These silky, lightweight body butter bars are a wonderful accompaniment to our Sugar Plum series—and they’re quite versatile, too! You can present them in a tube or choose a mould you find suitable; you can make a few big ones or a bunch of wee ones. I’ve got a couple different colouring options, too—there’s a mica option, a botanical option, and an uncoloured option as well. It’s up to you!
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I developed the formula for these body butter bars as part of my Formula Botanica coursework. This particular unit was on body balm bars, and as I was in full-on sugar plum mode I thought I’d continue the theme as I worked through the module! The idea is to create a solid bar that melts easily on contact with the skin, but not so easily that it cannot be handled and manipulated to some degree. You’ll definitely want to employ the “cool to trace in an ice bath” + fridge chill method here to ensure your end product is smooth. This can take a bit of finessing as there is a point where it has traced enough to cool well, but is still thin enough to pour into a mould… but one can also rocket past that point faster than expected and end up with something that doesn’t want to fill a mould nicely! You’ll get a feel for it as you work with the method. Visually, I found the moment it starts to look a bit hazy is a good time to pour.
I’ve kept these bars quite “crunchy”—they’re just made with a handful of plant based butters and waxes, with a bit of additional thickening from some stearic acid. I did try a version without any stearic acid and found the bars to be really quite soft (even in Calgary in the winter!). If you’d like to eliminate the stearic acid you can try replacing it with more tucuma butter, but if you do that I’d really recommend a push tube rather than loose bars as the loose bars will melt quite quickly when handled.
Our theme scent comes from the inclusion of silky plum oil, sweet vanilla-like benzoin resinoid, and bright and spicy cardamom essential oil. Plum oil has a fatty acid composition very similar to that of sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, and peach kernel oil, but it has a scent like no other carrier oil. That scent is luxurious and sophisticated, like marzipan and dried fruits. It is utterly brilliant, and carries through beautifully to the finished bars, blending and mingling with the essential oils. Swoon!
We have three pigmenting options. Option 1: leave it uncoloured. Easy! Option 2: employ a bit of mica as we have with some of the past Sugar Plum projects (like the lip balm and conditioning body butter). Easy, and all three projects will match really nicely if you use the same mica. Option 3: infuse the balm with some alkanet root while it’s still liquid for a lovely, botanical plum tone. All three options are lovely, so choose whichever works for you (and your ingredient stash!). I’ve covered the alkanet infusion in the blog, and used the mica method in the video.
Presentation-wise, you can choose to use a mould to create loose body butter bars, or pour the molten liquid into push-up tubes like this or this. If you go the mould route I’d really recommend choosing a shape that can be popped into a tin or jar that the bars can live in—especially if you’re gifting these! Body butter bars always melt a little bit when they’re handled and used, and then lint and dust and hair sticks to the melty surface bit and then the bars re-solidify with their new layer of decorations and… yech. Including a storage container with the body butter bar makes it much less likely to become a dog hair magnet that will probably get thrown away.
This recipe scales easily, making it brilliant for whipping up a big batch for gifting, or just making one or two for yourself. There are relatively few ingredients, and the whole project is really pretty simple. I hope you like them!
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Sugar Plum Body Butter Bars
Powdered alkanet root, as needed
Some notes on the alkanet infused tucuma butter: the strength of the infusion will vary with the amount of alkanet root used, the strength of the botanical itself (this can vary from crop to crop), and the time the everything is left to infuse. For the paler version (a 40g [1.41oz] batch) I used 1g (0.03oz) powdered alkanet root and infused that into 40g of tucuma butter for approximately 90 minutes in a gently heated water bath. I used extra tucuma butter to account for the loss of some to the botanicals and the infusion bag. For the darker/ruby version I used roughly 4g (0.14oz)—this one does transfer a bit of colour to the skin, but it doesn’t remain once rubbed in.
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh out the alkanet root into a disposable tea/infusion bag. Weigh the tucuma butter into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the infusion bag into the measuring cup with the tucuma butter and place the cup in your prepared water bath to infuse. Once the infusion is complete, press the infusion bag to squeeze out any excess oil and discard it. You’ve now got your alkanet infused tucuma butter and you can proceed!
While the heated phase melts, prepare an ice bath. Take a bowl that is large enough to accommodate the container the heated phase is melting in, and fill it about halfway with ice cubes and cold water. You’ll also want to set out your moulds or your tubes and set them on a plate or something else that can be easily transferred to the fridge (make sure there’s room for it to sit flat, too!).
After about 20–30 minutes everything should be completely melted through. Remove the water bath from the heat, remove the measuring cup from the water bath, and dry it off with a dish towel. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Place the measuring cup containing the heated phase into the ice bath and cool, stirring constantly, for about thirty seconds—until you start to notice some building viscosity. Remove the container from the water bath and add the cool down ingredients. Stir to incorporate.
Continue stirring the mixture in the ice bath until you reach “trace”—the mixture should have enough viscosity that a small amount drizzled over the surface of the mixture leaves a “trace” for an instant. The mixture should also appear just the slightest bit hazy. If you’re a soap maker you’ll be familiar with this—we’re looking for a very light trace. Refer to the video to see it in action! This part can be a bit tricky as too much viscosity will mean the batter won’t pour into molds nicely, so be careful and make sure your moulds/tubes are standing by.
Once you reach trace you can now pour the body butter into a push-up tube or silicone mould (or moulds) quickly transfer it to the fridge to set up.
When the butter has fully set up (give it an hour or two), remove it from the fridge to return to room temperature. Unmould if required. That’s it! To use, smooth some body butter over bits of skin that need some extra love.
Because this body butter is 100% oil based, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.
Substitutions & Notes
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 40g.
- If you want to use a mica for colour instead of the alkanet infusion simply use un-infused tucuma butter, reduce the mango butter to 8%, and include 0.75% plum-coloured mica
- You could try deodorized cocoa butter or kokum butter in place of the tucuma butter; I haven’t tried this, though, and given it makes up 75% of the recipe using something other than tucuma butter is likely to have a noticeable impact on the end product. I’d recommend making a test batch to see how it handles, especially if you want to make the recipe into loose bars.
- You can try cetearyl alcohol (USA / Canada) instead of stearic acid, but this will lower the melting point of the end product. You will want to make a small test batch to see how it handles, especially if you want to make the recipe into loose bars.
- If you don’t have the plum oil (I haven’t found it in Canada yet—I’m sorry!) I think your best alternatives would be apricot kernel oil or cherry kernel oil—oils that are also pressed from the kernels of similar stone fruits. You will lose the marzipan/cherry note; if you aren’t a fan of the scent you might prefer that! Otherwise, you can look for a fragrance oil with a similar scent and incorporate it (I’d start at 0.1–0.2% as it’s a pretty subtle scent). I haven’t found this scent anywhere else in the realm of natural ingredients, sadly.
- You could use a different soft butter (cupuacu would be my next choice), instead of mango butter, but this will make for a heavier/greasier end product.
- You can use a different essential oil blend if you prefer (benzoin resinoid is always considered part of the essential oil blend).
- These bars will melt in hot weather. Read this for more information.
The plum oil was gifted by Essential Wholesale & Labs.