Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Making Yogurt

Yep, you read that correctly. I make yogurt. Why in the world would I do that you ask? I mean, really, this is taking the freakiness a bit too far.

There are several reasons for such freakiness: we think it tastes better (I can even eat it plain), it has no junk in it like store bought yogurt (just look at the side bar of the yogurt in your fridge), it means fewer plastic containers cluttering my cupboards and in the landfill, it works great as an oil substitute in baked goods, and, you knew it was coming, it cuts the cost of eating yogurt by more than half if you usually buy the big tubs of yogurt. If you typically buy those little containers, you'll save a bundle! Oh yes, did I mention it was easy?

The list of ingredients needed to make your own yogurt is small - just a gallon of whole milk and 1/2 c of plain whole milk yogurt. These ingredients will make 4 quarts of plain yogurt! A small single serve container of yogurt should be enough to get the 1/2 cup. After your first batch, you can just use some of the yogurt you've already made instead of buying more. Whole milk is currently running about $2.20 here in town so that breaks down to only 55 cents per quart of yogurt, plus a bit extra for your first container of yogurt.

Homemade Yogurt
makes 4 quarts

1 gallon whole milk - cannot be ultra-pasteurized milk, look at the label
1/2 c plain whole yogurt

4 quart sized canning jars or 4 quart sized glass jars (spaghetti sauce jars would work)
pot large enough to fit the above jars
a washcloth
candy thermometer - found at Target or Wal-Mart for a few bucks, not necessary though - keep reading
wooden spoon

Make sure you jars are very clean and dry - a trip through the dishwasher is great, but not necessary. Fill each jar to about 2 inches below the rim of the jar. I've filled them higher but always end up with milk all over the counter. Place the pot on the stove, lay the wash cloth on the bottom and set the jars on top of the cloth. Fill the pot with water to about 2 inches below the tops of the jars. I use a pitcher to fill the pot. Take your starter yogurt out of the fridge and let it warm on the counter.

Stick the thermometer in a jar of milk in your pot and hook it over the side. Heat the pot and jars until the temperature of the milk reaches 185 degrees. At this point, the milk will have a "skin" on it, just scrape it off and throw it out. Actually, if you don't have a thermometer you can still make yogurt - just look for the skin.

You can't harm (burn) the milk by heating it this way because the water acts as a buffer. I love this part! It means I can walk away from my pot and fold some laundry or clean a toilet or, let's be honest, check out facebook. The washcloth gives your jars a firm slip-proof base to rest upon. Also, if you have a cloth which smells a bit odd - using it to make yogurt will take the smell right out.

When the milk reaches 185 degrees, remove the jars from the water and put the lids on them. I put them on top of a dish towel on my counter. Now you want to cool the milk down to about 100 degrees. Actually, anywhere between 95 and 120 degrees is fine, but I like the thickness of the yogurt cooled to 100. No thermometer - just pick up the jar! If you can only hold it for a few seconds, it's still too hot.

How to cool your milk? You could leave it sitting on the counter, but it will take quite a while. You can put it in your fridge, but it will take a great deal of energy because it will make your fridge work pretty hard. Also, you won't be able to see your yogurt and might forget about it while you are folding that laundry. I usually add some water - not too cold, just verging on cool - to my sink and put the jars in there. After a little bit, I drain that and add cold water and sometimes even ice. Why not just use cold water right off the bat? Hot jars + cold water = cracked jars.

If you spend too long on facebook, I mean reading to your kids, and the milk gets too cool. Just reheat it again. It's only milk at this point. Don't you love fail proof recipes?

Next, gently stir 2 Tablespoons of starter yogurt into each jar. Yogurt is a living thing and you need to be nice to it so go gentle. Also, more using more yogurt at this point will NOT give you thicker yogurt. It will make it thinner because you'll be adding too many bacteria to the party.

Now it's time to incubate! Isn't that amazing? You are incubating milk and bacteria to turn that milk into something totally different and new. Not to mention sometime healthy and yummy. God made a good world! There are other methods for this portion of the recipe, but I like incubating my yogurt in the oven.

Turn you oven on to warm for a few minutes. Set your jars in the oven as close to the light as possible. Cover the jars with a towel. Turn off the oven and turn on the light. Let them sit over night or for at least 9 hours or so. I've gone anywhere between 8 and 10 hours and have gotten great yogurt. You'll just have to experiment a few times; you might want to go longer. At this point, your yogurt will still look a bit strange. It needs to cool before it'll look "normal." Really. Don't judge your yogurt at this point. It won't fare well.

Either stick the jars in the freezer for an hour or so or put them in your fridge. When you look at your creation after it cools, you might find some pale yellow liquid around the top. This is whey - a by product of the fermentation that just took place. It isn't anything to be alarmed about. Just pour it off or stir it back into your yogurt. Whey is actually good for you.

The last thing to do is take out 1/2 cup of your new yogurt, put it in a clean container and stick in the fridge. Now you are all ready to make more yogurt when your current batch runs out.

I've done some pretty wonky things while making my yogurt - like forgetting about it while cooling in the water or forgetting it in the freezer too long or forgetting it was incubating in the oven and starting to preheat said oven to make bread. Hmmmm...all of these have to do with forgetting...we've got issues here. Amazingly, the yogurt still turned out. It's very forgiving stuff.

It took me a few attempts to get yogurt just right, but even the failures weren't bad. If we didn't want to eat the botched tries, I just used the yogurt to replace some of the oil in muffins.

If your first attempts are less than perfect, keep trying! Soon you'll be filling your fridge and your stomach with yummy, healthy yogurt that is worth the extra effort.


  1. Oh, I've been waiting for this post!! (What a nice b-day gift!)

    Have you ever made vanilla yogurt? That's my favorite flavor! Adding fruit would be easy enough, but I don't think just adding vanilla extract would do the trick. And would you add the vanilla before, during, or after the heating process?

  2. I've been waiting for this post! Can't wait to try it.