Salt Dough Trees


Salt Dough Trees

Good Bye, Zeus


“It’s one of life’s great fallacies, it seems to me, said Lee, that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to a man. And memory. Yes, memory. Without that, time would be unarmed against us. “

East of Eden, John Steinbeck


We said good bye to Zeus, our 13 year old chow-chow, the day after Thanksgiving. It’s been tough. We knew his time with us was coming to an end, but still. I’m a cat person who fell in love with a ten year old rescue dog. That says so much and yet so little. We knew he was old when he became a part of our lives. We adopted him anyway. We accepted him for who he was and he accepted us. We stayed with him every step of his journey. We navigated his challenges as he aged and loved him even more. We miss him.


I believe Zeus came into our lives for a reason. He taught us so much. Reminded us of things we knew, important things that get pushed aside. Maybe we’re all like that, punching our way though life. It would be nice if a bit of wisdom stuck to us as we flew though our days. In this overly busy life, he taught patience. In the glossy strive for perfection, he taught acceptance. In the temptation to anger and seek revenge he taught kindness. He was Zeus.


I haven’t felt ready for holiday baking, instead I’m revisiting an old crafting recipe. Please note, this dough is not for eating! It’s easy, inexpensive and keeps our hands and minds busy in the kitchen. And is totally calorie free! This is a recipe that’s entertained children for generations. My inner child found a bit of holiday spirit working with the salt dough. Kneading and shaping the dough soothed my grief, sprinkling the glitter brought smiles. It’s the little things that bring joy during the holidays.

Salt dough

This recipe is infinitely flexible, food coloring will dye the salt dough, coffee or black tea gives the dough a rustic look. For a flecked and textured dough add used coffee grounds or tea leaves. The warming spices of winter, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, also will color and scent the dough. The salt dough can be imprinted with lettering or other shapes. It can be rolled countless times without fail and can be baked until it resembles the deep brown of stoneware. Rolled thinly the edges might pleasingly curl, thicker shapes often puff making the shapes more dimensional. Baking at a lower temperature, for a longer time, will keep the shapes flat.

Making Salt Dough Trees

Salt Dough Trees
4C all-purpose flour
1C table salt
1T cinnamon
1-3/4C cold coffee or black tea
Mod Podge
glue gun
small sticks or tree branches

Salt Dough Trees

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, salt and cinnamon. Add the cold coffee and mix until the mixture comes together. Mix another two minutes and then turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Cut the dough into 3 pieces. Wrap the dough you are not working with in plastic wrap. The dough can be kept in plastic wrap for several days without any noticeable change in quality.
  2. Keeping a lightly floured surface and rolling pin, roll the dough 1/8-1/4 inch thick. The dough can be rolled thinner or thicker. With a thinner dough the shapes will have crisper edges that may pleasingly curl. A thicker dough increases the chance of a puffy center. This is my favorite variation, the tree puffs and is more dimensional. Smaller shapes are easier to work with. They don’t stretch, curl or crack as much and dry more evenly.
  3. Heat the oven to 350°. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Lightly flour your cookie cutter and cut the dough into tree shapes. Leftover dough can be kneaded together and reused to make more trees. For standing trees, replace the tree stump on the bottom of the tree by cutting out a small half circle in the center of the bottom of the tree. This will make a place to add a tree stand. To make ornaments, garland or gift tags do not cut out the half circle, instead make small hole in the top of the tree with a straw or chop stick. The hole needs to be large enough for the twine or string to pass through. The dough shrinks in the oven as the liquid evaporates during baking.
  4. Without stretching the trees use an off-set spatula to move the them to the prepared cookie sheet. The trees can be placed closely together as the salt dough doesn’t spread like cookie dough. Bake for ten minutes and then turn the shapes. This helps the shapes dry evenly and stay flat. Keep checking and turning every ten minutes until the trees have firmed, turn brown, look dry and you can no longer bend them, approximately 30-40 minutes. The dough can be baked for even longer for a dark brown surface that resembles stoneware. Baking time will vary with size and thickness of the trees. Remove and cool completely.
  5. Heat the glue gun. Cut 1/2”-3/4” lengths from the twigs to make the tree stumps. The twigs do not need to be an exact fit but need to nestle inside the cut out shapes so that the trees will stand evenly once the twigs are glued in place. Completely finish gluing one tree before beginning the next one. Place a small amount of hot glue only on the bottom edge of the cut out circle of a tree. Then nestle a piece of branch into the half circle. Hold the twig in place for a few seconds while the glue begins to harden. Place the tree upright to finish drying. Repeat the process for all the trees.
  6. Paint the front surface and side edges of each tree with Mod Podge. Craft glue can be used if it is thinned with water to a consistency that can be easily painted in a thin layer. Sprinkle glitter on the wet surfaces. Dry thoroughly before threading strings or storing. I use a length of parchment underneath the glue and glitter. It makes for easy clean up.

