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