Emotional Highs and Lows of Soap Making

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The incredible sense of euphoria I experience from looking at a freshly unmolded soap loaf with perfect edges and smooth surfaces, or soap bars sliced into individual squares and lined up perfectly onto a wooden crate to dry, convinces me that I’m officially a soap addict, and a slight obsessive compulsive.

But it’s easy for me to get really, really disappointed too when a loaf comes out with some sort of imperfection, like discoloration or uneven surfaces, and I even consider tossing it out and start over when that happens. The inner soap perfectionist in me (and this is not a compliment) can’t handle it!  I don’t, of course, throw away an otherwise perfect handmade soap loaf, but I definitely experience extreme emotional roller coaster when it comes to soap making.

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I experienced an unbelievable high when I unmolded two loaves of all-natural Olive Oil Soap the other day. They both came out so perfect, with beautiful cream color, perfect edges, and silky-smooth exterior, and I couldn’t be happier. Then I hit the lowest low shortly thereafter when I discovered that my two-and-a-half year old daughter got to them and made giant dents on, no only one, but both loaves, while they were drying on the dining table! Noooooo! :'( :'( :'(  I was in foul mood for the rest of the day.

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Luckily, I was able to slice the loaves into individual squares and salvage most of them, with an exception of two with the imprints. So all in all, everything worked out fine at the end, but man, this soap-making thing is not good for my mental health!

I will share more information about the Olive Oil soap on a separate post. In the meantime, I’m going to go lay down and recover now.

#FirstWorldProblem … I know …

RECIPE: White Tea and Ginger Soap

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Once in awhile, I ponder upon random things, like why the decaf version of The Original Donut Shop Keurig K-Cups needs to cost almost twice as much as the original kind which sells for $27 for 72 counts … or whether Man with the Yellow Hat will ever get together with Professor Wiseman.

Or if I should name a soap based on a scent(s) or an ingredient(s), or both.

Still unsure, I’m calling my new batch of soaps White Tea and Ginger Soaps for now because that’s what I used to fragrance them, but technically, they would be called Olive Oil, Macadamia Nut Oil, and Shea Butter Soap with White Tea and Ginger.  But really, this is so not important compared to the love life of a cartoon character who wears the same yellow outfit day in and day out and keeps a very curious monkey as pet.

I hadn’t made soaps in a while but a recent trip to Lush reignited my love for the craft, and watching the oils and lye swirl together to make a lovely soap reminded me how much I love soap making!

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White Tea and Ginger Soap
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This recipe makes 1200 g batch

Ingredients:

Olive Oil (30%): 360 g
Macadamia Nut Oil (30%): 360 g
Shea Butter (20%): 240 g
Palm Oil (10%): 120 g
Coconut Oil (10%): 120 g

Distilled water: 467 g
Lye (85% discount): 145 g

Scents:

White Tea and Ginger Fragrance Oil: 4 tablespoons
Lavender Essential Oil: 15 drops
Grapefruit Essential Oil: 15 drops
Chamomile Essential Oil: 10 drops
Bergamot Essential Oil: 10 drops

Colorant:

Madder Root Powder (for pink color): 1 teaspoon

Note:

I usually make naturally scented soaps (with Essential Oils only) but I was SO in the mood to make Lush-like, heavily scented soaps so I used a little more Fragrance Oil (FO) than usual.  If you like a more subtle-scented soap, I recommend reducing the amount of FO or omit it altogether.  But these soaps smell incredible — just what I needed to rekindle my love for handmade soaps!

These are super moisturizing for your skin, thanks to shea butter and macadamia nut oil, and produce a gentle but satisfying lather. This is definitely one of my favorite and my go-to recipes.

Happy lathering!

Entourage and Urth Cafe

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Kevin and I watched Entourage (movie) earlier this summer. We used to be into the HBO show, aka Sex and the City for men, at one point in our lives but we lost interest at around Season 4 and we stopped watching it altogether.

We went to the movie anyway because we had gift certificates to iPic Theatre in Old Town Pasadena and it seemed like this was the kind of movie that we can watch care free, like, if we fall a sleep, we don’t have to kick ourselves afterward. The movie didn’t receive a raving review from the critic but I thought it was fun, and it was a nice way to catch up with our old buddies on the silver screen. It was also nice to see a cameo appearance by the Los Angeles Kings players, although I suspect that noone but Kings fans recognized them.