Making Salt Dough Trees

Salt Dough Tree Garland

Salt Dough Tree Garland

Zeus resting

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28 Responses to Salt Dough Trees

  1. Deb, it’s a stormy night here on Sunnycove and I am reading this beautiful post of yours. It is so touching and sweet. You gave Zeus three good years , you nutured and loved him. He was so lucky to have found you.
    I love your salt dough ornaments. Thank you for sharing them with me , they are dangling on my Christmas tree.

  2. Edible Xmas ornaments: simply genius!!! Deb, I am so sorry for the passing of your lovely dog. May he rest in peace! May you be comforted. xx

  3. jacquie says:

    my deepest sympathies for the loss of your beloved Zeus. Your heartfelt words of tribute are a testament for how much he meant to you. The length of a relationship is no measure of it’s depth and it sounds as though you all had a deep bond. You gave him a home and kept him safe and loved on the last part of his journey for which i’m sure he was grateful for. What gifts he bestowed on you – acceptance, patience and kindness – what a good teacher and student. and that face – I just love it. I’m glad you were all a pack together at least for a short time.

    I will hold your pack in my heart when I light the candle tonight. Please be gentle on yourself in this time of deep morning. In sympathy.

  4. I’m so sorry about Zeus, Deb! We said goodbye to our 16-year-old cat on Halloween, and I know just how hard it is. He was such a handsome dog and his temperament sounds like a gem too… sending you many hugs! Your sparkling trees are just lovely and perfect for the holiday table (I think they’d be adorable as place settings!).

  5. Cathy says:

    How sad for you that your dear old rescue dog is gone. They bring so much joy to our lives, don’t they? He was lucky to have such a loving home for his last years. I love the idea of baking decorations and have never tried it – maybe next year! All the best Deb, thinking of you. xx

  6. I am so sad for you, Deb. I know the heartache from losing a beloved pet, and it can be really hard, but I’m sure you have so many special memories of Zeus (what a brilliant, strong name!). It sounds like he was so loved. What you shared will never fade. And it is nice to reminded about the salt dough decorations. It is not a thing here in the UK, but I grew up making these with my Mother. Your tips on how to colour and cut them are great. Pinned for others to see too. Have a lovely Christmas xx

  7. Oh Deb, I’m so sorry to hear about Zeus: it’s so hard to lose a beloved pet, and my thoughts are with you guys. It’s wonderful you’ve sort of found a way to busy yourself this way – salt dough is something i haven’t made since i was a kid, and you really make me want to do it this year. i love what you did with the tree garland (and especially the little tree trunks! so cute.) This makes me super-nostalgic. 🙂

  8. Mary says:

    Deb, I am so very sorry to hear about your loss. Two years ago I had to say good-bye to my doggie of 16 years, my first and only dog. I too am a cat person, but my daughter begged us for a dog when she was little, and we caved. With her at school, and my husband at work everyday, he became mine. I still miss him dearly. Zeus was a beautiful dog. I can just imagine how he warmed your hearts.

    The salt dough trees are as charming as can be. Pinning to my Craft Board!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you Mary! I very much appreciate your comment. It’s going to take awhile to grasp that he really is gone.

  9. So very sorry to hear your family has lost Zeus. Such a touching, beautiful post – he was clearly well loved. These edible trees are just adorable! Be well, Deb and holiday wishes to you and your family. xx

  10. valentina says:

    Wow. So much love you and your family had to adopt an older dog. It fills my heart just to hear about it. And that face! Zeus looks like a dog that was full love and wisdom. Sounds like you gave each other a beautiful gift of 3 precious years. Sending you and your family hugs — it’s such a hard loss.

    And these trees are lovely. I especially love the use of the twigs. Beautiful!

  11. cakespy says:

    Zeus = pure love. I am so happy that you were able to spend so much time and share so much love with him.

    These salt dough trees are bringing back childhood memories for me!! It makes me smile.

  12. lisa lawless says:

    So sorry to hear about Zeus. What a great-looking dog. I’ve heard of this dough before but have never worked with it. The strand of little trees is adorable!

  13. The love you gave Zeus was certainly returned many times over the course of his life with you. It is nice that you found a way to deal with your loss in the beautiful little trees that you made.

  14. So sad about Zeus! We’re basically cat people, but it’s hard to say goodbye to any critter, isn’t it? I feel for you. On another note, those trees are SO cute! Happy New Year!

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