Collaborative brainstorming is everything. When my colleague Dennis Lee mentioned that he didn’t have any decorator tips in his house with which to pipe lovely desserts, every neuron started firing within my cheapskate, too-lazy-to-head-back-to-the-store brain. What other common household items might do double-duty as extruders? Our minds floated to many possibilities—bread clips, spent toothpaste nozzles—but one idea was more alluring than the rest: the Play-Doh Fun Factory.
Remember these things? The “factory” is really just a single plastic lever to which you can attach different shapes, from stars and leaves to thin spaghetti strings and hollow tubes. Then you just load it up with Play-Doh and let ’er rip. One thing you need to understand about the Play-Doh Fun Factory is just how cheap it is: for $4.99—a price that includes two tubs of Play-Doh!—parents can buy themselves countless hours of quiet, focused playtime, and childless adults can buy themselves a contraption that is several dollars cheaper than a cookie press. Plus two tubs of Play-Doh.
Most of your basic sugar cookie doughs have the same humidity and malleability as a wad of Play-Doh, meaning all you have to do is load it up into the factory chamber and start experimenting. Just as I remember learning as a kid, it’s best to press slowly on the lever, as this will create the most consistent shapes with the least amount of tearing. And make sure the chamber is loaded with a consistently solid mass of dough (or Doh), or else air pockets will cause irregularities. I tried all the different shapes, and it was still fun as hell to extrude them all, but the six-pointed star produced the most visually appealing cylinders of dough. They look a bit like scaly dragons if you let them get long and winding enough. Add some green food coloring and let your kid’s imagination do the rest!
Depending on the shapes you go with, your creations will each bake a little differently, but it’s hard to mess up a basic sugar cookie—just remember to use parchment paper, and refrigerate the shapes while the oven is preheating so that they have time to firm up. Take them out of the oven after about 10 minutes (or whatever your recipe dictates), just as they’re starting to get a touch of golden brown around the edges. Lift the parchment onto a cool surface and let them sit until cool. Even the cylindrical ones will be crispy on the bottom and pleasantly soft (but not too soft) in the middle.
Cleanup was just as easy as setup; as long as you don’t mind mangling the sticker decal on the side of the device, then a soak in warm water will pry the dough from its many nooks and crannies with ease. Maybe it’s not the best idea to bring Play-Doh even closer to the edible realm within the mind of your child, but I do like the idea that a kid can design a Play-Doh creation they’re proud of, then swap in real dough to turn that idea into snack time. As long as, y’know, you wash it really well in between uses.