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How Creating a Soap Recipe is a Lot Like Making Banana Bread

Cooking Talent Translates Into Soap Making Talent


How Creating a Soap Recipe is a Lot Like Making Banana Bread

Cooking and Making Soap Have a Lot in Common

Paul Gilligan / Getty Images
I know you may not think banana bread and soap & candle making have much in common, but I had an epiphany the other day that I thought might help explain just how to create your soap recipes and candle wax blends - and how small adjustments to your recipes can change things.

A bit of background first - my son usually either takes a banana in his lunch every day, or eats one on the way to school. This means we buy a lot of bananas, and fairly often we won't eat them before they get brown and mushy - which means we make a lot of banana bread around my house.

For quite a while, I have been using a tried and true basic banana bread recipe from my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. The recipe calls for:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 ripe bananas
(It also calls for walnuts, but I have always left them out.) It makes a nice, firm, "bready" loaf of banana bread. It toasts well, and goes well with a little bit of butter.

But after the second or third loaf of banana bread this month, I wanted to try a different recipe, just something different. So, I looked up the Guide to Southern Cooking Diana Rattray's recipe for Favorite Banana Bread. Cut in half (I was just making one loaf) the recipe calls for:

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 large bananas, very ripe, mashed
O.k....so, as you can see, the main difference is a little more sugar, a little less salt, and the addition of butter. Everything else is pretty much the same. Flour, eggs, bananas.

So I made it.

It's delicious. Rich and buttery and moist and much more "cake" like than the first recipe, which is much more solid and "bread" like. But the really amazing thing is that it pretty much tastes exactly like the other recipe. The texture and the overall "experience" of eating it is quite different...but the flavor, the essence of the banana bread is nearly identical.

This got me to thinking. I said to myself, "wow...what a difference in the texture and richness that the butter made. I wish I understood cooking better so that I could understand how to adjust recipes to make things exactly how I like them. It will just take a lot of reading and experimenting to get to that level."

DING! It's pretty much the same with soap and creating a soap recipe. Adjusting a recipe by adding a different oil, or some luxury oil or butter, or even changing the percentage of an oil in the recipe, can indeed change the overall quality of the soap...but often in subtle ways that are hard to see/feel if you don't have two bars to compare side by side. And even if some subtle qualities of the soap are changed - it's still soap!

Here's an example. Let's say you have a simple recipe that uses:

  • 10 oz. olive oil
  • 10 oz. coconut oil
  • 10 oz. palm oil
  • 5 oz. castor oil
A very good, simple, balanced, basic soap recipe. But let's say you change the recipe to:
  • 12 oz. olive oil
  • 10 oz. coconut oil
  • 8 oz. palm oil
  • 5 oz. castor oil
  • 5 oz. cocoa butter
With both batches, you use the same amount of the same fragrance oil.

Will the soap be different? Most definitely. Will it be very similar, especially to people not accustomed to judging soap. Yes! The lather will still be stable, rich and creamy...but the extra olive and cocoa butter are going to make the second recipe just a bit heavier, a bit more on the creamy side rather than the bubbly side. The addition of the cocoa butter will also be a bit more moisturizing to your skin, but nothing you would likely feel fresh out of the shower. The basic recipe - the core of the soap recipe - the essence of the soap (think the flour, eggs, bananas and sugar) remains the same. Just like the two banana breads were different, yet quite similar, the two soap recipes will be different and yet quite similar. Adding the cocoa butter to the soap is like adding the regular butter to the banana bread. And just like I learned a little bit about how a certain ingredient (butter) affected the texture and feel of the banana bread, you too can learn the different qualities oils will give to your soaps by experimenting with your soap recipes by changing your recipes and trying new combinations of oils.

For my next batch of banana bread, I think I'm going to substitute brown sugar for some of the white sugar. Or add cranberries. Or some cinnamon. Or increase the baking soda a bit. Understanding how to adjust soap recipes has helped me understand how to adjust my banana bread recipes...and vice versa.

Have fun in the kitchen, whatever you are making!

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