gluten-free salt dough ornaments

One Christmas, when I was in my 20s, I decided to get crafty. Maybe it was the ubiquity of Martha Stewart at the time. Maybe I had too much time on my hands. But I decided I would learn to sew and make ornaments for my family Christmas tree by hand. I picked out adorable fabric in splashes of red and green, bought thread and needle, and hunched over the table with a light shining on my work. After a few of the seams burst when I stuffed them with soft cloth, I switched to plastic wrap. That’s right. I scrunched up plastic wrap and stuffed it inside bell and Santa ornaments. One of them still exists and ends up on the tree every year — it’s puffy and bulky and just plain wrong. My mom calls it Rambo Angel.

I just don’t have that gene.

But making salt dough ornaments? Well, this week I learned that I can at least do that.

Lucy is so jazzed about the season that I have let go of my stubborn insistence that I cannot do anything crafty. I’m realizing that what I have meant all these years is that I cannot do those things perfectly or even very well. But I can try. Nothing like a three-year-old’s excitement to remind you that none of this is about being perfect. (“What in this world is perfect?” —Mary Oliver) It’s about doing it, about sitting at the table together when it’s dark at 4:30, music on, hands moving, making memories.

Salt dough ornaments are super easy. Gluten-free? No problem.

Here you go.


2 cups gluten-free flour mix (we used sorghum, potato starch, sweet rice, and cornstarch here)

1 cup kosher salt

about 1 cup lukewarm water


(You don’t have to be so precise with these measurements as when you’re baking. It’s mostly by feel, anyway.)

Put the flour and salt in a stand mixer. Run it. Slowly, add the lukewarm water until the dough comes together around the paddle. It should feel pliable without being sticky. If it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add some water. Keep playing until it feels right.

Roll out the dough on a floured table, preferably while two 3-year-olds try to touch it. Persuade them to not eat the dough. It’s too salty. It’s not a cookie, kiddos. Roll out the dough to the thickness you want the ornaments to be.

Cut out shapes with the cookie cutters of your choice. You might want to demonstrate to the kids that the point is to make a clear, sharp line, instead of tapping the star cutter 27 times in the same place.

Put all the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 200°.

While the oven is preheating, poke one end of a straw into the top of each shape. That will be where you put the hook.

Bake in the 200° oven until the shapes feel firm, which takes 2 hours. Turn off the oven and let the baking sheet sit in there for another hour.

When the shapes have cooled, paint them any way you want. And remind the kiddos that no, this still isn’t a cookie.


We’re making more this weekend, this time with paste and sprinkles. What a fine, imperfect frenzy it will be.


I asked some of my friends what holiday crafts they do with their kids. Here’s some of what they suggested: 

“When Aalton was little, we made tiny houses out of cardboard that go under the tree. And at almost 17 yrs, he still pulls them out.”

“You might try a salt dough creche or a gingerbread house! We loved this last year.”

“We’ve done applesauce ornaments (some are still around, 5 years later!), gingerbread people, gingerbread houses, homemade ornaments from yarn and popsicle sticks and construction paper (that only a parent could appreciate), and this year we’re making our own holiday cards, using potato stamps!”

“When the boys were little, we made xmas ornaments with Fimo and Sculpey clay. We still have them… you bake the clay in the oven- it’s very easy.”

“Homemade wrapping paper. We took old paper shopping bags – dipped star and tree cookie cutters in glittery paint and we “stamped” them all over the paper – took two seconds and they will be proud to use it.”

“We cut out little Christmas trees and wreaths and number them to make a “count down” to Christmas. We tape them on the window in the shape of a big wreath and my daughter takes one down every day. That’s about as crafty as we get around here.”

“We decorate a tree outside for the birds. Bird seed ornaments, popcorn & cranberry strings, orange slices, peanut butter & cracker mixes. Then the birds come and we drink hot chocolate and watch them. The trick is to research to learn what our favorite birds will like and then observe to see if this is so.”

“Paper chains–strips of construction paper, glue sticks! (I love crafting, as you know….but that’s almost as easy as it comes.)”

“Cutest Christmas craft I ever received was an ornament the girls preschool teacher helped them make. Take a largish colored glass ball. Dip child’s hand in white acrylic paint. Place the ball into the child’s hand and make sure each finger touches. Remove ball, do the next one. Each dip of paint seems to get about 3 balls printed with the fingers. Let dry and “help” add details to the 5 snowmen her fingers create. These are fabulous ornaments for all the family members who want to watch her grow.”

Lucy and I (and Danny on his days off) are going to try a bunch of these this week. How about you? What do you like to do?

40 comments on “gluten-free salt dough ornaments

  1. gretchen

    just made applesauce ornaments this week with my almost 4 year old to supplement the other applesauce ornaments that have managed to survive 12 christmases. seriously. love those things and they make your house smell divine.

