Making Cold Process Homemade Soap

One of the more unique hobbies I’ve picked up over the years is soap making. I like to know what’s in my soap and I like to experiment with making different kinds of soap. I’ve made chocolate soap, orange citrus soap, spearmint soap, and a few others. My wife and I realized that we were running low on our homemade soap so we decided to make another batch of Sweet Orange Soap.

Items needed to make soap:
Oils (usually at least 3 different kinds)
Kitchen scale to measure out oils and lye
Food grade lye, or sodium hydroxide
Safety equipment, (gloves, eye protection, protective clothing)
Candy thermometer
Water or liquid such as goat’s milk
Soap Mold
Wooden or plastic measuring cups and spoons
Immersion blender
Freezer paper
Old towel or blanket

Soap making isn’t difficult, but it does require precision, and a healthy respect for lye used in the process. Soap is composed of three things, an oil, lye, or its chemical name, sodium hydroxide, and a liquid, usually either water or a milk, like goat’s milk.

The trick is to combine the ingredients in the proper proportions so that all the lye is converted by the oil. A good soap has neither lye, or oil left over. If lye is left after the saponification process, (a fancy word to describe the conversion of lye and oil into soap), the soap can sting when being used. If oil is left over after saponification the soap can go rancid.

oil in a bucket

I use a website to calculate the ratio of oil, lye, and water to use in each batch of soap. I also super fat my recipe. This means I use about 5 – 7% extra fat in my recipes. This isn’t enough to cause the soap to go rancid, but it does ensure the lye is fully converted and that the bar of soap is slightly softer.

So, what kinds of oils do I use in the making of my soap? Can any oil be used and why have different oils at all?

I use a combination of three kinds of oils. Olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil. The olive oil helps the bar of soap stay soft while the coconut oil helps with the cleansing process. The palm oil is used to help even out the other oils and it helps the soap come quickly to trace. I’ll talk about soap and tracing a bit more down below. For now though, I have found these oils to be a great combination in producing a bar of soap that is comfortable to use, and still cleanses really well. I used this recipe, Citrus Burst Soap – J&K Soap to make this batch of soap.

Soap Making Safety Tip: Lye is a caustic chemical, which means it will produce a chemical burn if it comes in contact with your skin. The lye reacts with moisture and produces heat. Always wear safety gear, including hand and eye protection when working with lye. If you do come in skin contact with lye neutralize it with vinegar. In case of eye contact seek medical attention as soon as possible.

empty soap mold

To start off with we need to make sure we have everything prepared. Once the process starts you’re on a timer. I like to measure out the oils first. Remember to measure by weight not volume.

olive oil in a pyrex measuring cup being weighed

oil in a bucket

After measuring the oil out place it into a pot on the stove under low heat. Some oils are solid at room temperature and need to be heated up to melt them. The goal is to have the oil at a temperature of 110F(43C) to 120F(49C) when the lye is ready.

melting oil

While the oil is slowly heating measure out the lye on your scale and set it aside. Now measure out the liquid you need. As I mentioned above lye reacts with water and produces heat. If only water is used the water may heat up as high as 200F(93C). To combat the high amount of heat that will need to dissipate I often add ice cubes to my water to bring it to the amount I need. This helps cool the reaction.

Soap Making Safety Tip: One really important thing to remember is to always add lye or something that contains lye to something else. The lye is added to the water, and the lye water is added to the oil. This is the safest way to transfer lye as adding a small amount of water to the lye can result in an explosive chemical reaction. (Don’t worry I’ve never had any issues with lye myself)

When working with lye avoid using anything made of aluminum. The lye or lye water will react with the aluminum and cause it to blacken or stain.

Place one candy thermometer into the oil and another thermometer into the lye water. The lye water will need to reduce in temperature to between 110F(43C) to 120F(49C) and the oil will need to be in the same range. The temps can be about 10F(6C) degrees apart, but should be as close as possible when mixing the two. Once the temperature on both lye water and oil hit the desired range pour the oil into your mixing bucket. I use a food grade bucket to mix everything in. Carefully pour the lye water into the oil.

