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Using A Stick Blender - Tips by Kathy Miller

Republished with kind permission from Kathy Miller.  Kathy has been making soap for over 30 years and has compiled her years of experience on her website, Miller's Homemade Soap Pages (well worth the visit but be warned, you could be there some time).  With huge thanks Kathy, from all the members at Fresholi :o)

Using a Stick Blender by Kathy Miller

Since I've done more reading about soapmaking on the Internet, I've heard of using a stick blender for mixing soap instead of stirring by hand. This was said to speed up the saponification process and save lots of time. When I realized that I actually owned a "stick" blender that I hardly ever use except for pureeing carrot soup (to which the picture will testify), I was thrilled to try it! At the time of this writing (December 4, 1998) I've used it to make eight batches of soap (mostly all-vegetable).

Each veggie batch has traced within 5 minutes or less and the batch with lard took only a few minutes longer with a spoon to finish stirring! I have heard from a couple of people that they don't use the stick blender until they've already stirred in the lye for a bit with a spoon, but I just use it from the start, and instead of pouring the lye in a slow steady stream, I dump it in rather quickly while swirling it all around with the blender. If you pour it in slowly, the soap could be at trace before you have time to put in the fragrance oils!

On top of drastically cutting down the trace time, using the hand held blender makes a soap that is a lot less prone to separation problems! Quite frankly, I would be surprised to see any batch separate that is mixed this way. You are more likely to have a problem with it setting up too quickly on you! All the batches were smooth and easy to cut with no breaking whatsoever. I suspect that mixing this way probably cuts down on the curing time as well, but I would still wait four weeks before use to be sure. I don't think I'll ever go back to the old way of standing in front of the stove stirring away!

If you are new to soapmaking and don't know what "trace" looks like yet, I would suggest you do it the traditional way with a spoon or hand mixer first (the usual kind). After you get used to how soap changes and recognize the difference between early trace and when you need to go into panic mode (!!!), then you will probably enjoy the time-saving qualities of using a stick blender. I bought mine at Costco in 1990 for about $25. Another soaper, Michelle, told me that they now cost $10-$20 at her local K-Mart and Walmart Stores.

Remember, when using the stick blender, you can switch to a spoon at any time to slow down the saponification process (or just stir with the stick blender when it's off). Once the soap starts to get smooth and glossy (light trace), you can turn off the stick blender and use it like a spoon to blend in your additives. Then I turn it back on and whip it all around a bit more before pouring. Sometimes the coloring agents, organics or oils will clump a bit when added and it does a great job of making it all smooth. Just don't take too long to get it into the molds when trace happens!

Another tip...if you are mixing in a wide shallow container, you will run a higher risk of incorporating air into your soap with the blender. It works better if you mix your soap in a container that is taller than wide, so you get some depth and can get the blender way below the surface for most of the stirring. I periodically bring it to a shallower depth in order to pull in the soap on top, but don't raise it enough to pull air.

I have used the stick blender on all the recipes on the all-vegetable page. Something that helps if you are going to use it is to use lower temperatures before blending... in the 90-100 degree range. This gives you a greater latitude when working with the blender and your soap will not trace quite as quickly. Sounds silly, but you will appreciate it taking longer...unlike when you are stirring with a spoon and want the shortest trace time possible!

Cleaning: I find the easiest way to clean the stick blender (after wiping off the excess globs of soap as much as possible with a paper towel...when it is UNPLUGGED) is to fill the soapmaking pot above the halfway point with hot soapy water (this is wiped out first with paper towels also and those are tossed in the garbage). Then I blend and mix it around with the stick blender like you would a batch of soap. Doing this for a minute does a great job of cleaning out the inside parts of the blender...around the blade and under the guard. It's easy to wash the outside the rest of the way in the sink (I can't submerge mine).


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