Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fresh Snow Gradient Layer Soap

Winter is almost officially here. When I think of winter, I think of clear big-blue-sky days and clean, chilly air. I also think of snow, but mostly in a romanticized kind of way. Having lived my whole life in either Florida or Louisiana (or Hawaii, if my four-month stint there counts), I don't have much experience with snow. Sure, we get flurries from time to time and it's a super-huge deal. I've been in snow before, though. When my husband and I visited New York City in March 2007, we arrived just in time for a freak snowstorm. And we experienced more snow in Boise, ID in December 2010.

Snow can be magnificent when it first falls - powdery flakes floating all around, covering everything with a blanket of shimmering white. Colors pop like never before all around you, and the air feels crisp and clean. Those first few hours of snowfall make you grab your camera and brave the cold. Over the next couple of days, though, the snow turns gray and slushy. Walking becomes difficult as you trudge through dirty snow puddles, and driving becomes dangerous. That's when you start thinking that maybe the snow isn't so great.

Downtown Boise, ID after a snowfall, Dec. 2010
In my imagination, snowfalls are always beautiful, and the sky is always a flawless bright blue. I wanted to create a soap that captures my idea of a perfect snow day. And so I chose to do a blue-to-white gradient layer soap scented with Bramble Berry's Fresh Snow fragrance oil. (This fragrance oil soaps like a dream and behaves absolutely beautifully in cold process soap. It has a nice, slow trace that allows for plenty of time to work, and it doesn't discolor at all. It also smells fantastic, its scent reminiscent of a cold wintery day.)

The gradient layer technique is also known as the gradated, graduated, or Ombre layer technique. The goal is to create layers that become progressively lighter in color as you move from the bottom to the top of the soap. Gradient layers can be made using a single color or several colors.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may remember my first attempt at creating gradient layers - a green-to-gold Cucumber Melon soap. Overall, I was pleased with the soap, although I wished that my layers were a bit more uniform. I had poured my layers over the back of a spoon to prevent the soap from breaking through the previous layer, but I had some break through anyway. I decided that the next time I did a gradient layer soap, I would spoon the soap batter instead of pouring it.

That's what I did for my Fresh Snow soap, and the layers did turn out much more distinct. For this soap, I used olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter.

Fresh Snow soap, sprinkled with sparkly glitter
My recipe makes about 44 ounces of soap batter, so I decided to have six 6-ounce layers of blue and one 8-ounce layer of white. I added my FO to my cooled oils before adding the lye solution. Once I added the lye and stickblended the batch to a light trace, I portioned off 12 ounces of soap into a plastic measuring cup. To whiten the rest of the batch, I added some titanium dioxide (mixed with liquid glycerin), reserving some for later.

I added some ultramarine blue oxide (again, mixed with a bit of liquid glycerin) to the 12-ounce portion and then poured half of the blue soap into my mold. Then I mixed 6 ounces of the white soap into the remaining blue soap, and spooned half of that portion for my second layer. Because I added some white soap to the blue, the second layer was a shade lighter. I repeated this pattern for the first five layers, making each layer progressively lighter.

For the sixth blue layer, I added a bit of the reserved titanium dioxide to lighten the soap instead of adding more white soap. I spooned the remaining blue soap (which was very light blue by this point) into the mold and then spooned the remaining white soap on top of it. A mini whisk helped me create some texture on top of my loaf, and I finished the soap off with a sprinkling of shredded iridescent glitter to mimic freshly-fallen snow glinting in the sunlight.

Here is a video I made of the process:

When making gradient layers, it is important that the previous layer is set up enough to support the next layer. It helps to bring your soap to a medium trace and to test the previous layer by drizzling a bit of soap on top of it to make sure it doesn't sink.

I am very happy with how this soap turned out, and I like how distinct each layer is. Spooning the soap definitely worked out better than pouring over the back of a spoon this time. I think these will make beautiful Christmas gifts! (Although I may have to keep a bar for myself!)

One more thing - last call for Bramble Berry's "Givember" event, which continues through the end of November! A few weeks ago, the lovely folks at Bramble Berry sent me some supplies to try (you can read more about that here) and offered a very special treat to my blog readers. Here's how it works: Any Bramble Berry order placed during the month of November that includes the code GIVEMBER50 will get you entered into a drawing for a $50 Bramble Berry gift certificate. This code only applies to orders placed during November - don't forget to include the code during checkout! Happy shopping, and best of luck to you all in the drawing!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sweet Pumpkin Soap (With Pumpkin Puree and Goat's Milk)

Some pumpkins I spotted in Gatlinburg, TN
When autumn arrives, it seems like I've always got pumpkin on the brain. I want to bake pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies. I want pumpkin bisque, pumpkin-scented lotions, pumpkin lip balm.

Pumpkin soap.

With the holidays approaching, I need some soap to gift. Everyone needs soap. Everyone loves soap. Not everyone loves pumpkin, but the good thing about soap is that you don't have to eat it. In fact, you definitely should not eat it. So, even if you don't like to eat pumpkin, you'll probably like pumpkin just fine in soap.

Hopefully, you'll like it better than fine. The natural sugars in pumpkin can help boost the lather, creating a luxurious bar. And if you also add something like goat's milk (which I did in this batch), the luxury factor goes into overdrive.