After we watched the film, Kevin and I decided to catch up on the rest of the TV show, so we purchased the remaining seasons on Amazon Prime and binge watched all the episodes that we had missed (which, by the way, became available for free on Amazon Prime Instant Video only a few weeks after we paid a pretty penny for each missed season. evil)

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One thing I noticed while salivating over Ari’s super hotness was how much those boys loved Urth Café! They frequented this organic coffee and tea house so much that it should have been the fifth character in the show. Well, the product placement totally worked because I’ve made a trip or two (well, four, but who’s counting?) to its Pasadena location in the last few months alone.  Here are the pictures from my last outing — Green Tea Latte and Egg Salmone.

And here are some from the other outing:

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Darn you boys!  This place is amazing but it ain’t cheap!

English Muffins on Griddle

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From the way I’ve been blogging about bread lately, you might think I spend every day in the kitchen kneading up these carb-y lovelies.  I wish that were the case but unfortunately it’s not.  It’s been a crazy hot, and uncomfortably humid, summer and the last thing I want is to convert my apartment into a sauna.

I did make English Muffins recently but that was because the recipe didn’t require me to keep the oven on for hours (they cook on a griddle!) and I was in the mood for some homemade breakfast sandwich with fried eggs or toasted ones smothered in Bonne Maman strawberry jam.

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The English Muffins was the third creation from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (first was Baguette, and the second was Focaccia).  I’m not sure if I should call this book a cookbook or a text book but either way, it’s excellent with detailed instruction and explanation.  During my Konmari decluttering phase, I got rid of almost all the cookbooks I owned, but, of course, this one stayed.  It was no brainer. I truly think this is the best bread-making book ever written.

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I think one of the most valuable tips I got from my recent bread-making adventure at Surfas Culinary District was mise en place, or “putting in place” in French, to have all the ingredients measured and prepped beforehand to ensure a smooth maneuver around the kitchen come cooking time.  I had the yeast, flour, and all the equipments ready to go and I’m amazed at the amount of time I was able to save!

And I’m so in love with the items that I picked up from Surfas Culinary District — plastic dough rising container, bench scaper, yeast, and a can of Vegalene.

I can’t wait for the weather to cool down so I can do this more frequently.

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English Muffins
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It’s still way too hot to write a detailed instruction, so … please enjoy these photos!

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Yep, strawberry jam!

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #5: Brioche

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I think it was my mother who once told me that if I want to quit eating sweets, I should make them myself. She said that if I see, first hand, how much sugar and fat are in it, I will surely quite eating it. Her point was valid because I no longer consume buttercream frosting after learning how much artery-clogging butter went into making the frosting during my cupcake-making days.

Because of that reason, I was very hesitant to bake Brioche at the bread workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City. I just wanted to forever stay in a sugar-coated world where I was completely oblivious to the amount of butter and eggs that were packed in those cute, seemingly innocent French pastry.

But I suppose I can’t stay sheltered forever. It was time for me to face the music.  Here I go!

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A stand mixer definitely comes in handy in making the dough. I can’t imagine trying to do this by hand.

First you need to dissolve the yeast by whisking it with milk. Then add the flour and mix in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add eggs and mix for 4-5 minutes.

Increase the speed to medium, and slowly add the butter (BUTTER!), tablespoon or two at a time. Continue to mix for 15 minutes to develop the gluten for a light, airy structure in bread.

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Now add sugar and salt and mix for 5-8 minutes. Conduct the “window pane” test (spread a tiny dough piece with your fingers into a thin translucent layer). If you can see through the layer without it ripping, you are ready to transfer the dough onto a buttered sheet pan and cover it with a plastic wrap.

Let it sit for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

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After the dough has rested for at least 6 hour, or overnight, turn the cold dough onto a greased pan. Divide the dough in half.  Then press one portion of dough into an even rectangle about 2 inches thick.

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Take the rectangle in half lengthwise and cut it crosswise into 6 equal portions. The recipe makes a total of 12 equal pieces.

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Roll the dough into balls.

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You have many option to shape the Brioche (i.e. in a loaf pan) but we made many small ones with little 2-3 balls per baking cup.

Place the Brioches in a pan.  Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and set them aside for about 45 minutes until the dough has risen to the level of the pan rim.

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Unwrap the dough, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 350 degree F for 30 minutes, rotating the after 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degree F and continue to bake or 25-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top.

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Transfer to cooling rack and let them cool completely.

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Look at these cute little Brioche!  They look like baby’s little bums!

