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Winter Swirl soap (Cocoa Butter and Peppermint)

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Serves about 6 bars of soap | Prep Time 1-2 hours | Cook Time

Why I Love This Recipe

At its base this is a recipe for a traditional Mediterranean soap—olive oil or ‘Castile’ soap as it is sometimes called. Olive oil has long been used around the Mediterranean to help keep skin supple and moist, and it is common to find olive oil soap in markets all over the region. The variation I share here includes a bit of cocoa butter and peppermint oil, which makes this soap especially nice for wintertime. Cocoa butter does wonders moisturizing dry and cracked skin, while peppermint is refreshing and soothing.

Ingredients You'll Need

450g (16oz) Olive Oil (cold pressed)
150g (5oz) distilled water
70g (2.5oz) lye (sodium hydroxide)*
20g (1oz) Cocoa Butter
2-3 tsp (to taste) Peppermint essential oil**

* Until not too long ago, you could purchase Red Devil Lye in your local supermarket, which was 100% sodium hydroxide. Lye is not quite as easy to come by these days, but there are still online vendors where you can purchase it (note that because it is getting shipped you will have to pay an additional HAZMAT fee). Some of my favorite vendors are Snowdrift Farm and Camden-Gray, but just do a quick search online and you should be able to find plenty of places to purchase lye. Just make sure you are getting a product that is 100% sodium hydroxide with no added ingredients.

** You can substitute essential oil (the real stuff) for fragrance oil (artificial stuff). Fragrance oil is cheaper and tends to smell stronger. However essential oils, which are extracted from the actual plant, have medicinal, aromatherapeutic, and cosmetic benefits that perfume (fragrance oil) cannot offer.

Good quality scale – preferably one that measures in grams
Stainless steel pot
Plastic container (for water)
Stainless steel or plastic container (for cocoa butter)
Plastic mixing bowl
Silicone or heavy duty rubber mixing utensil.
Blender (optional)
Meat thermometer
Protective gloves
Trays or molds

WARNING: Lye (sodium hydroxide) is some nasty caustic stuff. Do not let it come in contact with aluminum, Formica, tin, iron… and never never let it touch the skin! Use gloves and even goggles if you have them, cover your counter with newspaper or towels, and use only stainless steel, plastic, or silicone materials. Always keep a bottle of vinegar nearby in case your skin comes into contact with the lye. Wood spoons can be used, although the lye will slowly corrode them and you may eventually start finding tiny wood slivers in your soap.



Measure your water into a plastic container and freeze. Be sure to use a container that has plenty of extra space as you will be adding ingredients later on.


1. Protect your work area by covering with newspapers or towels; put on gloves.

2. In a stainless steel pot, heat olive oil to 95-100° f.

3. Melt cocoa butter in a small pot or container (you can do this on the stove or in a microwave). Set aside and let it cool to 100° f while you prepare the soap base.

4. Slowly pour lye (sodium hydroxide) into the container with frozen water. Lye is extremely volatile and the water will begin melting immediately so start stirring the solution as soon as lye hits the ice. This will ensure your personal safety, and also make for a uniform lye solution and a smooth bar of soap.

5. Once lye is completely melted into the water, put the container aside and let the solution cool down to 100° f.

5a. The trick is to get your olive oil and the lye solution both to ~100° at the same time. Depending on the initial temperature of your ice, and on the temperature of the room, lye may have to be set aside for quite a while. If your oil has cooled off by the time the lye reaches 100°, warm it back up so that both components are 100° at the same time. (Cocoa butter will not be added until later so does not need to be 100° just yet).

6. Pour olive oil into mixing bowl, and very slowly add lye solution – while stirring with a blender or silicone mixing utensil. Continue stirring until the oil and soap are completely blended. If you can use a clear mixing bowl you should be able to see a uniform color from the bottom to the top of your blend. If your bowl is opaque, just make sure there are not streaks in your blend. Combining the olive oil with the lye solution will cause the whole mixture to heat up, but blend will cool down slowly as you stir.

7. Once olive oil and lye solution are completely blended it’s time to add the cocoa butter and peppermint. NOTE: If you have made soap before you might be familiar with the term ‘trace’: this is when you can lift the spatula out of the mixture, let the soap drip off, and it leaves a ‘trace’ on the mixture. Olive oil soap is slightly different. You do not have to wait for trace and your mixture will still be quite liquid even when you are ready to pour into molds, but it is critical that everything is well blended before you move to the next step.

8. Cocoa butter goes in first. The more liquid it is the easier it will blend, but make sure it isn’t too hot: like the rest of the ingredients, it should be close to 100° f.

9. Peppermint is next. This oil should not be heated and, in fact, should be added only after the soap has itself cooled off a bit (essential oils dissipate in warm fluids, which is what makes them so nice in a warm shower or bath!)

10. Time to pour into molds! Make sure molds are flexible (so you can pop them out in a couple of days), and that they can sit somewhere out of the way and relatively warm and dry for about 3 days.

11. Soaps are ready to come out of molds when they can pop out easily, but they are still not ready to use! It takes a full 4 weeks for the lye to combine with the oils and for the soap to cure completely. Pop your soaps out of the molds when they are hard enough, then place them somewhere out of the way to let them cure slowly. The longer you let them sit, the lower their PH will be and the more gentle they will feel to your skin.

12. Once the four weeks are up, soaps are ready to use – enjoy!

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