Lather up DIY soap
Jean turns from cheese to soap-making and discovers a new obsession.
his year, have become soapmaker and discovered it’s just as addictive as cheese.
I went along to an evening soap-making workshop held in the Whitianga Museum. Tutor Lisa Peehikuru has been making soap for many years selling under her Soap+ label at country markets and retail outlets (www.soapplus.co.nz).
That night we made three different types of soap: a lavender with crushed buds, a rose clay with a delightfully heady scent, and a lively green kawakawa.
First, we donned safety gear of aprons, gloves and safety glasses. We took turns weighing ingredients – getting measurements right is very important – mixing, taking temperatures, adding colouring and scents and other additives to give texture, and then pouring into moulds. It was so like cheesemaking, I felt right at home. I was enthralled.
The scary part when you read about soap-making is handling the caustic soda, but once you have overcome your anxiety about using it, it’s simple to do.
The other thing holding me back was sourcing the ingredients and fragrances and colours. Lisa very kindly supplied me with my first ‘go it alone’ ingredients and I have since found good suppliers in Auckland and Tauranga. There are many more all around the country that will supply by mail order. Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) is available from hardware stores.
The next day we all went back to Lisa’s to cut our loaves of soap. What a delight seeing the swirls of colour inside the loaves. Just like cheesemaking, you then have to be patient and let the soap cure for a month before using.
I hustled home with my already-formed soaps and ingredients and assembled all the equipment. I needed to make my own soap. That meant: • raiding husband Dave’s garage for safety glasses and mask; • resurrecting a very old apron • getting some gloves from the supermarket • finding some sturdy plastic containers • sourcing a large stainless pot, digital scales and thermometer.
The key piece came from my daughter-in-law, an unused, hand-held stick beater. I even had some silicone cupcake cases and lined a single wine box with baking paper to use as moulds.
This is a very addictive hobby. I had to buy another lot of ingredients, but substituted frozen Jersey cow milk from the farm instead of water. The results were beautiful. With the help of some old books and the ‘soap queens’ on youtube, I have now added to my successful recipes.
I had started with some refined recipes containing expensive oils. The next step was to go back to the beginning and look at soaps made with dripping and lard, like people would have made 100 years ago. It turns out, dripping makes a very usable soap.
Next was straight olive oil and caustic soda which made a good hard white soap called ‘castile’ but it doesn’t lather much.
Just as my cheeses get names, so now do my soaps. My Jersey milk recipe is so mild that it would suit even a baby’s complexion so I named it ‘Milk Baby’ and it’s going to be a gift for my expectant niece. It will be cured just in time for my grand-niece’s birth.
A caustic soda and frozen goat milk mix went a frightening yellow colour and smelt strange. I had to work hard to get that quick-setting mixture into the moulds.
Consequently things went a little awry. The set soap went up the sides of the baking paper. But when I unmoulded it, it looked really cute so maybe that’s a new way of shaping goat milk soap.
I also got a great little soap ‘stamp’ online so it’s now called ‘Jas’ and has a delightfully mild scent and creamy beige colour.
I’ve made a swirling Armanistyle fragranced soap for Dave with tallow, coconut oil and olive oil. It’s slightly muddy blue swirls remind me of the Waihi River in flood so I am calling that one ‘Ohinemuri’.
My rose pink and petal flower soaps are ‘blush’ made with mostly olive oil and a little coconut oil. This turned out beautifully making a hard textured floral delight.
There are so many products on the market to use as ingredients or shapes and even with a little bit of imagination you can create something wonderful.
Although I have no intention of marketing soap, it is surprising how many visitors I have who go home with a little soapy something.
The key piece: an unused, hand-held stick beater