Only a few minutes from where our soap is made is a beautiful beach. Strand Beach, once known as Melk Baai (Milk Bay), where the African Continent ends and the ocean begins rolling itself out of False Bay until it reaches the icy shores of Antarctica. Sounds grandiose and so it is; for the girl from the country with unmeasurable stretches of shoreline but no tide, the big open ocean will always be awe-inspiring. And, in False Bay the concept of The Ocean is particularly interesting. In their practical wisdom geographers have decided that False Bay be part of the Atlantic Ocean which by their definition ends at Cape Agulhas, a little further south-east of False Bay. Yet False Bay has more in common with the Indian Ocean – biologically speaking.
In any case Strand Beach is a beautiful, long, flat beach with soft sand where swimmers and surfers enjoy warm, clear water in summer and beachcombers like myself find interesting bits and pieces of marine life after winter storms. Right now it’s winter here and a couple of days ago, just around full moon the beach was a proper treasure trove of shells, kelp, sea sponges and very big mermaid’s purses, ie egg capsules of skates, rays or oviparous sharks.
A limpet is a sea-snail with an un-coiled, conical shell and limpet shells were everywhere. Many of them were the size of a small tea-cup or saucer. Many were fairly flat but some were tall and nicely dome-shaped – and just about the perfect 100g size. The soapmaker’s brain did what soapmakers’ brains tend to do: it saw a soap mould.
A soap mould needs to be either collapsible or flexible in order for the soap to safely come out once it has hardened. Unless making collapsible, box-shaped moulds out of wood, the material of choice is silicone. Silicone comes in many forms but the cheapest by far is often the caulking silicone that you buy in tubes in supermarkets or hardware stores. I happened to have a tube of caulking silicone conveniently tucked away in a closet, so I picked up the tallest, most dome-shaped limpet shell I could find and brought it home. With those longitudinal ridges and latitudinal rings the limpet shells have a lovely rough, all-natural texture.
Caulking silicone is very sticky, but anybody who’s used silicone to seal things in a bathroom or kitchen knows that you can use dishwashing liquid and water to prevent it from sticking to your hands while you’re working with it. So, I filled a big bowl with water and a generous helping of dishwashing liquid. With my trusty old caulking gun I emptied the silicone into the water.
With plenty of dishwashing liquid on my hands I quickly shaped about half of the silicone into a patty without kneading it any more than necessary since I didn’t want any extra water bubbles caught in the silicone. I then smoothed the silicone patty over the limpet shell trying to make sure that the silicone layer would be of about equal thickness over all the ridges while making sure that it went all the way down to the base of the shell all around.
The next morning the silicone had set and I could safely remove the limpet shell from the mould.
Since this is an el cheapo mould I used a minimum amount of silicone and I didn’t use any extra to build a base for the mould to stand on when in use. Instead I rest it in a suitably sized ramequin for stability and easy handling. The ramequins can be moved around, put in the oven etc. You could also use a tea-cup or a sturdy mug for this.
And then proof of concept – creamy brine soap in my own sea creature mould:
PS Please note that caulking silicone is not food grade, ie this type of mould is not suitable for making cake decorations. But for soap it works just fine! 🙂