Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chamomile Orange Ginger Milled Soap

As well-known as chamomile is, you may be surprised that there are two different plants both commonly called chamomile. Both types have gentle healing properties and are similar in appearance, flavor and scent. Its fragrance has apple-like qualities, and in fact chamomile's name means "ground apple" in Greek. The annual German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows tall (2 to 3 feet) while its perennial sister the Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) only grows up to 9 inches, but boasts a stronger fragrance.

German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Used to be called Anthemis nobilis 

In ancient Egypt, chamomile was used to cure malarial chills and Pliny took chamomile baths to relieve headaches. Chamomile was strewn about medieval English homes to freshen the air since bathing was a rare activity. It can be used as a hair rinse to bring out natural highlights and brighten blond hair and is sometimes used as an insect repellent. The volatile oil found in the flowers have anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anti-infective qualities. This gives the chamomile plant its "cure all" reputation, and has been used to help relieve skin conditions, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and boost the immune system's ability to fight illnesses and infections. However, the flowers contain pollen, so be aware of potential allergic reactions when using this herb.  Roman chamomile is not recommended for use during pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions and miscarriage.

Ginger is another well-loved and soothing plant that has been used for thousands of years. Like chamomile, it is also reputed to ameliorate indigestion. Though soothing, it is also a stimulant and promotes circulation, which makes it beneficial to the skin as well. The ginger lends this sweet and spicy soap an invigorating and warming quality that balances well with the chamomile.

Note: this recipe uses two pounds of unscented basic soap from my Hand Milled Soap Recipe which must be made in advance.

In addition to the basic soap you will need:
1 cup dried chamomile flowers
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon ground dried ginger
2 teaspoons sweet orange essential oil

Step 1
Grate and melt soap according to directions in my Hand Milled Soap Recipe.

Step 2
While the soap is melting, grind chamomile in a spice grinder until it is very fine.

Step 3
When the soap is melted, remove from heat and thoroughly stir in chamomile, ginger, and essential oil.

Step 4
Pour soap into final molds and leave undisturbed in a warm place for a few days, until the soap is firm enough to hold its shape outside the mold. At this point, remove the soap from the final mold, cut into bars if desired and allow to cure indoors for about 3 to 4 weeks. The longer you allow the bars to cure, the harder they will become. Don't expect the soap to be a light yellow; the plant material will darken the final bars as they cure, making them a dark brownish green instead.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hand Milled Soap Recipe

This recipe is for hand milled soap, which starts with a batch of basic soap that is partially cured before being milled, cooked, and dressed up with herbs and essential oils. Milling soap has a few advantages: it makes a high quality bar of soap and allows you to revitalize old batches that may have lost their scent. Adding herbs, flowers, spices, and vegetables is often more reliable and successful, since the hand milled soap has already saponified and cured so that the lye is no longer (or only mildly) caustic. I also like it because this recipe provides enough basic soap to make four small (2 lb) batches of milled soap, which means more variety and experimentation. 

Keep pets safe from lye!

Making hand milled soap really isn't any more difficult than making regular soap, it just takes a few extra steps.  Before you begin make sure that all pets and small children are safely located far away from your soap making situation. I've outlined the basic soap recipe in an earlier post here, which you may want to refer to or read first for more details and safety precautions, especially if you've never made soap before. I'm going to move pretty fast through the initial steps, until we get to the milling part.

Part One: Basic Soap Recipe

12 ounces lye
35 ounces cold distilled water

36 ounces olive oil
26 ounces coconut oil
24 ounces vegetable shortening
5 ounces cocoa butter
2.5 ounces castor oil

Step 1
Measure out the lye and water in two separate containers. In a well ventilated area, carefully pour the water into the lye container. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when handling lye. Stir well until the lye is completely dissolved. Let the lye solution sit outside in a protected place to cool.

Step 2
While the lye solution is cooling, measure out all the fats/oils and heat in a large stainless steel soup pot (dedicated only for soapmaking) over medium/low heat. Stir occasionally, and remove from heat when almost entirely melted.

Fats and oils melting

Step 3
Keep an eye on both the lye water and melted oils, taking their temperatures frequently (use two separate thermometers for this). The goal is to get both to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time. If the lye water cools down too quickly, you can warm it back up in a hot water bath. If the oil cools too quickly, simply put it back on the stove over low heat for a couple minutes.

Stirring the lye water into the melted fats and oils. I should have been wearing eye protection, oops. 
Step 4
When the lye water and oils are both at 100 degrees, gently pour the lye into the oils while stirring briskly. Continue to stir until the soap comes to trace, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Honestly, I always end up stirring for about 45 minutes to an hour, but this is because vegetable-based soaps tend to take longer than soaps that use tallow or lard. As you stir your soap will thicken and turn opaque. To test if it has gone to trace, drizzle some of the soap across the surface and see it leaves behind a distinct trail. This can be subtle, so if you've been stirring valiantly for an hour, you're probably good to go.

