Years ago I picked up a book called Confetti Cakes and after seeing the amazing things that one could do with baked goods, I became very interested in creating fancy cupcakes and cakes. Cupcakes that didn’t just look like cupcakes, but like animals or a spaghetti dinner. I also made cakes shaped like robots and a death star, but after a while I found that I wasn’t really enjoying the process and didn’t want to dedicate as much time to the hobby. Since then I’ve taken up other hobbies like crocheting, canning and soap making, and I’ve been learning how to run a small business built on the activities I enjoy the most.
I guess my interest in creative baking hasn’t completely dissipated because I recently decided to start making soap cakes and cupcakes. If you’ve ever baked a cake, you’ll recognize the process as being much the same. With soap-making, though, you want to be sure not to lick the spatula. I won’t go into detail about how to make soap since I’ve already done that in another blog, but I will talk about the process of using soap to create sudsy baked goods.
Before you get started, you’ll want to make sure you’ve checked your recipe and made any changes for your particular batch of soap. For 12 cupcakes, you’ll need a 3lb batch of soap. For a large cake that will yield 12 slices, you’ll need a 5lb batch of soap. Use that soap calculator and make any necessary adjustments. It’s also good to have a plan for how you’ll be dividing the batter to achieve the look you want. I’m a very visual person, so I find that I have to write it all out in my recipe before I even begin. It’s a good guide to have once you’ve already started soaping, and it allows you to prepare all of the containers and colours that you’ll need before you get all oily.
Just like on a cooking show, I like to lay out all of my ingredients on a large work space. I prepare all of my colours and pour out the correct amount of fragrance so that they’re all ready to go. If you’re using micas you can simply add these directly to the batter – no prep necessary! I also make sure I have all of my oils at the ready, as well as any spatulas or spoons that I’ll need. Don’t forget that piping bag! Disclaimer: if you have never piped icing before, I strongly recommend practicing with some icing first. Make a batch of cupcakes for your friends and pipe that icing! Scrape it off when it looks like the leaning tower of mush and try again until it looks right. Time is of the essence when piping soap, so you’ll need to feel comfortable with your piping skills.
Whether you plan on making cupcakes or a cake, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using silicone or plastic molds for both. They can be found pretty much anywhere these days. Soap does not react well with metal and could release some harmful gases. Here is a link to some videos about soaping safety that you should definitely watch before making any type of soap.
As usual I combined my water and lye before melting my oils. At just about every market I attend I get the question “why lye?”. Simply put – no lye, no soap. It’s actually impossible. You can read more about that in my previous soap blog. Suffice it to say, after the saponification process, there is no lye left in the soap. Yay science!
As the lye is cooling, I melt my hard oils. I like to start by melting my cocoa butter because it has the highest melting point. Once it’s melted, I remove my pot from the heat and let my other hard oils melt in the cocoa butter. Next, I add my liquid oils and mix it with my hand blender. This is where I add any extras like kaolin clay or oatmeal, and I blend again to make sure it’s all combined. If I am using oxides for colour, I’ll remove some oil at this point and mix my oxides into the oil.
Once my lye and my oils have cooled to about 100°F, I pour my lye water into the oils. Safety gloves and goggles, please! Blend until you get a light trace. This is important and I always overdo it. You want a light trace because if the soap firms up too fast, it will make it more difficult to create swirls and patterns. You will also need to account for time to add colours and scents, and the batter will continue to firm up as you do this. Some scents will even speed up trace (when the oils and lye water emulsify and the batter thickens), so try not to mix too much.
At this point I divided my batter in half – half for the bottom of the cupcake and half for the top. Since I wanted two colours for the icing, I divided the top half of the batter again. I used Aztec Gold mica for one part and Bordeaux mica for the other. You can choose separate colours and scents for each part, or you can use one scent for the entire cupcake. For this most recent batch, I used vanilla on the bottom and cherry fizz for the top. I poured the batter for the bottom part into the prepared muffin tins, being careful not to spill onto the metal pan and wiping up any drips. Before piping the icing part, the batter has to firm up enough to produce very stiff peaks. If you’ve ever made a meringue you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t know what that means – dip your spatula or spoon into the batter and pull it straight out. Does the spoon leave the batter at a point or a peak that stands up on its own (a stiff peak)? Or does the batter flop over and melt back into itself? You’re aiming for the former. When those stiff peaks do show up, the batter will be quite warm. The reaction of the lye and the oils causes the batter to heat up to more than 200°F, so you really need to monitor your soap as you wait for it to thicken to the desired consistency. And definitely make sure that it’s in a container that can withstand the heat.
Once the batter was ready for piping, I put the gold batter into one side of the piping bag and the bordeaux into the other half. I was hoping to have half gold, half red icing, but the piping didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped. Close enough, though, and they smell amazing. I also sprinkled a little cosmetic glitter on the top for some extra glitz. To finish off the cupcakes I sprayed them with some alcohol, covered the pan with a cardboard box and wrapped it all up in some towels. After 48 hours I removed them from the silicone liners, still oily, but solid. Off to cure until August for these beauties!
It might be tempting to show off your handy work before the soaps have completely cured, but I strongly recommend letting the cupcakes cure for at least 2 weeks before attempting to transport them. That being said, I’ve already taken two on my bike… so if you must, cover them with parchment and be sure to secure them with enough padding so they don’t move around. They’re super soft before completely cured and will damage very easily.
If you haven’t made soap before, I would recommend making a few batches of regular bar soap before attempting the cupcakes. Understanding the process, getting comfortable with the ingredients, and figuring out how the soap reacts are super important and necessary before taking on a soap that requires many steps. Once you’re ready, there are so many colours, scents and styles that you can create for these little cakes, making it a treat to make them each time. Happy soaping!