Monday, February 21, 2011

Soap Making Lessons

My first lesson in soap making that I have learned is that gathering all the supplies you will need to make soap takes longer than I first anticipated.  It is a big part of the learning process as a beginner.  Once you've gathered all your supplies, the next time you plan to make soap will go much smoother.  You can learn along with me, I am using a book by Norma Coney called The Complete Soapmaker ; Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps.  In it, she talks about many different types of soap, I am beginning with basic soap, then will handmill it to add the fragrances, and natural additives.

Soap making is really a 3 part process;
1.  Gather your supplies, and render the suet if you're going to use a recipe calling for it.  
2.  Make a basic soap recipe.  In this book there are 5 basic soap recipes, a couple don't call for tallow at   all and use vegetarian oils.  Once your basic soap is made you will pour it into a large tupperware mold, and cut up it up when it's cured, this basic soap will then be used in many different recipes for hand milling. 
3.  Make handmilled soap by grating basic soap, melting, and adding additions like fragrance, herbs, fruits, spices, then pour into individual molds.  In this book she also tells how to make many different types of soap out of various fats rather than suet, like olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable shortening, cocoa butter castor oil, palm oil, and of course tallow, which she highly recommends.  I want to try different soaps to see which ones I like, and hopefully will have enough for gifts, bartering, and if I decide I really like it enough I may make soap to sell, we'll see after several batches are curing.

Here's the list of Soap Making Supplies I made up to check off as I found.  I wanted to buy inexpensive supplies just for soap making and nothing else.  Goodwill is where I found pots, plastic pitchers, some molds, and wooden spoons.

Supplies you will need for soap making 
  • Digital Kitchen Scale
  • Soap Pot ~ 8 ounces or larger stainless steel or unchipped enamel
  • 2 plastic pitchers with pouring spout
  • A couple long handled wooden spoons
  • 2 Kitchen thermometer
  • Rubber gloves
  • Wooden or stainless steel ladle
  • A couple stainless steel pots ~ for small batches of handmilled soaps
  • Soap molds
  • Lye
  • Olive oil
  • Suet ~ rendered into tallow
  • Cocoa butter
  • Larger tupperware container with lid
I will be making the Plain white soap recipe #1 in her book
it calls for these ingredients;
  • 32 ounces olive oil /vegetable oil
  • 74 ounces tallow
  • 3 ounces cocoa butter
  • 14 ounces lye
  • 41 ounces water
I still need to buy a digital scale, find the lye, and cocoa butter, tomorrow I'm headed out on a mission to obtain all 3, so I can make my basic soap.  I've been looking for soap molds all over, sardine cans work good, interesting shaped tupperware, and plastic or stainless steel molds.  You'll begin to look everywhere you go for what might make a nice shaped bar.  I will also do some simple rectangular shapes just by cutting them from a larger tupperware mold.

I also spent time today looking for soap making supplies closer to home, rather than driving into Seattle to go to Zenith.  Zenith is a store that carries everything for soap making, candles, herbs, spices, oils, etc, it's a great wholesale store, I've bought many things from them, and may end up taking the 45 minute drive there tomorrow to get more essential oils, cocoa butter, and almond oil.  It's a store that is easy to spend money in, so I have to go with a budget.  They also carrry digital scales.

Over the weekend I completed the rendering of the tallow, and wanted to show you the blocks of tallow that came from the suet.  After boiling it down and straining 2 different times I poured it into metal pans with high sides, let it cool overnight, and it pops out easily in the morning, ready to finish scraping off the last of the impurities that remain on the bottom.  I used a long knife to scrape it off.  After rendering the suet I ended up with 4 nice sized blocks that are hard, and  feel like cocoa butter on your hands.  It's amazing to me how you can take this really stinky mess when you're rendering it and boiling it down and turn it into something quite wonderful.  There's still a slight smell, but not much, they say the quality of your tallow is the single biggest factor to the quality of your soap.  If that's the case I should have nice soap.  Here are a few pictures to show you the impurities I scraped off after I took the tallow out of the pans.
You can see the top is a light brown, I will scrape it off and throw into the fire (or trash).

After all the time I spent to get to this point of making beautiful tallow,
 I'm looking forward to the next step of making basic soap. 

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