Soap made from scratch. Photo by my iPhone.

Soap made from scratch. Photo by my iPhone.

How this workaholic longs for the holidays to be over! Especially when the big days fall midweek, effectively knocking out two full weeks. I tried not working—reading, watching movies—but that just resulted in flatness. I need to work, writing or cooking, apparently the way a shark needs to swim.

This week is time to think ahead toward what I hope to accomplish in 2014. I’ve already achieved one goal, small though it was. A few friends and I bought and broke down a pig in December (will post about this soon) and it was exceptionally fatty, leaving us with far more rendered lard than I need to cook with. How to use all this fat? Make soap. To my amazement, it was a breeze and finished in 30 minutes. Though there’s relatively little on the internet, this site provided ratios! Hard to know who this source is, but the ratio worked like a dream, considerably less water than other internet recipes.

This was really important to me because part of my goal was to waste as little of the pig as possible, and this is a lovely neutral soap that leaves the skin feeling moisturized after using.

Other goals for 2014:

  • A redesign of this site. I’ve wanted a proper logo, a cleaner look, and a regular partner (the wonderful company Le Creuset so that I don’t have those annoying ads for Kraft Ranch Dressing popping up on a homemade mayo post!). And most important a responsive site that adjusts to the varying screen sizes we use.
  • A new and improved Ratio app for the new iPhone, with a new design and a fabulous new feature that will allow users to create their own ratios! Very excited about this.
  • HBI, a scale company I love, is making a scale to my specifications, one that I can recommend to all home cooks.
  • My innovative (not an idle claim, it truly is innovative) look at the world’s most versatile culinary ingredient, will be published in April by Little, Brown, and I am at work on four short, single-subject books on specific techniques, as that is what all cooking comes down to, fundamental technique. The first, Roast, will appear next fall.
  • I’m working with a talented small group, one an accomplished writer-director, on a scripted drama for cable, a drama set primarily at a cooking school and a Manhattan restaurant. We have been working on this FOREVER, I am determined to get this off the ground this year.
  • I’m hoping to do a newsy food-related show that I want to call “Wake the Fuck Up!”—but I don’t know if this is going to fly; wish me luck.
  • I’m hoping very much to publish two non-food stories, a novella and a short novel—to publish fiction, my earliest adult goal, has eluded me.
  • I want to create an electronic book of cocktails, based on my Friday Cocktail Hour posts, since those have been so popular, and I’d love to have them in a single source, organized and easily searched.
  • I want to broaden the Ruhlman cooking tools, make new ones and sell more so that we can lower the damn prices and start shipping to Canada and beyond.
  • And I look forward to reintroducing the Schmaltz app for iPads, with additional recipes. Maybe one for schmaltz soap!

As 2014 begins I’d like thank all those people who join me and help me in my work: my assistant Emilia Juocys; copyeditor Karen Wise; Little, Brown editor Michael Sand; David and Joleen Hughes of Level Design; Stephen Jenkins, the man behind my website; Ann and Richard Lagravenese and Robin Skye; Will Turnage; Laura Yorke; Lisa, Cait, Adam, Vanessa, and so many others at CAA; Will Copenhaver at Le Creuset, David Mulvaney (the scale); April Clark (the Schmaltz app); Mac Dalton (our tools); and last and most important by far, my wonderful wife, Donna, without whom I couldn’t do half of this.

Now, about the above soap, comments and, especially, questions for people who actually know something about this.

For instance, I’m told that it needs to cure, presumably to get the rest of the water out. But the soap above is lovely and useable as is, 24 hours after making it. I intend to wrap and freeze some now (my only concern is rancidity), let some cure, and use some daily. Can anyone advise about the purpose of curing?

I steeped dried sage leaves from the garden in the oil then strained them out because I feared too piggy a smell, but there’s little sage scent and little smell; it’s actually a lovely, clean, neutral-smelling soap and leaves the hands feeling soft. I’m told you can add essential oils for fragrance, but I really like this unscented, no-nonsense version.

Again, I used straight rendered pig fat, lye, and water, nothing else. Worked like a charm. Here’s a source for food-grade lye (don’t be afraid of it, just be careful; I don’t use gloves or goggles and I’m fine). When you aren’t using it for soap, use it to make great pretzels or cure olives!

Lard Soap Ratio:

  • 100% rendered lard
  • 13% lye
  • 38% water

I used:

  • 600 grams lard
  • 78 grams lye
  • 228 grams water
  1. Line a small baking dish or loaf pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium, high-sided sauce pan, heat the fat to a temperature of 115˚F/46˚C., give or take a few degrees.
  3. In a separate pan, bring the lye and the water, stirring to dissolve the lye crystals, to the same temperature. Pour the lye water into the fat. Using a hand blender, blend this mixture until it looks like a custard sauce, so that a ribbon will remain distinct on top before becoming one with the mixture again (this is called tracing). It took me 20 minutes. I stopped every now and then to let the motor cool. For some people it can take 30 minutes. Just be patient, and be sure the mixture doesn’t go below 110˚F/43˚C or, for that matter, above 120˚F/49˚C.
  4. Pour the soap into the parchment-lined pan; again, it had the consistency of a lemon custard, and it began to set up immediately, so don’t dally here. Press a layer of parchment on top of this. Allow to set up for 24 hours. It should be hard by this point.
  5. Remove from the mold and cut as desired (I used a wire cheese cutter). I’ve read you’re supposed to let it cure for 3 to 4 weeks in a cool dry dark space. Evaluate it now—it may be good to go. I think because I used less water than most recipes called for it hit the trace stage fairly quickly and is ready for use today.

Other links you may like:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.