I'm writing up this post because I really would have benefited from reading one like it before I went on my latest soap-making adventure. But sometimes, as we all know, people who share tutorials and recipes online aren't always as thorough as we'd like. So here's what happened.
After my first go at making cold-process soap from a kit, I stocked up on ingredients to make my first batch entirely from scratch. And I got it in my head to use honey, so I started looking around for honey-soap recipes, and I found quite a few. So I made my soap and I used honey, and about half an hour after I poured the soap into the mold, I took a peek and saw that it was turning an alarming shade of very dark brown, and so I started googling what might go wrong with honey soap. And I discovered something that none of the blog posts I'd read mentioned: honey makes soap get super hot.
Ordinarily, when you make cold-process soap, you want to insulate the mold with towels, to keep the heat in. As with all things, it's a balance, and if you mix your soap fairly hot, insulating it will keep it too hot, but overall, generally speaking, your soap needs warmth.
Honey, though, man. Honey soap, I discovered quickly after googling what can go wrong with it, gets so hot that instead of worrying about insulating your mold, you should consider putting it into the fridge or even the freezer. That's how hot the honey (it's the sugars) makes the soap get.
So after learning that, I put the mold in front of a painfully draughty window, and though it's a significantly darker colour than it would have been had it not superheated, I'm told by experienced soap makers that it'll be perfectly fine to use. So at least there's that. Check out the comments on this Instagram post! I got so much helpful advice from fellow soap-makers during this ‘learning experience.'
And now I'll list my recipe, with relevant notes about using honey, so if you're here because you want to use honey when you make cold-process soap, hopefully you won't fall into the same trap I did.
This is not a tutorial. Making cold-process soap involves lye, which is a very dangerous chemical when not handled properly. For a great beginner tutorial, see this.
Cold-Process Cocoa-Butter Honey Soap
Notes: Oils listed in percentages so you can use this recipe to yield any amount of soap you'd like (with specific amounts for use with a 4-pound mold in parentheses). Honey (or any sugary additive) makes soap mixtures super-heat. Rather than insulating your soap mold as you would normally do, prepare a very cool, or even cold, place to put your mold immediately after pouring to prevent it from overheating.
- 34% (15 oz.) olive oil
- 28% (12.30 oz.) coconut oil
- 19% (8.36 oz.) ethically sourced palm oil
- 10% (4.4 oz.) castor oil
- 9% (3.96 oz.) cocoa butter
Put all that into a lye calculator to figure out your lye and water amounts. For a 4-pound batch, use 6.23 oz. of lye and 14.50 oz. of water.
Let the lye-water and oils cool more than usual before mixing – some people recommend letting them cool to quite a bit below 100F. At light trace, add about 3 tbsp of honey. (I also added about 3 tbsp of oatmeal, milk and honey fragrance oil, which discolours to a light tan.)
After pouring into your mold, cover the top with parchment paper. Posts I've read recommend placing the mold in a cool or cold place, ranging from the refrigerator to the freezer to a windowsill if it's cold outside. The photos you see here are the result of me first not knowing about the honey-superheating factor, so at first I put a towel over the mold, then I noticed that the soap cracked a bit, so I removed the towel, then about half an hour later I noticed that crazy dark colour forming, and so I started looking up what might be going wrong, and then I put the mold in front of a draughty window. From what I've read, superheating can really go wrong, especially if you're making a milk soap. So mine didn't go terribly wrong, just a little bit wrong, and soap-makers have assured me the soap will be perfectly usable.
So there you have it. A honey soap recipe with notes about working with honey.
Go make some soap!