At this point if you have an immersion blender you can use that to stir the mixture. If you don’t have a blender you can use a long wooden or plastic spoon, it just takes longer.

combining ingredients to make soap

How long should the oil and lye water be mixed together? The key thing to look for here is what soap makers call “trace”. The lye water and oil react together and start to thicken up. Once the mixture is thick enough to resemble pudding and leave trails when you move your spoon or blender around then it’s reached trace.

combining ingredients to make soap

In the photo above you can see how ridges will form on the mixture and take awhile to smooth out. This is a good sign of the soap starting to trace.

At this point if you have any additions you’d like to put into the mixture this is the perfect time for it. Since this was a sweet orange soap I added dried zested orange peel and an orange essential oil. It’s important to measure out the essential oil based on the size of the recipe or you can easily end up with not enough or so much that when you use the soap your bathroom will smell like a Florida orange grove.

combining ingredients to make soap

After finishing mixing in my additions it was time to pour the soap into the prepared mold. The mold is lined with freezer paper to make removing the soap out easier after it sets.

bar of homemade soap in mold

The top of the soap may form a white powdery looking layer if left uncovered. I generally place a piece of cardboard over the top of the soap and then wrap it in an old towel or blanket. The soap must sit for a minimum of 24 hours before it can be cut. No peeking while the soap sets.

bar of homemade soap in mold

bar of homemade soap

After a day it’s time to cut the soap. I use a miter box and a dough cutter to slice the soap into small bars.

cutting soap

cutting soap

After cutting the bars up I place them into a cool, dry place. Usually I keep an shoe box around to hold the bars.

.cut bars of homemade soap drying

It takes about three weeks for the soap to dry out enough to use. If you use the soap before then it will be too soft and will quickly dissolve.

After the three weeks the soap can be packaged up for giving away, stored, or used right away. Homemade soap is great for using in the shower, bath, for general hand cleaning at the sink.

I really enjoy using the soap myself. What most people may not realize is that a lot of “bar soaps” in the store are really detergent bars. The glycerin that is formed during the soap making process is worth more than the soap itself and is separated out by companies and sold.

Homemade soap not only cleanses it helps hydrate your skin to keep it moisturized and refreshed feeling.

Enjoy feeling clean!

– Jason Snell

Whole Foods And Healthy Eating – Pizza!

In my last post I talked about whole foods and how eating food that is as natural as possible can be healthy and fun. This week I would like to talk about one of my favorite whole foods, and a favorite of many other people as well, pizza. This is a follow up to the first post I made about whole foods last week.

homemade pizza

homemade pizza

Pizza dough is fairly easy to make and uses basic ingredients. There is a blog out there called 100 Days of Real Food. And the author of that blog has a recipe for whole wheat pizza.

My pizza started off with my wife making the dough using our bread machine. The ingredients are basically yeast, water, flour, olive oil, and a little sugar for the yeast to consume. The sugar can be an organic cane sugar, regular white sugar, or even honey.

One of the best things about making your own pizza dough is you can spice it up a little bit. We frequently add dried herbs from our garden to the dough, such as basil or oregano. If you like a little spice in your life throw in some red pepper flakes or some dried chili peppers. Other things that be added are garlic, fresh or dried rosemary, or even shredded cheeses like parmesan. The sky is the limit and you can be as creative as you want.

For this pizza we used shredded mozzarella for our cheese. Mozzarella makes a great base cheese for pizza, and if you can find it fresh you can create the traditional Napoli style Margherita Pizza, which was created to honor Queen Margherita.

So, one thing you may ask is, what about toppings? How do I have a whole foods pizza? First we start off with the dough. Then if you have time grab some tomatoes for the sauce.

The sauce can vary according to your taste but they all start off the same. Vine ripened tomatoes are the best for taste and texture. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water and then, once the skins start to crack, place them in ice water to stop the cooking process and remove the skins.


Next remove the core and seeds from the tomatoes. We want a little water as possible for the sauce. When you think you have enough, go get more, you’ll be amazed at how much the sauce will shrink down as it simmers and thickens. After peeling, coring, and deseeding your tomatoes place them into a saucepan large enough to hold them and turn the heat on low.

