Lost Lamb Soap: a recipe for milk soap

August 3, 2013 in Living history, Soap, Scent, Toners and Tonics, Uncategorized by M C

Lost Lamb Milk Soap: 3 pound recipe

You are going to be handling LYE.  LYE is a caustic that can and will burn skin and eyes.  Take all due precautions, including rubber gloves suitable for handling caustic substances, eye protection, and keeping children and pets away from lye crystals, liquid lye, or hot saponifying soap.  Do not use aluminum or pewter pots or utensils around lye, as it will react with the metals.  If you’re uncertain about how to use and handle lye, do some additional research before starting this project.

Soap2It isn’t likely you’ll have sheep’s milk on hand, but you can substitute goat’s milk (which is more readily available) or simple cow’s milk.  The directions are the same for any milk based soap.  And you’ll need ice.  

Everything is based on weight, remember to tare your scale between each item you weigh, and weigh each item separately.

Milk: 18.24 ounces (408.233 grams) frozen to slushy, or almost solid
Lye (NaOH, sodium hydroxide) 6.831 ounces (193.657 grams)

Coconut Oil 14.4 ounces (408.233 grams)
Olive Oil 33.6 ounces (952.543 grams)

Place your fats into the crock pot and turn the pot on medium to melt the fats.  You’re aiming for your fats to be between 95-110 degrees when you add your lye mixture.

Wearing your safety gear and with no dogs, children, or stray husbands underfoot… Place your milk in a lye proof container: glass or stainless works nicely.  Fill your sink with cold water and dump ice into the water.  Lower your container of slushy frozen milk into the ice water bath and start pouring the lye, a little bit at a time, into the slushy milk while stirring with a wooden, stainless, or silicone, spoon.  Do not worry about the milk melting, it will melt soon enough as the lye starts to heat up.  The reason you’ve frozen your milk and are trying to control the reaction of the lye is that milk contains sugars.  The heat of the reaction will caramelize the sugars, scorching the milk (which will make a poor soap).  The better you control the heat, the lighter in color your soap will be.  You want your lye and milk mixture to rise slowly to around 95 F.   Take your time with this.. haste is not your friend here.  It took me upwards of a half hour to add lye to the milk mixture, which is why I start liquifying the fat concurrently with starting the lye, they’ll be done at about the same time.

If your milk mixture has liquified but isn’t really heating up remove it from the cold water, keep stirring, and let it get up to temperature.  Some of the fat in the milk will start to saponify, the reaction which will lead to soap, and you’ll see “threads” of soap develop.

When both mixtures are hovering around 90-110 blend them together by pouring the lye mixture into the crock pot while stirring.  At this point you can stir briskly by hand or you can deploy the stick blender.  Because this is a vegetable soap it will take longer for the soap to reach “trace,” a point in the process which looks like a nice butterscotch pudding, if you’re hand stirring.  And by “longer” I mean “much longer.”  Using a stick blender it took between a half hour and an hour for my pot of soap to reach trace and a point where it was ready to be poured into the mold.

Stir in short bursts of your blender without raising and lowering the appliance in the pot.  You don’t want to add air to your mixture, and you surely do not want this spattering all over your kitchen.  Between bursts stir with the stick, making sure everything is moving so the saponification reaction continues to be uniform.  It is sort of magical how the oils and your milk/lye mixture come together, change color and structure, and then start thickening up.  You truly do want your mixture to be good and pudding thick before you pour it into the mold.  Too soon and the soap will separate because the lye hasn’t reacted with all the fats.  Too late and you’ll simply have a harder time making a smooth top surface to the soap.  I’d rather go with “too late” and a rougher looking top to the soap myself.

With most “cold process soaps” you want the saponification reaction to continue, so you insulate the mold to keep the heat in and encourage the process.  With milk soaps you don’t want to discolor the soap.  I found that laying the mold down on a towel and wrapping the mold in a single fluffy bath towel provided the right amount of insulation to keep the process going without resulting in too much of a color change in the finished product.

When you’ve reached a nice thick pudding-like consistency carefully pour your soap into your mold.  Remember, the soap is hovering around 100F, to maybe 120F.  And you’ve got the cumbersome weight of your crockpot and 3 pounds of soap to handle.  Fold your towel around the soap and set your crockpot aside to cool down.  Rinse your stick blender out, being careful to keep the raw soap from splashing onto your skin (or in your eyes for that matter).

Soap1Let your soap rest for 24 hours before you unwrap it.  At this point is should be firm enough to unmold and cut into bars. If we were back in the 18th century our soap would go to market looking like this, the clerk would whack off what was needed and sell it by the pound. You still see soap sold this way at some farmer’s markets. If you want to be a bit more conventional, cut the bar into soap sized pieces, slicing slowly with a heavy knife. Stack the bars to dry for 6-8 weeks.. and then enjoy.. you’ve made your own milk soap.

Home made soaps lack the chemicals of industrial soaps which, among other things, make them react instantly to water.  Your new soap won’t lather right away, it needs to be exposed to water 2-4 times before it will start lathering up like a commercial bar of soap.  Artisan soap makers will often expose their soap to water a few times before packaging it, simply because most customers, only familiar with commercial soap, have expectations of how soap is supposed to behave.  But you, you are more adventurous, and are going to experience soap the way it should be.. made right in your own kitchen!

Lost Lamb Soap will be available at this year’s Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival and NY’s Sheep and Wool Festival.. see you there!

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