January 27, 2013

Baby Olive Oil Bars

Layered olive oil soap is nothing new for me, I've done it twice before, but this is the first time I did it using a silicone mini-loaf pan as a mold. I bought the pan before I found out about miter boxes and figured it was an easy way to make uniform bars—and for making Beach Bars since the salt causes crumbling when cutting.
The bars are on the smallish side, but so adorable (and alas a little rustic).
Made these the day after Christmas. Infused (from top to bottom) with wild indigo, mint and nettle. Did a 10% superfat. No fragrance. Cold Process/Oven Process, so they were technically ready the next day, but I'm curing them until February. I've read that a long cure helps get rid of the 'slimy' lather that olive oil soap tends to produce.
One bar of this batch has already gone into the shower with me. Fab.

January 18, 2013

Getting Things Straight

I'm terrible at anything that involves straight lines. Maybe it has something to do with my apartment being slightly tilted—I have books under the legs of my furniture to even the surface areas out. Or maybe it's just one of the flaws of my personality. Like being awful at spelling.

My soap has suffered because of this. No matter how hard I try and how careful I am with measuring, scoring and cutting—my knife goes wonky half way through the cut and I end up with bars that look like parallelograms and trapezoids and shapes they don't have names for.

One of my New Year's Soap Resolutions is to cut straight, uniform bars—especially important as I'm going forward with packaging my short stories with my soap.

To solve this I bought a miter box—normally used for cutting 2x4's. There're slots in the box to keep your saw (or in my case knife) straight. Works like a charm. I cut these guys after four whiskey sours at Druid's.

Straight little soldiers.
Days of Wine and Rosehips Beach Bars.

There's only one little problem with the box. When the soap comes out of my silicone loaf mold, it's too wide to fit in the box. Because the mold is flexible, it allows the soap to expand. I have to cut the sides—a lot—to get it into the box.

Meaning, the sides of my bars will still have that distinctive Heather Holland Wheaton crookedness.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

January 13, 2013

Experiment with Beeswax #1: A Screw Up

How quaint and rustic

My friend and fellow gardener at Oasis Community Garden, Jenny Markovich gave me some raw beeswax last summer. She used to have a hive in the Clinton Community Garden on 48th Street. Used to. Her hive was invaded by a New York City rat and her bees fled for a safer location.

I didn't get around to rendering the wax until fall. It wasn't difficult. Just a little scary and messy. It's now another skill I can put on my resume.

Before I actually used the beeswax, I did a lot of reading on The Dish because I also wanted to add honey (and oatmeal). I had a couple of variables.

The big thing I got from my research was:

1) Melt your beeswax in with your oils.

2) Don't let the honey get too hot. It'll scorch and/or cause a volcanic explosion.

Explosions make me nervous. I vowed to keep things cool.

So on a gloomy November day, while Jenny's bees were probably hiding in their new hive somewhere in Central Park (I like to think) I set out to make my soap. I'd leave it un-fragranced—from what I'd read, the honey, beeswax oatmeal scent would come through the lye process.

I dissolved the honey in hot water then let it cool down before adding it to the lye water. That went fine. No weird smells, no explosions.

While the lye/honey mixture was cooling, I melted/heated the beeswax and oils (olive oil pomace infused with orange balsam thyme and a smidge of annatto for color, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and castor oil) in my trusty crockpot then shut it off.

This was my scew up. By the time I mixed the lye and the oils they were apparently too cool about 90 degrees). The wax/oil mixture was still liquid, but not hot enough.

I didn't learn this though until I took the soap out of the mold the next morning and I found this on the bottom:


That's re-solidified honey and beeswax. Lesson learned. Don't go to extremes in temperatures. I do have a tendency to go to extremes. Maybe this is a Life Lesson as well as a Soap Lesson.

More research. Posted a question on The Dish about using the soap as embeds, but it looked like the best solution was to rebatch. I shredded the soap up, cooked it for hours in my crockpot and plopped it a mini-loaf loaf mold. And got this:

Screams Little House on the Prairie

Way too rustic for my liking. I'm trying to get away from that whole thing. I live in New York, not the Appalachian Mountains. I want my soap to look edgy, not homespun. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I also added too much water to the rebatch and after two months it's still soft in the center. When I showered with it, the lather was good, but you had to work on it (and beeswax can cause this). The honey, beeswax, oatmeal fragrance was there—it's subtle though.  My winter skin felt great afterwards.

