Spotlight on Ingredients: Heavy Cream

Cream Drop

Cream Drop by Kyle May

Do you ever read over recipes or watch soaping videos and wonder why soapmakers use the ingredients they use? After all, the only essentials for a good bar of handmade soap are oils, water, and lye. However, certain additives do impart some nice qualities to your soap, and in a series of posts, I wanted to share some of the “extra” ingredients I use in soap and why I use them.

Heavy cream has a lot of fat in it—36% fat or more. Goat milk typically has 4-5% fat. Cream is very rich and smooth. While the benefits of milks—especially goat milk—are widely known, not as many soapers use cream, possibly because of the expense. I wouldn’t try substituting all of the water in a recipe with cream, and not only because of the cost, but also because of the high fat content. The cream will likely congeal fairly quickly, even if you freeze it first, because the lye will react to the fat in the cream. If you have made milk soaps, you may have noticed that if you set the milk and lye mixture aside for a few moments, it does start to thicken as the lye reacts to the fats in the milk. Another reason you might not want to use cream as a total water replacement is that the high fat content might really throw off your superfat percentage.

So how do I use cream in soap? I usually add about 4-5% of the amount of oils to a batch of soap. So, for example, if I make a batch of soap that is 500 grams (I always measure in grams; it’s more precise than ounces and easier to convert), then I would add about 22 grams of cream to the batch. I admit this is approximate because I usually add a round number of grams of cream to my soap. For example, my typical batch is about 2.5 pounds of oils, or 1120 grams, and I usually add about 50 grams of cream to a batch that size. I would recommend using heavy cream at a rate of about 3-5%. You really don’t need to use a lot. When I use cream in my soap, I remove the same amount of water from the recipe. For example, in my batch with 50 grams of cream, I remove 50 grams of distilled water from the recipe. If you use full water and cream, you might find your soap takes a little longer to harden. I have not experimented with using full water and cream.

Before I add the cream to the oils, I warm it up a bit so that it is the same temperature as the oils (more or less). Then, I add my cream directly to my oils and stick blend it before adding the lye. I have noticed that it will not emulsify completely with the oils. Typically there are tiny white flecks of cream floating on the top of my oils. I usually give the oils one more quick stick blend before adding the lye water, but it probably isn’t necessary because once the lye water is added, it will all blend.

I first noticed the benefits of using cream in soap by accident. I made a batch of Creamy Coconut soap with coconut milk and cream.

Creamy Coconut

I mainly added the cream because I felt it would be in keeping with the name of the soap to have both real coconut milk and real cream in it. When I used it in the shower, I noticed how smooth the bars felt. If you can believe it, I didn’t immediately realize this smoothness was because of the cream. I thought it might have been the coconut milk.

I started noticing that other soapmakers used cream in their soaps, and when I ordered soaps from these soapmakers, I noticed how smooth their bars were. At first, I wasn’t sure why their soaps were so much smoother than mine either because there are so many variables—oil recipes, other additives, and the like. But eventually I realized it was the cream in the soap that added smoothness. I have used cream in almost all of the soaps I have made since that discovery (I typically do not use it in milk soaps, with the exception of Creamy Coconut).

In addition to smoothness, cream adds some of the same benefits as other milks in soap—extra conditioning being the main benefit imparted by heavy cream. I mainly enjoy the feel of soap with cream in it. It is definitely smoother than soap made just with water. It feels silky on the skin. I typically do not have to use much lotion at all because of the conditioning oils and butters in my soap, but I have noticed even less of a need to use lotion in those soaps made with cream.

Adding just a little bit of cream can add some great qualities to your soap. With my recipe of just 50 grams, I am adding 18 grams of fat, so my superfat percentage will not be drastically different from my calculation.

As usual, David Fisher has experimented with cream and shared his results. You can see what will happen if you add lye to cream in his tutorial. I personally have not found it necessary to freeze the cream I use in my own recipes. In addition, I have never noticed any discoloration as can happen when you use goat milk in place of water. I actually haven’t tried using just a small amount of liquid goat milk and adding it directly to the oils as I do with heavy cream, so you might find that solution works just as well for you.

Creamy Soap
Print Recipe
Make your own version of my creamy soap.
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Creamy Soap
Print Recipe
Make your own version of my creamy soap.
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Ingredients
Servings: pounds soap
Instructions
  1. Dissolve the lye in the distilled water and set aside to cool.
  2. Melt coconut oil and palm oil.
  3. Add olive oil and castor oil to melted hard oils.
  4. Add heavy cream to oils and blend.
  5. Combine lye water with blended oils when both reach about 100ºF. The temperature doesn't need to be exact, but it should be close.
  6. Blend with stick blender until you reach trace.
  7. Add fragrance or essential oil and stir well until thoroughly combined.
  8. Pour into a mold, cover mold with plastic wrap, and drape with towel. One pound of oils will make approximately 1.4 pounds of soap.
  9. Let soap go through gel phase and saponify for about one day before unmolding.
Recipe Notes

Note: you can substitute coconut milk, like I did, for the water simply by using 151 grams of frozen coconut milk and slowly adding the lye to the milk until the lye is dissolved. You can also use colorants. I have not had issues with this soap overheating or acting strangely in gel phase, but keep and eye on it, and remove some insulation if it appears to be getting too hot. Also, you can opt not to gel this soap and instead put it in the freezer overnight. The cream might make the soap heat up in the refrigerator, so it might need the additional chill of the freezer to prevent gel phase if you choose not to gel.