  2. Jean Layton

    Those snowmen ornaments have a place of honor on our tree. You just know that the child was tiny when it was made. But have a wet cloth nearby so the paint doesn’t become wall paint. Or on the cat.

  3. Alanna Kellogg

    Lovely stuff, full of memories. PS A friend long ago taught me to think, “Up until now, I haven’t been good at …” or “… don’t like …” or “… would never …”.

  4. kelley

    When my children were very small, handprint things were always fun. Now that they are older, it’s fun to put their large, almost-adult sized hands next to the plaster ornaments of their babyhood. One year, we used paint on construction paper. To be festive, I’d picked red and green. I still laugh when I see what appears to be bloody handprints on the tree.
    One simple and cheap thing we did was collect popsicle sticks, then paint them yellow. We glued 5 of them into a star shape (I did that part with a glue gun) and then the kids would put drops of glue on it and stick different colored sequins on each drop.
    Even the cheesy foam-sticker slacker-mama ones we did over the years bring back memories of happy times for the kids. It’s nice to recycle materials when possible, or use ones that are nature-given. But you know what–it is about the time spent together–not the materials or the outcome.
    This year, the kids are getting together with friends and making healthy (gluten free!) dog biscuits for the pups at the shelter, and braiding old denim for dog toys too.

  5. gluten free gift

    I like making wrapping paper with the kids… cut out shapes or found objects dipped in poster paint and repeat patterned all over recycled stuff like newspapers. Easy, fun and accessible to kids of all ages. Saves loot and trees too!

    1. Traci

      Ooo! Brainstorm when reading about paper chains…pull out those deckle edge scissors we all collected (thank you Martha Stewart) to cut the strips with! [Or, maybe I’m just slow and everyone already does that!!] Merry Merry everyone!

  6. Kristen

    Before I had my son, I would have all of my nieces and nephews over to do crafty things for their parents (and their parent’s got a night out to do Christmas shopping…or whatever they wanted). My 2 favorites are: “stained glass” candle holders- baby food jars, little squares cut out of a variety of colored tissue paper, and Elmer’s glue. Just glue all the tissue on, and use a pretty ribbon to cover the top of the jar, when you light a candle inside it’s actually kinda pretty 🙂 The other involves pretty colored paints (metallic paint looks the best) and clear glass or plastic ball ornaments. Take the little metal top off of the ornament, drip drops as few or as many colors of the paint as you want, put the top back on and shake and swirl like crazy. Eventually the whole inside is coated and then the kids write their names on the outside with silver or gold marker pens. They always turned out great, were messy (which equals fun), and their parent’s still have them! This year my son and I are making Crayon Ornaments for all of his cousins

  7. Aryn

    My sister made salt dough ornaments when she was younger. But she made them huge – they weigh about half a pound each. Fortunately, my parents have a fake tree that can support their weight.

  8. lauren@spicedplate

    Oh, thank you for reminding me about this! I work with home schooled kids and a few of them are gluten intollerant/celiac like me, and this would be perfect to do with them to celebrate the season. Thanks, Shauna!

  9. Ana

    Large amounts of salt are in most play dough recipies too. Do you know why they all require so much salt?

    (Not retorical, I really don’t know!)

  10. Tina

    Sooo cute! We always used to make ordiments out of gingerbread! It always reminds me of great memories when I read other peoples fun ways of spending time with family. Merry Christmas!

  11. kale

    I think you can do anything, gluten-free girl! When the motivation is spending creative time with your kids, the possibilities are endless. 🙂

  12. Madeline

    My dad’s co-worker also happened to be a neighbour of ours, and soon a friend. When his kids were little, they gifted us with ornaments made from those clear plastic Christmas balls one snaps together like an Easter egg. The kids could choose any colours they wanted from their paint collection, dribble them inside, snap the ornaments together, and shake them up to coat the insides. The ornaments ended up looking like something faux-hemian you’d spend way too much money on at a shop, and it was still good fun with paints. I’ve seen other crafters use the same snap-together ornaments with julienned newsprint or old novels inside, but they can also be used to make terrariums or little beach scenes.

  13. molly

    what IS it with little girls and making stuff? three kids, and it’s only the last one that’s got me racing circles around the glue sticks.

    What in this world is perfect, indeed. Dang that Mary Oliver. She’s an Ohio girl, you know.

    Happy imperfect making. These kids, they shake us up just right.

  14. Betty

    I loved making ornaments with my kids when they were young.
    I still put them on the tree. My youngest is now 25. We made salt dough
    ornament too. 🙂

    A few favorites.