So making Brioche wasn’t as scary as I thought.  Yes, there are quite a bit of butter (almost two sticks, to make two 8-1/2 inch loaves) and eggs (three altogether) but it’s not that bad as long as you just eat only one or two of the little ones.  It’s difficult to stay disciplined though because these little morsels are lovely, so lovely that you really can’t decide if they are bread or actually pastry.

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I ate one in class while it was still warm, and another one with a cup of coffee when I got home that afternoon.

Everything about Brioche was a music to my ears … and my tummy.

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #4: Ciabatta

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When I was making Ciabatta in the bread-making workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City, I felt a sense of dejavu, like I’ve been here before. It was a new experience but everything somehow felt so familiar.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realize that I have been here indeed, when I made Focaccia several years ago. The process was almost identical so when I got home that night, I Googled “what the #@#% is the difference between Ciabatta and Foccacia?” and found this explanation from America’s Test Kitchen’s website:

Focaccia has a moist, tender texture and tooth-sinking chewiness. “Ciabatta” — Italian for “slipper,” a reference to the bread’s broad, flattish shape — is subtly tangy with large air pockets and has a pleasantly chewy texture.

Oh, now I know why Ciabatta goes so well as a sandwich, while Focaccia makes a lovely accompaniment to soups!

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Before starting the recipe, you must prepare the sponge, or a pre-fermented dough.  Luckily, it was already prepared for us.

To start, mix the yeast mixture, sponge, water, oil, and flour in a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, at low speed until the flour is just moistened.  Continue to beat the dough, this time at medium speed. for 3 minutes.   Add salt and beat for 4 more minutes.

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Turn the dough into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

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Turn dough onto a floured work surface.  The dough is very wet and a bit difficult to handle.

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Cut the dough in half with a bench scraper (an amazing tool) and transfer them onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Now the fun part — dimple loaves with your fingers!

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Let the loaves rest for about 1-1/2 hours or until it doubles in size again. Cover with dampened kitchen towel.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped with fingers.

I went shopping (the test kitchen is inside a professional kitchen supply store) while Ciabatta cooled on the rack, which was a bad idea.  I wanted everything in the store!  I had to hurry up to get out of there before I ended up buying the entire store!

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One great takeaway from baking Ciabatta is learning about pizza stone.  It apparently helps absorb moisture for crispier bread … and crispy and flavorful it was.  I ate it when I got home and loved it.  I smeared insane amount of mayonnaise on the bread and devoured it.  Man, it was delicious!

Next up is, last but not least, Brioche!

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #3: Cream Biscuits

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The second quick bread we made during the two-day bread workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City (the first was Irish Soda Bread) was Cream Biscuits, perfect vessels to deliver gravy or honey into your salivating mouth. I don’t eat biscuits much at home but I do love me some of those crumbly goodness drizzled in honey, with an occasional (yes, occasional!) fried chicken from KFC.

The best part of it all is that these biscuits come together in a cinch, possibly quicker than trying to figure out how to safely unwrap Pillsbury’s air pressured can without exploding in your face.

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For the recipe, we used White Lily brand flour. According to the recipe, “The soft bleached gluten in the flour results in light, tender baked products.” If White Lily flour is unavailable, you can substitute it by simply adding 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt to each cup of White Lily flour.

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To start, make a well in the center of the flour ina bowl and slowly pour in the heavy cream.  Mix by pulling the flour into the liquid.

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Stir to form a sticky dough. The texture you’re looking for here is “shaggy” and “wettish.” These adjectives make me chuckle.

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Turn the “shaggy” and “wettish” (hee hee) dough onto a work surface.

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Fold the dough into half …

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… and roll it into a 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick round.

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Cut the biscuit using your favorite cookie cutter.  Make sure to flour the cutter and work swiftly, as the dough is super soft and crumbly.

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Brush each biscuit with cream.

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Finally, place the biscuits onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 10-14 minutes or until golden brown.

So, a little lesson learned here:

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My group partner Heather and I both fell in love with the square cutter with ridges and made our biscuits using it.  Big mistake.  The biscuits came out thick and doughy, and the finished product wasn’t as cute as we’d envisioned.

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We agreed that our biscuits would have came out crispier and more flavorful using the regular round kind, like the one you see here being used by Chef John.

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Despite our little hiccup, the biscuits were still very yummy.  We smeared the fresh butter and strawberry preserves and devoured them while they were piping hot!  Heavenly!

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All I needed to make these biscuits even more perfect was a bucket (or two) of KFC!

Next up:  Ciabatta!