It's hard to tell from these pictures, but the soap on the left is before trace and on the right is after. You might be able to see that the soap on the right is lighter and more opaque. 
Step 5
Pour the soap into a mold, cover, and wrap in blankets or towels. Keep in a warm place for about two days. After two days, remove the soap from its mold and let it sit in the open air for a week or two. This will allow some of the water to evaporate out of the soap so that it can be grated.

Soap right after pouring into the mold
Same batch of soap two days later, now ready to remove from mold and cure
Step 6
Ok, it's finally milling time. When the soap is firm enough to grate (a bit softer than Swiss cheese), cut off two pounds and grate by hand. Gently transfer the grated soap into your soap pot.

Use a scale to weigh out 2 lbs of soap

Wear gloves when grating soap, it could still be caustic
Step 7
Add two ounces of distilled water, cover and cook over very low heat. Resist the urge to stir the soap too much, this can cause it to bubble up. If it seems that your soap is scorching, add two more ounces of water. After about 30 to 45 minutes the soap should be melted, though it will never totally melt. Think polenta, or maybe applesauce:

Not melted

Slightly melted

Melted and ready for herbs and essential oils
Step 8
Remove melted soap from heat and stir in whatever herbs, spices, or essential oils you are using. Pour into your final mold. You might want to use fancy decorative soap molds, recycled plastic containers, or just a big plastic mold to cut into bars later. Whatever you choose, let the soap cure in the final molds for several days to a week until it is firm enough to take out of the mold and fully cure in open air. At this point the soap isn't very caustic, but should be allowed to cure so that the bars harden. Remember that when milling soap water is added, and depending on how much you used to melt the soap, it might take a month for the bars to be hard enough to use. This will also depend on what you added to your soap, aloe vera, milk, honey, or fruit/vegetable juices will of course add more liquid to the bars and add to curing times.

 This recipe isn't for a specific kind of milled soap, but I will post new recipes I try soon. The soap pictured below is Sage and Cedar. I haven't tried it yet but sure smells good.

Milled soap removed from mold and ready to be cut into bars before final curing period

Friday, December 14, 2012

Simple Slow Cooker Chai

This will make your house smell seriously good for days. I've started making a batch every Sunday afternoon and this recipe gets me through the week. It reminds me of one of my favorite little shops/cafes in my hometown that always had a massive pot of chai simmering during the winter months. It's the most welcoming smell there is.

8 cups water
4 to 5 in. piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cinnamon sticks
30 black peppercorns
about 25 cloves
about 20 cardamom pods
4 star anise
1 generous pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon loose black tea (or 7 bags of black tea)
1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar

In a slow cooker, add water, ginger, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, star anise, and nutmeg and cook on low for about six hours or high for about two and a half. Turn on high and add tea, allowing to steep for five minutes. Remove tea and add sugar. Stir to dissolve and let cool for a bit. Carefully pour chai concentrate into a pitcher or large glass jar over a mesh strainer for storage (alternatively you can ladle the chai which minimizes splashing).

That's it. To prepare, mix with milk to taste and heat. I love it with soy or cow's, I'm sure almond milk would be delicious too. I use roughly two parts chai concentrate to one part milk, but do whatever makes you happy. I'm sure this would also be great with honey, but I haven't tried it yet. Next time.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In the works

The past couple weeks I've been working on a long post and it still won't be ready for some time yet. It's for a new soap recipe: a tutorial on how to make hand milled vegetable based soaps. I don't want to give away too much, but my experiments this afternoon involve chai, beetroot powder, and dried hibiscus blossoms among other surprises. As I've mentioned before, I've been really busy working on my MFA thesis project, but I think I'm finally settling in to a good balance between school productivity and fun project productivity. Really, I just love making stuff; whether I'm running a press, baking bread, or making soap I'm in a pretty happy place. 

Here's a bit of what I've been up to in my real, non-blogular life. Setting metal type for letterpress printing, making handmade paper, and working on my first ever offset book art project.

I spent nearly 6 hours pulling out damaged type from this lock-up!

Below are a couple steps in Asian papermaking from hand pounded kudzu.

The offset press. What a glorious, loud, dangerous, complicated, and beautiful machine!

More typesetting and letterpress printing, my first love.

After working in the studios this weekend, I walked around my neighborhood to catch the last bits of fall in the city.

And I made a pizza. Well, two.

All in all a great weekend. Now I need to go check on that soap. . .