    Supplies needed- Large peanuts (in shell) Sets of small eyes, brown pipe cleaner.
    small ribbon. Use small amount of brown pipe cleaner to form antlers.
    Glue antlers to the top of the peanut. Apply the eyes, and glue down. Use
    a small piece of ribbon, and form a loop. Glue the loop to the back of the peanut.
    The loop will be used to hang the ornament. Without seeing these, they might
    not sound cute, buy they really are. 🙂

    Lace fans,

    These are pretty. Buy tiny red fabric roses, with small green leaves attached. Buy lace about 1.5 – 2 inches in height. Cut a section of lace with enough to gather into a small fan.
    Use a needle, and thread to secure the bottom of the fan.
    You only need to run the thread through the thickness of the bottom, a
    couple of times. Make a knot, and tie off the end of the thread.
    Glue a small rose on the bottom(face) of the fan. When dry, just loop an ornament
    holder carefully through the lace. The lace looks pretty with the tree lights
    shining through. 🙂

    This is something one of the teachers did with my youngest. She cut out cute
    teddy bears.(Two, back and front) The front belly of the teddy bear has an oval opening. The kids decorated the bears with glitter. Then the teacher helped them sandwich their
    school picture in between the back, and front secured with glue. I still love putting this ornament on my tree every year. My son (25 now) always looks for this ornament.
    Note: The bear has a hole punched at the top for an ornament hanger.

    1. Betty

      Oops! I forgot to add the red nose to the reindeer. You can purchase
      tiny red puffy balls in the craft section. 🙂

  15. Kimber

    I just found this site and made the sugar cookies-they were so good and better than the ones I buy at a G Free bakery for $4 a cookie.

    I am trying to make some of these recipes but I need help on two of the conversions. What is 2 grams of guar gum to tsp? Also, what is 3 grams of xanthan gum to tsp?

    I have looked everywhere and I can’t figure it out. Please help. I am new to making my own gfree treats.

  16. Anna S.

    Just wanted to let you know, I am no longer seeing updates for this blog on my blogger feed. I’m not sure why, as I am still subscribed. Has anyone else had this problem?

  17. Caitlin Redmond

    I am the youngest of five children in my family. Every year while growing up my parents had us each make a little paper chain, with the year written on the first link. Each year we attached our new links to the old ones. Now, when I go to my parent’s house for Christmas, the paper chain is draped around the entire first first floor perimeter and goes up to the second floor. It makes me feel so warm when I see it each year (though after 30 years it is becoming quite dilapidated!). 🙂

  18. Nickelle Dirrett

    Dear Gluten Free Girl,
    Your story is amazing and I’m so happy you are able to share it through something so beautiful as food. I am starting to write for a local paper and am going to be their monthly recipe girl, and am really excited to work with locally grown goods and gluten free products to create my dishes. I would love to feature your gluten free chocolate chip recipe in my first article (coming out on Tuesday the 20th of December), as well as some of your story because I feel it would really connect with our readers. If you are able to e-mail me back we can talk some more details, and do an online interview if you have time :). Thank you so much and I hope to hear from you soon!

  19. shantipetal

    I saw a similar recipe in ‘Living Without ‘ magazine in the november issue.
    It is allergy friendly also. I made the salt dough ornaments and they are so cute.
    They also had ‘play clay’. Check it out for fun things for the kids.
    thanks for your great blog site.

  20. sheree

    @rd, my daughter is so sensitive to gluten that anything with gluten in it causes a reaction in her. We have to be careful, not just with foods but soaps, shampoo, and yes, even things as simple as salt dough ornaments. You see, people with celiac’s don’t just react when they ingest gluten but also when it gets on their skin (which is the largest, and most absorbant, organ on your body). We cannot even have playdough around her and when she was first diagnosed and I tried to cook seperate foods for her, just being around gluten flours would make her very sick. Now there is very little to no gluten in our home.

    Shauna, thankyou for the recipe. Cant wait to try these!

  21. Jane

    Not sure exactly why you needed to make gluten-free salt dough ornaments???? It’s not like you’re eating them. Nonetheless, as I read more and more about different foods, I can see using less foods that contain gluten may be a good thing. I’m looking forward to reading your blogs and trying your recipes.

  22. chris

    Just made these using a boxed GF flour (GF Pantry), had to use a little more water than you said, and added some peppermint oil because they smelled like paste! I made circles and pressed my toddlers hand in the middle. They’re in the oven now, paint tomorrow!

    And to the last two commenters, I have the same answers: 1. There is no gluten in this house and 2. Just touching it gives me a rash. A 3rd would be that dust from regular flour stays in the air for about 2 days, so even if I used wheat flour for a crafting project, the dust would rain down on my food and kitchen for two days! I can tell you from experience (when visiting someone) that it can lead to cross-contamination and illness.

    THANK YOU, as usual, for all your recipes Shauna!

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