A Big Batch of Soap

There’s a running theme in my soap making experience. Expect the unexpected; things never seem to go as planned! Even the best made plans don’t go as anticipated, and changes abound. Maybe it’s the excitement of making a new soap or trying a new technique that makes my brain run haywire in the middle of a batch. I’m not sure why this happens so frequently, but I’m hoping things will get a little easier with more time and experience. What’s really encouraging is the fact that no matter how many changes I make in the middle of a soap, somehow the combination of fat, water and lye still turns into soap. It’s a little miracle every time!

All of this was true in my recent attempt at making a triple batch of soap. My typical recipe uses 3 pounds of oils to make 4 pounds of soap, and I pour into a loaf mold that makes 12 bars. I recently had a large order placed, and it included 3 loaves of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey soap, so I thought I’d try to make it in one big batch. In my mind, it would be easy to measure out three times the ingredients, and it would take less time overall to get it done. Wrong on both accounts!

The first thing I didn’t anticipate was how long it would take to make the lye solution with 100% oat-milk. I made it very slowly in my usual pitcher, but it was much more difficult because of the large amount of lye and milk. It took f.o.r.e.v.e.r! I had the pitcher sitting in an ice bath, but due to such a large volume, the milk heated up quickly and turned darker than usual. Because I’d infused the milk with oatmeal, it was lumpy and soupy and very much like pudding. It was quite difficult to stir, and I couldn’t really tell if all of the lye had fully dissolved. Lesson learned: use a bigger container to make large amounts of lye solution!

After finally finishing the lye solution, I added it to my giant pot of oils a tiny bit at a time, looking carefully for chunks of undissolved lye. Lo and behold, I found a few! Oh no! I mixed and stirred and took out a few pieces that simply wouldn’t break apart and blend in. This soap will be a bit more superfatted than I intended, but I think it’ll just be that much more moisturizing.

The next thing I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it is to simply manage the weight of such a large volume of oils. Stick blending the soap to light trace took longer than normal.

Big Batch of Soap in the making

The entire tip of my stick blender was completely immersed in the batter when I tried to reach the bottom of the pot. With my current equipment, I couldn’t make a batch any bigger than this one (and I don’t think I’d want to try any bigger anyway).

I usually separate off a bit of soap to turn white, add honey and fragrance to the main soap, then do an in-the-pot swirl and pour the soap into the mold. In this instance, it was difficult to pour just a small amount of soap out of my giant heavy pot, but I muscled my way through! (I’m such a klutz; in my mind’s eye, I can see myself spilling this entire pot of raw soap all over my kitchen!) I added honey to the main soap and blended it in. After I colored the smaller amount white, I added it right back to the main pot. I was excited about how everything was turning out, going smoothly. Hubby was taking pictures for me. Life was good.

Big Batch of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey

The in-the-pot swirl was going perfectly, with nice fluid soap.

And then I realized that I’d forgotten to add the fragrance! At this point, I knew that the distinct in-the-pot swirl was out the window. I dumped in my fragrance and lightly mixed it into the soap, turning the entire batch a lighter color, with a only a few wispy swirls of white to be found. I again muscled my way through pouring the soap into three molds, then covered the top with bubble wrap and stuck them all in the oven.

Big Batch of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey

From this vantage point, you can still see some white swirls in the soap. Unfortunately, it’s not as noticeable in the final cut bars of soap.

As usual, I had no idea what to expect when unmolding my soaps the next day. Would there be chunks of undissolved lye in there, ruining the whole big batch? Would there be any swirls left at all? Did I mix the fragrance in well enough? Would it even be soap?! 

After cutting through all 3 loaves, I’m happy to report that I found no lye pockets! The pH is great! Woohoo! I did find a few tiny pools of fragrance next to small pieces of oatmeal, but they are disappearing as the soaps cure. I’m not sure if they reabsorb or evaporate out, but they are disappearing. Immediately upon cutting them, most of the bars didn’t have a noticeable swirl, but the colors are changing a bit as they cure, showing off more white! They have a nice gentle look overall.

Oatmeal, Milk & Honey (Big Batch)

See the wisps of white in there? I’m so happy that a few still came out!

I have made so many different batches of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey soap, and not a single one looks like another. Consistency is apparently not my strong suit, and I’m learning to be OK with that. It simply means that each batch is unique, individual, a small work of art. That’s the definition of hand crafted, right?

