As I have been learning how to make soap, I’ve been on the lookout for helpful books with lots of beautiful pictures—not just for instructions, but also for inspiration. I have seen several reviews of Heidi Corley Barto’s new book The Natural Soap Chef. It’s a gorgeous book with lots of great tips for additives. For instance, Barto uses baby food instead of pureed fruit, which would be a great time-saver. She also explains exactly how to use liquids other than water (such as goat milk or tea).
The recipes are mostly variations on the same four ingredients: olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, and palm oil. Those ingredients are the staples of good soap. I think I might have enjoyed seeing a few different types of oils discussed, but it wasn’t a huge deal because of the large variety of ideas. I liked thinking about how many ways I could use the same ingredients to make very different soaps. Also, I think it’s great for beginners to master a basic recipe and still have a chance to experiment within those confines. I had a quibble with Catherine Bardey’s Making Soaps and Scents because she also used the same basic three-oil recipe for almost all the soaps in her book, but frankly, I think what bothered me was that one of Bardey’s ingredients was shortening. I know it can be used in soap, but it just doesn’t seem right to me. I just don’t like the idea of using Crisco® in my soap! However, olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, and palm oil—I can get behind. They may or may not be more natural than shortening. I honestly don’t know. But they seem more natural, and if I were buying handmade soap, I’d rather see them on the list of ingredients than shortening.
I am confused about one thing. Barto recommends putting the soap into the refrigerator after you pour it, but everything else I’ve read seems to indicate soap needs to cool slowly, and that you should wrap it in towels to keep it warm until it sets a little. I guess I’m having some cognitive dissonance here, and now I’m not sure. My own experience with the first two batches is that wrapping them and keeping them warm works well for me, so I’m not sure I will follow that particular advice. I suppose there are just many ways to make soap, but I admit I am curious as to why Barto does things so differently after the soap is in the mold.
I love some of Barto’s ideas. I had already created my own lemongrass sage recipe, but hers looks good, and I plan to infuse half of my olive oil with sage just like she did, which was something I had not thought of doing (I’m making the lemongrass sage this weekend). Also, thanks to Barto, I now have a good chai tea soap recipe that looks easy (and I already have the chai teabags I need! score!), and I love her idea for creating tissue paper tea bags to wrap those soaps in. Clever!
This is a great book, whether you’re a beginner like me or a more advanced soap maker looking for ideas. Christmas is taken care of this year!