The varied hues, stimulating textures, and refreshing scents of our mix-and-match soaps rejuvenate the senses and wash away winter doldrums.
The soaps are glycerin based, but pantry staples such as ginger and oatmeal can add spice and texture. Essential oils -- such as balsam (redolent of Christmas greenery), bergamot (with a woodsy scent), peppermint (tingly on the skin), orange (a zesty aroma), and eucalyptus (known for its healing qualities) -- add fragrance. Show off your gifts in pretty little patterned dishes, secured with a strip of glassine or waxed paper and tied with a satin ribbon.
Baking molds and cutters make the most interesting shapes. The scalloped-edge round soaps were made with a biscuit cutter: Pour glycerin mixture to desired depth in a 9-by-9-inch baking pan; let harden. Remove block of soap from the pan, and cut out.
For egg-shaped soap, fill half of a chocolate-egg mold; let set 2 hours, and remove. Pour more mixture into other half of mold; immediately top firmly with set half, smoothing the seam with your fingers.
The remaining soaps here were made in tartlet molds.
Creating soap from scratch requires melting glycerin, mixing in additives, and pouring the liquid into molds. For ours, we used a foundation made from a combination of clear and white glycerin (a humectant that gently softens the skin). The proportions are dictated by the desired translucency (use more clear glycerin for translucent soaps, for example, or increase the proportion of white glycerin for opaque soaps).
To determine how much glycerin you need, fill your mold with water, then pour it into a liquid-measuring cup. Chop glycerin into 1/2-inch chunks with a bench scraper. Microwave in a bowl or glass measuring cup covered with a paper towel on medium for 30-second intervals until melted but not boiling (you can also use a double boiler). Stir until smooth. Skim off bubbles with a spoon. Use a toothpick to add food coloring, stirring until desired color is reached. Reheat for 15 seconds to even out. Mix in essential oils (4 or 5 drops per 1 cup of glycerin) or other additives.
To begin, coat mold with vegetable-oil spray or petroleum jelly; wipe out excess. Pour melted soap into a prepared mold, then spray the surface with rubbing alcohol to eliminate any bubbles on the top of soap. Let harden for 2 hours. Then release from mold: For tin molds and pans, freeze for 20 minutes; invert mold, prying soap away from sides and pressing on bottom of mold. Trim edges with a paring knife.