I bought a tub of unrefined shea butter recently, and I’ve been rubbing little bits into any rough patches on my legs whenever I had an opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s hard to use since it’s grainy as hell (a result of being heated and cooled in transit), so I finally decided to do something with it – I made some lovely whipped body butter! (We were originally going to do this for my friend’s hens weekend, but we ended up wine tasting instead…)
The most basic whipped body butter recipe uses 3:2 butter/oil. You can use any plant butter, depending on the feel you want – common ones are shea, cocoa, mango and olive. I used grapeseed oil, since it’s supposed to give a lighter body butter and it was easy to find, but other oils can be used, such as olive, sweet almond and avocado. A lot of recipes also include beeswax (to help the butter keep its whipped texture afterwards) and cornstarch (to make the butter feel like it’s sinking into the skin), but for my first go I stuck to the basics.
100 g shea butter (I found that the density of my batch was actually 1 mL = 1 g, which made measuring easier!)
67 mL grapeseed oil
I read somewhere that it’s possible to de-grain shea butter without melting it if you whip it hard enough… in my case, it didn’t work (maybe I didn’t whip long enough, or it was too cold) and I just had a mess of graininess.
Instead, to reduce the grainiess, I microwaved the shea butter at 20 second intervals until it was all melted, added the oil, then stood the bowl in a tub of ice, whipping every once in a while until it felt thick enough to be whippable. Then I whipped the crap out of it.
(Sciencey side note: the graininess is because of the shea butter melting, then recrystallising into grainy crystals. What you want for a smooth texture is smaller crystals (it’s similar to making ice cream). We often have to make crystals in lab, and since larger crystals are purer, we always want to make large crystals, and the best way to do that is to cool slowly, and keeping them undisturbed. So for small crystals and a smooth texture, you want to do the opposite – cool quickly, and agitate it like crazy! That’s why chefs like Heston Blumenthal use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream – it cools the cream faster than a freezer, and makes the ice cream super smooth.)
Look how smooth and edible-looking it is! It reminds me of frosting. In the middle of whipping, I added a few mLs of vitamin E oil (preservative) and jasmine and vanilla scented oils. Yum!
Then I stuck it in jars and voila! The richest, most nourishing balm I’ve ever used. I’m going to give them away to my friends this winter… anyone for soft elbows?