So, you might be wondering, what do making soap and baking custard have to do with one another? Not much, really, except they were the two notable things I did on Saturday. And I thought that while neither of those activities warranted a blog post on their own, when you put them both together there might be enough substance for one. We will see!
First, the soap making. My wife and I have been making cold process soap for a little more than three years now. During that time we have made over 40 batches of soap, giving much of it away to friends and using the rest ourselves. We love to experiment – so much so, that we have rarely followed the same recipe twice! We decided we needed to simplify the process and pick a handful of our favorite base recipes. Plus we wanted to “decouple” the scent of the soap from the base recipe and make the recipes more generic. For instance, Peppermint Honey Oatmeal Soap now becomes Honey Scrubby. It can be scented with anything, and it can have oatmeal added as a mild exfoliant, or something else like poppy seeds, ground luffa or orange peel, and so on. And our Coconut Lime Soap becomes Basic Coconut Milk.
The other thing we wanted to do was change our recipes to stop adding additional ‘superfatting’ oils at the very end of mixing (aka trace), before pouring the soap. The theory was that if you added your most luxuriant oils at the end (like shea butter or avocado oil) then more of them would be present in the finished bar of soap. We had long questioned whether this really made a difference (other than adding more fat to the recipe). And after our favorite soaping experts from Soap Solutions (Mary and Tracy) went off to a soaping conference this year, they came back with the scientific answer that “no, it doesn’t”. So we decided to stop the practice, but that meant changing a couple of recipes where we added an oil at trace that wasn’t in the base recipe. If we just dropped that oil it would change the makeup and performance of the soap, so it had to be incorporated.
Saturday we found some time to make two small batches of soap using the tweaked recipes. Since we really don’t need oodles of soap at this point, we cut our usual two pound recipe in half to make a one pound batch (oil weight). For that we decided to use our round silicone molds. It will be several weeks before we get to try the soaps and see how our recipes worked. While we are waiting we will likely make a few more one pound batches to test our base recipes. We identified eight recipes to include on our short list of keepers, including four made with water, two made with goat’s milk and two made with coconut milk. I will post the recipes here when we get them tested and are happy with them.
And now, for something completely different! After making the soap, I whipped up a batch of pumpkin custard using the last container of last year’s frozen pumpkin puree. I wanted to make room for the new squashes once I start baking them and freezing the puree for later use. This year we have a bumper crop of winter squash, and I am looking for more ways to use this nutritious vegetable in the kitchen. Since a pumpkin custard is basically a pumpkin pie without a crust, and since I love pumpkin pie, I figured this would be a healthy way to get my pumpkin fix without the added calories of the crust.
I can’t remember the last time I made custard of any kind. I certainly haven’t made it since my wife and I got married, and that is coming up on 6 years now. After researching some recipes I decided on one from Eating Well that sounded good to me. I mixed up eggs, milk, pumpkin, maple syrup and some spices for this recipe. It took about an hour in a 325°F oven until the custard was cooked. By the end of that time, the whole house smelled like Thanksgiving! That is, assuming you celebrate Thanksgiving like we do and bake pumpkin pie.
The recipe called for putting crystallized ginger on top of the custard after baking. Since I didn’t have any on hand, I decided to put ground ginger in the custard itself. Both my wife and I liked the way the custard turned out. It had a great taste and a creamy, smooth consistency. I think perhaps I will try using less maple syrup the next time I make it. But it satisfied my craving for pumpkin pie, and now I have one more delicious way to use pumpkin and winter squash.
That’s an update on what’s been cooking at Happy Acres lately. I’ll be back soon with more adventures as they happen!