Monday, 3 November 2014

A Christmas Cake (of soap)

Making soap is much like making a Christmas cake. 

You get the satisfaction of mixing exciting stuff together and you end up creating something that smells amazing. 

You also have to wait a few weeks before you can try it!

A couple of days ago I made a batch of Christmas soap. I know it's still early November but it takes 4-6 weeks to cure and, just like a Christmas cake, it gets better with age.

soap moulds and cutter
I started making proper Cold Process soap about ten years ago when I went on a course at The Natural Soap Company in glorious Wells-next-the-Sea. 

The 'Cold Process' method is the hardcore, chemistry-in-action way of creating pure, skin-kind soap out of oils and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda).  The irony is that you have to heat your oils and that until it has properly cured it is extremely irritant!  
Professor Snape would know how this magic potion made from drain cleaner turns into something so mild you can wash your kids with it, but I'll just have to ask you to trust me.  

Over the years I've bought a few soap making books but my hands down favourite 'recipe' was the basic one they provided on the day.

As well as the 1kg of oils (palm, coconut and olive) it allows for three tablespoons of essential oil(s). I've got a shot glass that holds exactly that amount so I sloshed in a mix of cinnamon, clove, mandarin and lemon essential oils until it was full. All very scientific. I'd had the bottles knocking around for a while and wanted them used up. Turns out I had exactly three tablespoons of oil combined. 
The God of Soap was with me and I hadn't even had to sacrifice a goat. 

I decided to improvise a 'decorative' swirl. I mixed a few spoons of Cadbury's Bournville cocoa powder with a spoon of soap to dissolve it, then put about a quarter of the soap in a jug and mixed the cocoa paste in. Then I got over excited and raided the kitchen cupboard again – I poured in a random amount of pure vanilla extract. There was just no stopping me.

It was about then that The God of Soap decided I'd gone far enough and went off for a nap. I lost confidence in my ability to attractively swirl the two batches of soap in my mould so I just poured them in willy nilly and hoped for the best. 

I also added a light dusting of cosmetic grade bronze mica. Usually I like my soaps to be as natural as possible but if you can't have a bit of sparkle at Christmas, when can you, eh?

After two days snuggled up in a duvet (the soap, not me) I cut it into bars. 

I think the chocolate vanilla swirl turned out quite well after all. Now all I've got to do is spend the rest of the month working out how I'm going to wrap it.