Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

Here's what I learned about making yogurt - it isn't hard to make and it isn't hard to screw up. The overall time seems  long, but the time you're actually doing something is only about 20 minutes. For my second batch I tried to find an easier, faster method and it turned out thin and sticky and weird. But my most recent batch was exactly what I was hoping for - thick enough, tangy but not too tangy, and with a quick plum "jam" mixed in it tasted like having cobbler for breakfast. I eat yogurt almost every morning, but I'm weird about which store-bought kinds I like. Combine that with my effort to cut as much wasted packaging, plastic, and preservatives from my diet and this recipe is a dream come true.

Homemade Yogurt
makes about 8 servings and a little left as the starter for the next batch
  • Gather up what you'll need:
- 1/2 gallon of whole or 2% milk that is not Ultra-Pasteurized (This has to do with the temperature it was pasteurized at. If milk has been Ultra-Pasteurized it must be labeled that way, so it's generally easy to avoid. Unfortunately, the only organic milk I've found that will work is from Trader Joe's)
- 1 small plain, all-natural yogurt that has live cultures (like Nancy's)
- thermometer
- slow cooker or double-boiler
- small bowl, stirring spoon, and ladle
- an oven or closed space that you aren't going to need for 8 hours
- towel
- tea-kettle or pot with lid
- butter muslin or cheese cloth if you like thick (Greek-style) yogurt
  • Clean all the equipment you'll use very well, being sure to get all the soap residue off. Just to be sure, I like to boil a pot of water and dump it in my slow cooker and the bowl. Then I swish a stirring spoon, ladle, and the thermometer in the hot water. You want to avoid adding any other bacteria to the milk so that you can just cultivate the good, yogurt bacteria.
  • Heat the milk to 180 degrees in the slow cooker on high (or in a double-boiler). It takes my slow cooker about an hour and a half, but it needs very little attention through this stage.
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool to between 100 and 115 degrees. This takes about 1/2 an hour to an hour. It goes faster if you stir.
  • In a clean bowl combine the store-bought yogurt with 1 cup of the warm milk and mix well.
  • Add this yogurt mix back to the slow cooker.
  • Wrap the slow cooker (lid on) in a thick towel and put it in the oven with the light on. Boil some water in the tea kettle or pot and put that in the oven too. This keeps my oven at a perfect 100 degrees.
  • Let this sit undisturbed for 6 to 12 hours, depending on how tangy you like your yogurt. I do 8 hours.
  • Ok, now you should have yogurt! Put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation process and help it firm up. If you think you might make another batch, save about 1/2 a cup for the next time instead of using a store-bought yogurt.
  • You can be finished now, but I like thick yogurt so I line a colander with a square of butter muslin and scoop yogurt into it, then pick up the four corners and tie it into a little hobo bundle (this batch had to be divided into 3 bundles). 
  • I hang my yogurt over a bowl for about an hour to drain before mixing in sugar and fruit that I've cooked down for about an hour (depending on the fruit, I do 4 to 6 cups fruit, 1 cup sugar, and half a lemon).

I developed this recipe from a ton of online sources with most of the credit going to these two sites: A Year of Slow Cooking and How to Make Yogurt
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