Wednesday, June 29, 2011

soap opera

Inspired by an article in Martha Stewart Living, I decided to whip up a quick batch of soap this morning.  Martha's basil soap used an herb puree but I decided whole sprigs from my basil bonsai from Sweet Valley Herbs would look lovely suspended in soap.  And because this was going in the kitchen, I also added some lemon zest. 

Melt.  Start with a plain unscented glycerine soap base which is available at craft stores.  (I actually think I will experiment with some other soap bases as well - how great would strawberry swirled in goat's milk be?) chop the glycerine and melt it over a double boiler. You can also use the microwave but when melting anything I always feel like I have more control using the boiler. Be sure to stir occasionally using a rubber spatula.

Prep.  While the soap base is melting, prepare your herbs and zest your lemon.  If you're making a berry soup, puree them a blender or food processor.  The suggested ratio is one teaspoon of herbs or puree to every cup of glycerine but you may want to experiment based on the colour or texture you want.

Mix.  Once the glycerine is completely melted, remove it from the double boiler and add the herbs or puree.  The glycerine cools quickly so you'll want to get it into the mold as soon as you can. 

Mold. Pour the mixture into a mold that's been sprayed with cooking oil.  You can buy soap molds but really there are lots of great options around the house - plastic containers, even rinsed, empty milk cartons - depending on the size and shape of the soaps you want.  The main thing is to choose a mold that's got some give or can be cut away for unmolding

One of the advantages of the purees is that they distribute evenly through the base.  With zest and whole herbs, you may have to accept that they will settle how they will.  In the case of this soap the basil settled at the surface and the zest at the bottom which actually kind of works as each side of the soap is different.  I'd resist the urge to try to stir the herbs and zest through the base too much.  If you stir after the base has started to firm up you can end up introducing imperfections and cloudiness.

Once you've poured the soap into the mold spray the surface with rubbing alcohol to get rid of bubbles.  Let the soap set for about half and hour on the counter and then move it to the freezer for an hour or two.

Release.  Once the soap has hardened, release it from the mold.  You can trim the edges with a paring knife and then cut the bars into the desired size.  I go four smallish bars from this soap.

Enjoy. Pretty and practical - this lightly-scented soap looks lovely by the kitchen sink.

Store. With one bar by the sink, I wrapped the remaining three in parchment paper.  The soaps should be good to use for three to four months.  And why keep it to yourself?  These would be great as part of a hostess gift or tossed into a house-warming basket. 

This project is so simple, I can't believe I never tried it before! Thinking of what else is in my herb garden - lemon balm, lavender, apple mint -has me in quite a lather!

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