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Milk Soaps

Milk soaps are so much fun to make, and there are so many choices. How do you know which kind of milk to use or even how to use it? It depends on what qualities you’re looking for in your soap.

Coconut MilkCoconut Milk

Coconut milk is possibly my favorite milk to use in soap, and it is also one of the easiest. Some of the qualities I have noticed are a tendency to increase fluffy lather with big bubbles and to lighten the color of the soap. Most milk soaps will be a bit darker than water-based soaps, but coconut milk soaps look lighter than water-based soaps to me. Coconut milk soaps feel creamier than water-based soaps as well. I use coconut milk just like I use other milks: I freeze the milk and add the lye a little bit at a time. The handiest method might be to measure it out in ice cube trays, freeze it, and then just use the amount you need. I think that coconut milk behaves a little better than other milks. It doesn’t tend to discolor, like goat milk will, and it is a lovely creamy white right up until you add it to the oils. I have noticed that like other milks, the lye will begin to saponify the fats in the coconut milk, so I tend to give it a stir every few minutes until I’m ready to add it to my oils just so that it stays smooth. However, I haven’t had any problems when I’ve added thicker, partly-saponified coconut milk to my oils. I use coconut milk in several of my soaps. I recently used it in a Creamy Coconut soap (along with real cream) that turned out very nice.

Creamy Coconut

Goat Milk

Goat milk is the soap maker’s standby, and it’s fabulous in soap. It comes in three kinds: fresh, condensed, and powdered. I have used all three, and I prefer using it fresh or powdered. My experiments with condensed milk did not go as well. I think it discolors more than fresh goat milk, too. If you do use it, make sure you remember that you need to add equal parts water. Most soap makers who use it will reduce the amount of water for a recipe by half and mix that with their lye, making up the other half of their liquids with condensed goat milk.

Fresh goat milk works best when it’s frozen, just as I described with coconut milk. Add the lye to the frozen milk a little bit at a time, stirring well until the lye is dissolved each time. If you keep the temperatures low, making use of ice water baths when necessary, goat milk will discolor less, but it will still discolor. I happen to think naked goat milk is rather pretty.

Lilac Goat Milk Goat milk produces a creamy, moisturizing bar of soap. It can be used raw or pasteurized. I haven’t noticed if it affects the lather much, but it does feel nice on your skin.

I also used powdered goat milk in some of my soaps. I add the powdered milk directly to my oils and stick blend it in to combine it until it is well incorporated, and I can’t see any clumps. I have never had any problems using powdered milk in this way, though I have heard some soap makers actually mix up the goat milk powder with water and then freeze it, just as with fresh goat milk. Some soap makers also add the milk powder at trace. Powdered goat milk still adds creaminess to the soap, but it’s much easier to use than fresh goat milk.

Cow Milk

I have used cow milk in my Chocolate Milk bars. It works fine, and I liked it, but I do feel that goat milk adds a certain extra something that cow milk doesn’t. I recommend using whole milk when using cow milk. It should also be frozen and mixed slowly with the lye. I noticed that while goat milk tends to turn an orangey shade when it is getting too hot, cow milk turns more yellow.

Almond Milk

I recently made my own almond milk and used it in a new Sweet Almond and Honey soap, and I loved it. The soap has a fluffy, bubbly lather and smooth feel. There are too many variables to say for certain the almond milk made all the difference—I also used more sweet almond oil than I typically do, and the soap has honey it in, which likely contributed to the wonderful lather.

Sweet Almond and HoneyI used almond milk in the same way as I did every other milk: I froze it and added the lye slowly to the frozen almond milk. I noticed this milk, like coconut milk, stayed whiter, but it did not saponify with the lye that I could tell, and it could be that it has less fat. It was nice to work with, and I’d do it again.

Yogurt

Yogurt is wonderful in soap. I use full fat plain yogurt and mix it with an equal amount of water to thin it. Then I freeze it and use it like I would any other milk in soap. It truly adds a luxurious feel to the soap. It feels smooth and creamy. I think some soap makers add yogurt to their oils either before adding the lye or at trace, but I haven’t tried that yet, though I have used yogurt powder in my oils, and it’s very nice—similar to goat milk powder.

Buttermilk

I like using buttermilk powder in soap more than fresh buttermilk, but that’s just because it’s a little easier. Buttermilk has alpha hydroxy acids that are very good for facial soaps. I use it in my Lavender Chamomile facial soap.

2013-06-08 11.53.56This is a very nice facial soap for a lot of reasons, including the oil combination, the chamomile-infused olive oil, and the French pink clay and lavender essential oil, but the buttermilk contributes very nice qualities to it.

Cream

Cream is amazing in soap. I have not tried substituting all my water for cream, but I have tried adding cream to my oils before adding the lye, and it results in a very nice, luxurious feel.

Coffee and CreamIn my Coffee and Cream soap, I mixed cream with the white part you see marbled through the soap, in addition to the coffee you see in the brown part. It was a little bit of juggling, but the bar is so amazing! It smells and feels incredible.

If you want to learn more about making soap with a variety of milks, I highly recommend Anne L. Watson’s book Milk Soapmaking.

Coconut milk photo: John Revo Puno

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