Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

In my last post I mentioned that I had started making my own yogurt. Today I thought I would share a little bit about what I have been learning. My goal with this post isn't so much to teach (I freely admit that this is all new to me) as it is to encourage others to learn along with me and give making yogurt a try. I have discovered it to be astonishingly easy. 

When I was a kid my Mom occasionally made yogurt. She had a special machine that came with special jars and a special thermometer and used a packet of powdered yogurt culture. Since as an adult I have acquired a daily habit of plain, whole milk yogurt (with fresh fruit),

I have frequently thought it would be a good idea to make my own yogurt. But every time I considered it, I remembered the special equipment...and the special culture... and it just seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Then, a few weeks ago a Facebook friend (cookbook author Judith Fertig) posted a short link about making yogurt. The link made it sound so very special equipment (the yogurt was left to culture in the residual heat of a warm oven) special culture (just use some store bought yogurt with live and active cultures)... It sounded so very doable. Even the instructions were simple...heat milk until it is steaming and bubbles appear around the until you can hold your finger in the milk for a count of ten...stir in a small quantity of yogurt, cover and put in a warm oven overnight. How easy is that? I decided to give it a try. (Thanks Judith!)

My first batch was good....just a bit thin. In looking around on line, I found this to be a common complaint. After reading a bit, I decided that I was probably using too much starter yogurt, so I drastically reduced the amount I used when I made my second batch. If you look at recipes for yogurt, you will find the amount of starter yogurt to be all over the map. If my experience is any indication, less truly is better. My second batch was exactly the way I wanted it to be—soft, creamy and mounding slightly when stirred.

If you don't have one of those electric yogurt makers (like the one my mother had), the one part of making yogurt that will require a bit of experimentation and ingenuity is finding an environment in your home that will hold a nice warm temperature (about 105° to 110°) for the amount of time it will take the yogurt to culture (a minimum of five hours). Some people use their ovens—a gas oven with a pilot light or an electric oven that has been warmed and turned off (this was the method I used the first time...I put my pizza stone in the oven to help the oven hold its heat). Some people use a thermos (just pour in your cultured milk mixture and seal).  Others put jars filled with the yogurt mixture in a cooler filled with hot water (this is the method I like). You will find recipes that show you how to use your Crockpot...and still others that just encourage you to find a warm place in your home and then wrap the container of culturing yogurt in a blanket or towel. As a good friend of mine very aptly put it: the yogurt really just wants to be "cozy".

If you want to make your own yogurt, you should definitely give it a try. If you have a computer with an internet connection, you have access to an amazing amount of information on how to make it. There is a wonderful variety of opinions on the matter and a wealth of advice to help you succeed. Here are just a few of the sites I found to be helpful (a Google search for "how to make yogurt" or "homemade yogurt" will bring up many, many more):

Girls Guide to Butter

Michael Ruhlman

Heartland Renaissance

Take Part

Keeper of the Home

The Frugal Girl

The Kitchn

I also pulled some information from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking and Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat.

As I mentioned at the outset, I am not an expert...but I am happy with the yogurt I have been making. So, here's what works for my kitchen.... If you start making yogurt, it will be no time at all before you have developed your own method.

Homemade Yogurt

Put a half gallon of whole milk (I like to use local) in a large saucepan and heat to 180° to 200°. I do this over moderately high heat (because I'm impatient) and stir it occasionally as it heats. You can use an instant read thermometer to monitor the temperature, but I prefer my candy thermometer because I can clamp it to the side of the pan and just leave it there.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the milk to cool to 110°.

Put a tablespoon of plain yogurt (15 grams) in a small bowl or ramekin and set aside. You may use store bought yogurt or some of the yogurt from your previous batch. Whatever yogurt you use, it should have live and active cultures. (I used plain whole milk Dannon for my first batch.)

While the milk cools, set clean glass jars in a 220° oven. This will sterilize them and also warm them up. Remove the jars from the oven in time for them to cool down a bit before you pour the warm milk mixture into them...they should be warm to the touch, but not hot. I use liter sized French canning jars—the kind with the rubber rings and a clamping mechanism—but Mason jars or something similar should be fine. (For my first batch of yogurt—the one I made in the oven—I just used a big Pyrex bowl.)

When the milk has cooled to 110°, ladle a small amount (1/2 cup?) into the bowl with the yogurt 'starter'. Stir well. There shouldn't be any lumps of yogurt floating around—it should be completely smooth. Scrape this mixture (make sure you get all of it) back into the pot of warm milk. Stir well. 

Pour or ladle the mixture into the warm jars and seal. Set the jars in a small cooler and fill the cooler with hot tap water (110° to 120°) up to the level of the yogurt mixture in the jars. (I also fill the cooler with hot water and cover it while the milk is coming down to 110° so that the cooler will be warmed up. I then dump this water out, add the jars and then add fresh hot water.) Put the lid on the cooler and let the yogurt sit undisturbed for at least five hours.  (My cooler won't maintain the proper temperature for quite 5 hours, so at about the 3 hour mark, I open the cooler and check the water temperature.  If it has dropped below 105°, I ladle out some of the water and add hot water to bring the temperature back up a bit.)

The surface of the warm cultured milk will be foamy.  You can skim away the foam...or not--I don't bother.
The jars of in their warm bath (before closing the lid of the cooler).

After five hours, you should have yogurt. It will be obviously set (tilt the jars slightly to check—but don't jostle them around). The longer you allow it to stay in its cozy environment, the sharper the yogurt will taste. I prefer mine at about 5 to 5 1/2 hours. At this point it has a fresh and mild taste. I have left it as long as 7...apparently you can let it go even longer.

Remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the refrigerator. Let the yogurt chill thoroughly before stirring. I have not read this anywhere, but I release the lids, wipe off the condensation from the underside of the lids and allow the yogurt to chill uncovered. I don't know if this is good or bad...I just don't want the extra moisture dripping back into my yogurt. When the yogurt is cold, close/cover the jars.

The first spoonful of the chilled yogurt.  The surface looks a little odd because of the foam I didn't bother to skim away--but the yogurt is beautifully set!
After a gentle stir (to make it creamy)


Update:  Making my own year later...

Printable Recipe


Bonnie Beth said...

Finally I am getting around to making yogurt. This is something I have dreamed of doing for years. Thank you for your terrific post!! I'll let you know how it goes.


Paige said...

Hi Bonnie! I can't wait to hear how your yogurt turns out.

Bonnie Beth said...


With your help, we are enjoying the best yogurt ever! I love the tanginess of a six-hour set. My second batch is underway because we need more! My plan was to make it on Saturday mornings, but we couldn't wait that long. Thank you, Paige!!


Paige said...

Thank you Bonnie! glad it's working out!