I saved a few bars for Jenny as a remembrance of her hive and it's a good soap for washing up after digging in dirt. By the time spring rolls around, they should be hard. The rest of the bars were remolded into embeds including these:

Balls served up on a silver platter

I rolled the balls in different powdered herbs (patchouli, sandalwood, star anise, Boswellia resin, jasmine and frankincenseleftover from my Mountain Rose incense making kit.

The balls will go into an upcoming batch that I'll make in the next few weeks. And I still have a little of Jenny's beeswax for another experiment—using what I learned from this one.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

January 6, 2013


Size does matter.
So, there's that great episode of Seinfeld when Jerry's girlfriend sees George naked after he was swimming in cold water—causing 'shrinkage' to his manhood.

'Shrinkage' also happens in soap—only it's the water evaporating during the cure that causes it. The bar that's cut when the soap first comes out of the mold is quite a bit larger than what it'll be a month or two later.
One of my New Year's Soap Resolutions is to package more of my short stories in booklet form with my soap. And I want the soap and the booklet to be the same size for a nice, neat appearance.
I can't simply cut bars so they're the same size as the booklets—which are all made using 5 x 8" index cards cut and folded to make a booklet that's 2.5 x 4". The soap will be smaller by the time it's cured.
So I'm working on my 'shrinkage.'

First off, I made a batch of soap using less water mixed with the lye. Normally it's 2.847 ounces of water to 1 ounce of lye. This batch was 1.871 to 1. This was all figured out using SoapCalc—a soap-maker's very best friend.

I then cut the bars, so they're about an eighth of inch bigger than the booklet on all sides. They are gigantic bars, but hopefully they'll shrink down to the size of the booklet.
The first page of my Heartwarming Holiday Story
used as a template. It looks kinda Biblical with
that Old English font.

If they're too big, I can always trim them down.
While the bars are curing, I'll have to figure out a story to use. Maybe something to do with a man's short comings?
Stay tuned.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

January 1, 2013

It's 2013

Break out the bubbly. Wish I still had some...

A lot of people make New Year's resolutions at this time of year that they never keep.

I do not.

What I usually do is buy a Moleskine journal and a selection of Uni-Ball pens to start a new year of writing. I love a whole book of clean, blank pages. Such possibilities. And there's no pressure to make myself a better person. All I have to do is write.

This year, however, I'm going to make a list of soap-making resolutions and soap projects that I want to complete by 2014. I won't beat myself up though if I don't actually follow through. Beating yourself up is never a good idea.

Soap-making Resolutions

1.   Learn to cut even, uniform-sized bars ( I might buy a mitre box to help with this).

2. Do something exciting with lavender that doesn't involve alkanet.

3.   Use up all the olive oil infusions I've made before the summer when it's too humid in NYC to make and cure soap.

4. Make more soap with embeds. My friend James says he loves when I put "all that Ben and Jerry stuff" into soap.

5. Maybe revisit melt and pour to use as embeds. They do look so fabulous.

6. Only use fragrance oils when doing hot process or re-batches since they have the tendency to wreak havoc.

7. 'Package' more soap with short story booklets like I did with my Heartwarming Holiday Soap (a big hit).

8. Learn to make liquid soap for my mom.

9. Post something on this blog at least once a week.

10. Stop buying more additives until I use up what I already have.

Soap Projects

1.   Coffee, Cardamom and Oatmeal (suggested by Brian Vinerio).

2.   More booze soap (White Star was insanely well-received) including:
            a)    Uncorked (wine)
            b) Shaken Not Stirred (vodka, vermouth, juniper berry infused olive oil with a lime/juniper fragrance)
           c)   Bloody Mary (vodka, tomato paste and black pepper)
           d)   Last Call (beer and hops infused olive oil)
           e)   Vice (Jack Daniels, tobacco infused olive oil and smoked sea salt)

3.   Shampoo bars (for pets and humans)

4.   Shaving soap

5.  Light and Sweet (coffee, milk, sugar and coffee butter)

6. The Ultimate Lemon Verbena

7.  Soap that looks like a NYC sidewalk (would involve 'cement' fragrance from Save on Scents).