Saturday, January 29, 2011

Soap Making

I made bar soap today. I'd rendered suet before and froze it. I've not done it for a long while, so I re-skimmed all my soap books to refresh my memory. I've not bought soap since we like my homemade soap, having made and used it for twenty years now.

For years I used department store boxes lined with stapled on plastic garbage bag plastic. I still have these in the garage, tho Monte made me nice wood boxes several years ago. I line these with freezer-wrap paper, waxed side up, of course - taping it to the edges. My boxes' inside dimensions are 11 1/2" x 18" and a couple inches deep.

Firstly, I put on my apron, glasses, and a mask, to make the lye - water mixture, as it heats to over 200 degrees and needs to cool. I made a recipe I have in my cookbook I got from Ann Bramson's Soap book from the 70's. I first measure my empty 1/2 gallon canning jar and add 32 oz (2#) water. Some years I've brewed herbs in this water hoping for their herbal properties in my soap. Then I stirred in 12 oz lye (sodium hydroxide - ordered from online) using a plastic spatula. Little bits of lye will tingle with a burning sensation on your skin, if you get it on. Just rinse it off. You don't want to breath this reaction, so ventilation is nice.

Measure your stainless steel 4 qt pan and add 38 oz tallow (palm oil is it's equivalent; shortening could be used too), then add 24 oz coconut oil and 24 oz olive oil (this time I did 20 oz and then 4 oz castor oil - just because I wanted to!). Heat these till solids are not quite melted. It takes some time to cool down, and will continue melting while sitting.

You want the lye mixture and oil mixture to be about the same temperature around 95-98 degrees. I had to set the lye mixture outside to cool down. I put some cold water in the sink to cool the fats down some too, once the lye was down and ready. If the lye cools too much, sometimes just stirring it will raise the temp a bit. Whether I've got water in the sink or nor, I put the pan in the sink for slowly pouring the lye mixture in. You want the lye water to pour slowly like a pencil width, stirring the fat continually at the same time, using a rubber spatula. Gently keep stirring for the lye and fats to chemically connect and do their thickening thing.

Keep stirring in circles and swirls gently for at least 10 minutes. Then you can occasionally stir it. This time it set up fast (some times it could be an hour), thickened enough that when dripped from the spatula it leaves a trace on the surface, leaving a trail a short bit. At this point is when additives like scent and coloring is added. I usually don't add these, liking the creamy color and tallow or palm oil are forever sweet smelling. If lard were used, or a poor quality beef fat, it develops an off smell over time, so scenting masks this. It's best to use essential oils. Colorants I've used are things like cinnamon, cocoa, turmuric - this time in one of the soaps I added 5 tsp paprika.

I also added essential oils this time: 2 tsp lavender, 1 1/2 tsp rose geranium, 1 tsp rose oil, 1/2 tsp sage. Not like that's my favorite, but what I had that I thought might go together. Most bottles sold are typically a 3oz size. I found that's about 2 teaspoons worth. For this amount of recipe (about 8 pounds) it's suggested you use 4-5 teaspoons. I ended up adding to my shopping list now that I took stock of what I've got and what I want. For gift-giving and covering with felt, having scented soap is nice.

Once the mixture is thick enough with the tracing, pour it into to molds. Soap needs to sit covered with a blanket to keep warm, for about 24 hours. Then I dump it out on a plastic table cloth. Using rubber gloves I'll cut it into bars or shapes. I'll post a pic of this tomorrow or the next. The soap then needs to sit on brown paper or stainless steel racks or wicker or rattan placemats to cure for 2-4 weeks. During this time the lye turns from a caustic ingredient, into an emollient mixture.

See my earlier post on other soapmaking I do. And I'll be posting later, finishing up the process and thoughts.

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