To make this soap, I used olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, shea butter, and castor oil. For my liquid, I used part goat's milk (168g) - which I measured off and froze ahead of time - and part distilled water (121g). The original recipe called for 345g of liquid (for a full water amount), but you'll notice that my liquid adds up to 289g. Because I also added 56g of pumpkin puree, I subtracted that amount from my liquids. (I used the pumpkin puree at a rate of 1 ounce, or 28g, per pound of oils.)

I used canned pumpkin for my puree. (Make sure you read the ingredients label - you want 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has added spices and sugar.) Because I was using only 2 ounces total, I had some left over. Unless you're making a fifteen-pound batch (or using a lot more pumpkin than I did), you'll probably have some extra, too. You can freeze the leftover pumpkin for later. Or you can make Pumpkin Molasses Cookies, which is what I did.

Goat's milk is a wonderful additive in soap - it feels so creamy and the sugars in it also boost the lather. It's a good idea to freeze the goat's milk ahead of time and to soap cool so that the sugars in the milk don't scorch. I like to stir my lye solution in an ice bath to keep the temps low. The thing about goat's milk is that it can smell a little funky when the lye hits it. I've heard it described as an ammonia-type smell, but I think it sorta smells like goat cheese. Many folks find the smell unpleasant (I didn't mind too much since I absolutely adore goat's cheese), but not to worry - the smell disappears within a few days and shouldn't affect the scent of the final soap.

For the scent, I used a Sweet Pumpkin fragrance oil from Elements Bath and Body. This is my favorite pumpkin scent out of all of the pumpkin FOs I have tried so far. It is more sweet than spicy, which is why I like it so much. See, my nose is weird. I have a difficult time detecting spice notes like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc. A lot of times I can't really smell pumpkin-scented candles. I once had a pumpkin and spice FO that I couldn't smell at all. Thinking that maybe the fragrance was defective, I had my friend sniff the bottle and he said, "What?! You can't smell that? It's so strong!" Funny thing is, my dad is kinda the same way. I dragged him into a Yankee Candle once and made him smell everything and he and I had trouble with a lot of the same scents. Genetics, I guess. DNA is weird wacky stuff.

Anyway, I really like this fragrance oil and everyone else seemed to like it, too, when I used it last year. The vanilla in the fragrance oil does discolor the soap, though, so it is necessary to plan accordingly. My soap went from a carrot-orange color to a dark but lovely brown.

Somewhere along the line, I saw this blog post by Amy from Great Cakes Soapworks. She uses a rubber stamp dipped in mica to embellish her soap bars. I loved this idea, and thought it was an easy way to add some pizzazz to my bars. Amy even made a YouTube video showing how she stamps the soap, and I used her method. (A big thank you to Amy for sharing her technique!) I didn't realize until I watched the video again that she and I had made very similar soaps. We both used pumpkin puree and goat's milk in our batches. When I went to make my pumpkin soap, I remembered that I had some goat's milk in the freezer and thought, Wouldn't that make this soap even nicer?

The soap about halfway through gel phase
Whether or not to gel soap is a personal choice. Lots of soapers choose to avoid gel phase so that the color remains lighter and the texture is a bit creamier. To avoid gel phase, pop the soap into the fridge or even the freezer (particularly if you're working with super-heater ingredients like milk, beer, honey, etc.). I decided to gel my soap because I like gelling my soaps. Plus, since the fragrance oil discolors the soap dark brown, I wasn't concerned about trying to keep the colors lighter.

I used my wooden log mold for this soap, and it turns out that I really didn't need to insulate this batch. With the combination of pumpkin puree, goat's milk, and the spice notes in the fragrance oil, the soap went into gel phase almost immediately. Fortunately, I was peeking at my soap and saw it going into gel phase, so I was able to take the top of the mold and the towels off before the soap overheated or cracked. (My textured tops kinda flopped, though.)

When it was time to cut the soap a couple of days later, I dipped my pumpkin stamp into some of Bramble Berry's Gold Sparkle Mica and then pressed it lightly but firmly into my fresh-cut soap. (It's important that the soap has been cut just before you do the stamping so that the mica will stick to it.)

I had some Goldilocks moments: The first try, I didn't use enough mica. The second try, I used too much. But the third try was juuuuuuust right. I discovered that it is best to get a bunch of mica onto the stamp and then tap the stamp against the countertop to get rid of the excess mica. After I cracked that code, stamping was much smoother and more uniform.

Here is a video showing how I made and stamped my Sweet Pumpkin soap:

How to clean the stamp when you're done? Get a toothbrush (new and unused, of course) and scrub the stamp under running water.

I bought a bunch of stamps. There was nothing I could do to stop this.
The stamping looks great, and I'm so glad to have a fun, easy way to adorn my soaps. I was so inspired, I raided the stamps in the dollar bin at my local craft store and bought a bunch. At that price, I couldn't afford not to! My Christmas soaps are made for this year, but next year I will have some cute holiday options!

Oh, and hey, don't forget - it's still November, so that means that it is Givember time at Bramble Berry! A few weeks ago, the lovely folks at Bramble Berry sent me some supplies to try (you can read more about that here) and offered a very special treat to my blog readers. Here's how it works: Any Bramble Berry order placed during the month of November that includes the code GIVEMBER50 will get you entered into a drawing for a $50 Bramble Berry gift certificate. This code only applies to orders placed during November - don't forget to include the code during checkout! Happy shopping, and best of luck to you all in the drawing!

Also, Thanksgiving is next Thursday and I want to wish all of you who are celebrating the holiday a very happy Thanksgiving!