Monday, December 20, 2010

Arthur's Christmas Cookies - Salt Dough Ornaments

"'Maybe I could still use my cookies,' said Arthur. 'Maybe I could paint them all different colors.'" - Arthur's Christmas Cookies, Lillian Hoban

Arthur's Christmas Cookies (I Can Read Book 2)

There are a lot of seasonal treats I enjoy (Gingerbread latte, anyone?) this time of year but if I could choose only one Christmas treat to indulge in it would have to be, without a doubt, the frosted sugar cookie. Oh, you can keep your peanut butter kisses and candy cane twists. When I think Christmas cookies, I think sugar cookies (thanks, Aunt Sue). There is just no other acceptable choice.

Arthur's Christmas Cookies is not a book about sugar cookies though, not really. While it starts out that way it actually ends up being a book about a recipe gone wrong and the surprising result. Arthur is frustrated because he's trying to make Christmas presents for his parents but nothing is turning out. Finally, he decides to make Christmas cookies in his sister Violet's Bake-E-Z oven. What initially begins as a solo effort turns into mass chaos as his friends and sister get involved. Once the cookies have been baked and they are about to snack on a few, they realize that Arthur hasn't made sugar cookies. Due to a mixup, he's used salt instead of sugar and he's actually made clay cookies. At first Arthur is upset that yet another present has been ruined . . . until he realizes he can paint his clay cookies and give them to his parents as ornaments.

One of the things I like about this book is that it acknowledges that mistakes in the kitchen do happen, and that it's okay. We might not always be able to salvage our mistakes the way Arthur does, but it's nice to know that we aren't alone when we put too much salt in the cookie dough (or baking soda, as the case may be--not that my 14-year old self would know anything about that).

Arthur's Christmas Cookies is written and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, half of the duo responsible for the popular Frances books. There are a lot of similarities here, not just in the illustrations but in the storyline and even the writing style. I remember reading the Arthur books as a child and though my kids are big fans of Frances I had kind of forgotten about Arthur. Picking this book up was like being reunited with an old friend. My kids enjoyed it too; even though it was published in 1972 it still feels fresh and relevant. Salt dough ornaments are still a great Christmas craft.

Salt Dough Ornaments


  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 cups flour*
*Because we were not eating these ornaments, I made them using regular old all-purpose flour. 

1. Dissolve salt in warm water.

2. Add flour to the salt water.

3. Mix flour and water thoroughly and knead for several minutes. This will help work out air bubbles.

4. Roll dough out and cut shapes out using cookie cutters.

5. Bake dough in a 200* oven for 1,5 to 2.5 hours, or however long it takes to bake out all of the moisture. If your dough is thicker it will take longer. (I lined my cookie sheets with parchment paper.)

6. When ornaments are completely cool, paint using acrylic paints. After the last coat of paint dries, "seal" using varnish (we used a paint-on varnish).

My rocket.

Some finished ornaments some lucky friends and relatives will receive as gifts.

My kids enjoyed this craft a lot. However, at 5 and 7 they haven't quite developed the patience necessary for a project that involves waiting for various coats of paint to dry. If you plan on using several colors and layers, it can be an all day project (especially if you paint both sides of the ornament). What they lack in patience, though, they make up for in creativity. I was impressed with the way they chose their colors and executed their artistic visions. On this level, it was far more successful than the first time we tried this three years ago. We definitely plan to do it again next year, perhaps getting a little more creative with the shapes we choose.

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