Oatmeal, Milk & Honey (Big Batch)

Oatmeal, Milk & Honey

I’m amazed at people who are able to create soaps from large batches. This batch that made 12 pounds of soap isn’t even very big compared to others I’ve seen online. And this soap isn’t too terribly intricate, either! Not lots of colors, no difficult technique. I can’t imagine trying to do a fancier soap with this much to work with! I think I’ll try about 8 pounds next, but it’ll be a while before I try to make another triple batch.

To my fellow soapers out there: How big are the batches that you typically make? Have you found it easier to make smaller or larger batches? Do you have any tips for making big batches? Pros and cons? I’d love to have a conversation about this with others who have experience!

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Oat-Infused Milk Soap

While perusing other soap making blogs the other night, I found this lovely Oat Milk Recipe for Soap over at Oil & Butter. It’s a simple recipe that calls for soaking oats in water, blending, and straining. I’ve used this same basic process to make almond milk. Simple. Fast. Inexpensive. Great!

Seeing the recipe inspired me to make a batch of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey soap with a new twist. I typically only use milk in my recipe, but did you see my post on Mama’s Milk Soap? I love how it turned out, and the benefits of breast milk are staggering. So I decided to use heavily fatty breast milk and infuse that with rolled oats. I guessed that soaking oats in only milk would create a very thick mess, so I cut the milk with water first. Here’s what I did: two parts distilled water, two parts milk, and one part oats. The oats soaked in the milk water in the refrigerator for a day, then I blended it up and strained it using a tea strainer (since I couldn’t find any cheesecloth). Boy, was that a mess! The milk was stringy and sticky with tiny bits of oats floating around. I strained it again twice, but somehow the tiny oats remained in the mix.

Oat-Milk & Honey Soap

Here’s a first look at the new Oat-Milk & Honey Soap.

I froze the oat-infused milk, then used it to create my lye solution. As with any milk soap, I added the lye very slowly, one tiny bit at a time with the pitcher sitting in an ice bath so as not to overheat and curdle the milk. Because there were still tiny bits of oats in the milk, I was worried about the lye dissolving properly, so I stirred and stirred and stirred. It looked like a mess of disfigured rice pudding! After about half an hour of stirring off and on, I thought it was time to take a deep breath and attempt to make the soap. I had to carefully glop the pudding mess into the oils. To my great surprise, the soap traced at the same rate as usual, didn’t seize, and didn’t cause any other problems either. I poured off a few cups to turn white, then added fragrance to the main batter. A simple in-the-pot swirl resulted in a very beautiful soap. In my excitement, though, I forgot to add the honey! I remembered the bubble wrap for the top and bottom of the mold to make it look like a honey comb, but I forgot the honey! Darn. Despite that, I really love the look of this soap. And I’m still calling it Oat-Milk & Honey Soap because the fragrance has a hint of honey in it.

Oat-Milk & Honey Soap

I just love a good in-the-pot swirl. Every bar is so unique!

I’m honestly thrilled that I could even cut this loaf! I was afraid that the wet oats might leave me with a soppy goo rather than a hard bar, but so far it’s hardened wonderfully. The bits of oatmeal add great texture to it. I’m not usually a fan of exfoliates in soaps, especially large chunks of oats or loofah. But these bits of oats are so tiny that I hardly feel them and don’t mind them at all. I’m hoping that this soap will be even more moisturizing and soothing because the oats were infused directly into the breast milk. As always, time will tell. I got impatient (what soaper can wait for the full cure?) and used an end cut to lather up, and it’s just delicious! It starts with a super bubbly lather, then turns rich and creamy. It leaves my hands feeling like silk!

Oat-Milk & Honey Soap

See the specs of oats in the soap? They look bigger than they feel, and they add great texture without being harsh.

Now that I’ve tried this infusion, I’m excited to delve deeper into the giant world of milk soaps. I’m going to experiment some more with infusions, different kinds of milk, and using multiple milks and creams in the same recipe. I’m seeing more and more blogs and recipes that include a combination of milk, cream, and/or powdered milk in the same soap. And there are so many ways to add it into recipes. The half and half method. The frozen milk method. The hot process add some milk or cream after the cook method. (I’m making up names for methods here, but you get the point, right?) I want to try them all! Next experiment: yogurt soap. I’ll be posting about that as soon as I make it!