The goal here is to reduce the tomatoes down to a thick sauce. Once the sauce is near completion and is thick enough to spread on a pizza, but not thin enough to use for spaghetti, it’s time to add the seasonings. Fresh basil, thyme, oregano, or rosemary can be added. These also work as dry herbs as well. The sauce will help hydrate the herbs. Continue simmering and give the sauce a taste. Continue adding herbs until well seasoned. Add a touch of sea salt to add a little more flavor.

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So now the dough is done, the sauce is ready, and it’s time to make pizza! The best mozzarella is fresh mozzarella, but I frequently use the bagged version. Some day I want to make my own cheeses, but that’s for a later time. For now toss a little flour on the counter and place your dough on top. Sprinkle a little more flour on top and start rolling it out. If you’re adventurous you can always find a YouTube video on how to toss the dough into the air. I prefer not to do so since I figure cleaning dough off the ceiling, light fixtures, and cabinets would be a pain.

With the dough all ready it’s time to ladle on that delicious sauce. Again, this is all to taste, so if you’re like me dump a big ladle of sauce on that dough for a really saucy pizza.

Pizza Note: Pizza doesn’t have to have a red sauce if that’s not your thing. As a great alternative take extra virgin olive oil and spread it on the dough in place of the red sauce. Now just add the toppings on top of the oil.

The next thing after the is always the cheese. The cheese helps keep everything together and adds that melty goodness. If you’ve scored some fresh mozzarella slice it up and throw it on there. If you’re using shredded mozzarella layer it on.

And here comes one of the best parts. The toppings. Now to keep in with the whole foods goal these two pizzas contain toppings that are as natural as possible The Hawaiian style has home canned pineapple, mandarin oranges, and Canadian Bacon from Trader Joe’s.

homemade pizza

Next up we went for more of the Margherita Pizza style and sliced fresh tomatoes for the topping. Due to a lack of fresh basil in the garden currently I substituted with some basil that had previously been dehydrated. I’ve got to say, even with the dried basil, it was delicious.

homemade pizza

Now the pizza is ready, how do we heat up this yummy looking goodness? Well lets dive into some science real quick here. High heat and pizza dough. The two just go together to form the perfect combination. Heat your oven to at least 450 degrees Fahrenheit, (232 Celsius). If you are using a pizza stone, make sure to place it into the oven during the preheating stage to heat the stone up as well. If you plan on using a steel pizza sheet it does not need to be preheated.

The high heat helps steam form inside the crust and then expand evenly. Too low of temperatures and the steam inside will form pockets resulting in large bubbles in the crust. Wood fired pizza ovens will often achieve temperatures in excess of 600 degrees Fahrenheit, (315 Celsius).

A great way to keep the dough from sticking to either a pizza stone or metal sheet is to scatter some corn meal on the sheet before placing the pizza on it. If using a pizza stone that’s in the oven use a wooden or metal pizza peel to slide the pizza into the oven onto the stone. Use the corn meal on the pizza peel to let the pizza slide off.

homemade pizza

Let the pizza bake for at least 10 minutes before checking on it. The cheese will melt and start to bubble and the crust will turn golden. With a little practice you’ll end up with a nice crispy crust and hot  melted cheese.

Pizza Note: When using a lot of toppings, especially water heavy toppings like fruits and vegetables, it’s best to let the pizza rest a minute or two after removing it from the oven. This allows some of the moisture to return to the toppings and not leave the sauce very watery.

Slide that pizza off your stone or sheet on to a nice wooden cutting board. Slice the pizza and get ready to feast!

homemade pizza

homemade pizza

homemade pizza

Pizza can be a delicious whole food. And while making it from scratch may take awhile you can always take a page from my wife’s book. She made a large pot of pizza sauce and then frozen them using a silicon muffin tin so that we’d have serving sizes perfect for a pizza whenever we needed it.

One other thing to note. Many people like different meat toppings on their pizza. My advice is to read the ingredients and to find the Canadian Bacon, pepperoni, or Italian sausage, with the least amount of processing, and then use them sparingly. I never thought I’d enjoy a pizza without some kind of meat on it as a topping and then I discovered the Margherita Pizza and how much I enjoyed it.

Feel free to experiment or leave some of your favorite kind of pizzas in the comments below.

Buon Appetito!

– Jason Snell