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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!