in the hole.  That's what she said.
OK back to Halloween, upside down tulips make cute little ghosts.
As always those leftover bits are perfect for making mini skulls
Now that I think about it, one of those would look cute on an egg shape covered in black lace. That's an ornament I could appreciate.   

A little bit more on sugar cookies. 30 years ago when I was a kid, sugar cookies sucked.  I don't know if it was just my family, but as far as I could tell cutout cookies were treated like red-headed stepchildren.  The grownups weren't crazy about them, but we had to have them around for the holidays. 

Cookie dough would be rolled paper thin to get as many cookies as possible out of a batch.  I remember watching delicate cutouts being carefully scooped up and gingerly transferred to cookie sheets. Then to make matters worse they were baked until browned ON TOP.  Of course by the time the tops were browning, the sides and bottoms were overcooked, many of the thinner ones working their way towards burnt.  Once cooled they were frosted and that's when we got to the good stuff and us kids got to decorate.  I remember spending forever on a single cookie, getting all the right colored sugar sprinkles in all the right places.  It was copious amounts of sugar mixed with pride and milk to dunk them (especially the burnt ones) that made them edible.

Why am I telling you all this? Because although sugar cookies bring back magical memories, I had never eaten one that tantalized my taste buds, not even from a bakery, that is until I found this recipe at 

I do deviate from the recipe and use buttercream frosting instead of royal icing.  I know royal icing looks pretty and hardens nicely, but it doesn't taste the best and I think it's a horrible way to ruin a good cookie.  These cookies even taste really good without icing.

Now that I'm the one making sugar cookies twice a year for Christmas and Easter, I realize why my grandmother's chocolate chip cookies were divine, while her sugar cookies were not.  Making any kind of drop cookie is like joyfully dropping spoonfuls of love on a sheet of happiness.  Sugar cookies on the other hand, well lets just say rolling out dough leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side.  I find making sure I have plenty of time takes the edge off.  It also helps that you can make the dough a couple days in advance and after baking you can freeze the cookies until you have time to frost.  I also keep them frozen after frosting until I need them. 

My last advice is don't let them brown. It might take a few tries to find that sweet spot.  Once you get a batch that is only slightly browned on the bottom, then cook the next batch one minute less and they should be perfect. That's your sweet spot, write it down for next time. Always let the cookies cool on the sheet for two minutes before gently moving them to a cooling rack. They will be very soft, but once they cool completely they will be firm but chewy.

Here's the buttercream frosting.  I've had it for so long I can't remember where I got it originally.


3 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk

Cream butter and add vanilla. Beat sugar in gradually at low speed.  Add milk and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes. 

Update: One last thing I forgot to add, I found some awesomely quirky bunny coloring pages from a Hungarian kids show, Kerek Mese, .  Besides Easter (Húsvét) and bunny (nyuszi) pages, they also have a sea monsters, a slug and much much more.