Make Your Own Yogurt
I decided that it was time to break out my high-tech elitist specialty homemade yogurt making contraption on Sunday afternoon. It took quite a bit of preparation, you know, what with getting mentally ready for the big event, finding a pot, putting it on the stove, and…uh…BUYING MILK. Yup. That’s pretty hard core, right? Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a wild yogurt making ride.
If you haven’t made yogurt before, well, what are you waiting for? Are you lactose intolerant? Maybe a vegan? Because if so, that’s totally cool (and this post is NOT for you), but for everybody else, the time has come. Yes, the time has come to close the lid on your tub and pronounce that store bought yogurt no longer has a home in your fridge. Because, you know what? You’re BETTER than that. You deserve more than a store bought yogurt loaded down with stabilizers and thickeners to disguise it’s tawdry texture and blue-skin taste. You want REAL yogurt, and you DESERVE real yogurt. Take a stand, my friends, against milk-toast flavor and questionable advertising campaigns. We can do it, and it’s time to show them what we’ve got. Are you with me? (“YEAAAAHHH!!!!”) ARE WE GONNA MAKE YOGURT? (“YEAAAAAAHHH!!! WOOoooOOOoooOOO!!!!”) AWESOME.
Before we start, I should mention that yogurt is not a mystery. It is deliciously easy to make, with very little active “work” time before you can just cast it off to the side and forget about it for a couple of hours. More salient to this excercise, however, is that people don’t usually make their own yogurt….despite how simple it is. Sometimes we’re afraid because dairy can be a cruel and fickle mistress. Then again, sometimes we’re nervous about a perceived time commitment that homemade yogurt would entail — we’re all busy people and none of us have time to sit around babysitting a pot of milk for hours on end. But that’s where yogurt is magic. With a minimal effort you can reap massive rewards, including enough yogurt to make you, your family, your friends, and your entire community, breakfast smoothies for the next week (P.S. You can totally halve the recipe).
The clearest benefit of homemade yogurt would obviously be the health factor. You know exactly what went in there, and you know exactly what will come out. There is no suspicion as you lick the spoon and think, “Huh, this is awfully creamy…..” Nor is there any trepidation about perusing the ingredients and seeing “milk solids” flanked by 17 ingredients of which you know none. What goes in is what comes out, right? And when you control what goes in, you are able to guarantee yourself a superior pure yogurt with no additives or stabilizers, and that’s something for which you can feel proud. And smug.
Okay, so here is the second great benefit of homemade yogurt, which I think of as ‘The Smug Factor’. You totally know what I’m talking about, and don’t even try to pretend that you don’t. The Smug Factor is the slight batting of the eyes when you say, “Oh really? My pie crust sparkles? Imagine that…” The Smug Factor also wends it’s way into instances of, “Of course that dressing is from scratch” and “Sure, one day maybe I’ll BUY my hummus, if I have no other option.” But just imagine the far reaches of smugness that you can achieve when you cast your eyes askance and say, “Well, yes, I DID make my own yogurt. I care what my child/partner/roommate/dog eats.” That’s about as smug as smug can get, because despite it’s facility it is still difficult for the soccer moms to trump homemade yogurt. Unless, of course, you want to consider making your own cheese.….
Makes a lot
- 3 L (~ 3 quarts) whole 3.25% m.f. milk *
- 1/4 cup active plain yogurt **
- juice 1/2 lemon, optional
* You can use skim milk but it won’t set up as well. That’s why the ingredient list on some commercially bought lite yogurt is so long.
** “Active” refers to active bacterial cultures. Save the Silhouette 30 calorie cups for an after work snack, and use a flavorful plain (unsweetened and full fat) yogurt for this. I love the Balkan style yogurts by Astro (or their less flavorful BioBest) but mild Western Creamery, or your favorite variety is just fine. Make sure that there are active cultures in the yogurt and read the ingredients to make sure that it isn’t fraught with stabilizers (like carageenan or gelatin) which will affect how your yogurt sets.
Quick note: If you are nervous about making yogurt for the first time, try halving the recipe. It will still make plenty, I promise. If you’re not a fan of arithmetic, that works out to 1.5 L (just barely over 1.5 quarts) with 2 tablespoons of yogurt starter and a squeeze (about 1 tbsp) of lemon juice if you feel the yen.
Turn the heat in your oven on to 200ºF for at least 10 minutes.
Pour your milk into a large non-reactive pot. Avoid using an aluminum pot, but stainless steel works just fine. Heat the milk over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes or until the milk scalds. What does scalding mean? Well, the milk will be hot and almost at a boil. Bubbles will have formed around the exterior and there may be a thin froth on top. If you have the patience (and I never do), skim this froth off for a better final texture in your yogurt.
Take the milk off the heat as soon as it scalds and let it cool until it is just lukewarm. The milk has cooled enough when you can dip a (very clean) finger inside comfortably for at least 10 seconds. If the milk has cooled too much and doesn’t feel warm, put it back on the heat for a few minutes and give it a stir. If the milk is too hot, be patient and give it another few minutes to cool.
In the mean time, whisk together the yogurt, which will act as a starter, with a ladle of milk (about 1/3 cup). I like to add a squeeze of lemon juice because I grew up eating tart, flavorful yogurt. If you like a milder Western yogurt, omit the lemon juice.
By the way, I’m sure that it has been more than 10 minutes. If you haven’t turned the heat off your stove, do so now. You want the interior of your oven to be warm, but definitely not hot. We’re not baking the yogurt, just incubating the cultures. If necessary, crack the door open and let it cool down for a few minutes. My oven takes a dog’s age to warm up, so luckily I never have that problem.
When the milk has cooled to lukewarm, pour the yogurt mixture into the pot and stir it well to combine.
Place a tight fitting lid on top of the milk-pot and swaddle the whole thing with a clean towel. Wrap it up nice and snugly, because a bit of insulation doth a better yogurt make. Close your oven and let the milk sit, undisturbed, for a minimum of 6 hours but up to 12 if you have the time.
This is the point at which my father always used to scold us. We would find passive aggressive notes on the stove, such as, “DO NOT OPEN! Yoghurt in oven. DON’T OPEN THE OVEN!” Maybe that’s not *passive* aggressive, but let’s not get picky. The point is, the more time that you can give the yogurt to set in peace the better a result you will have.
You can tell that the yogurt has set when it looks fairly solid on top but still has a nice jiggle in the center if you wobble the pot ever so slightly. Cover with a lid again and tuck the pot in your fridge overnight. That’s not to say that you can’t eat the yogurt right away, because you can, but the extra time to let your bacterium thrive will coax even more stability out of the yogurt. That’s a good thing.
The next day your yogurt should be set and fairly solid, as far as yogurt goes. You can scoop it with a spoon, you can trace circles with your fingers, and you can enjoy it immensely with homemade granola for your breakfast.
But now I really must return to one of our previous steps. Do you remember the slightly frothy milk foam from your scald? The part that you could scoop off but it really isn’t such a big deal? Well, it’s not, but it will affect the texture at the very top of your yogurt. The top layer which was frothy will end up being a bit mealy if you didn’t skim it off. Again, I don’t. I might be an oddball, but that was actually always my favorite part (I even find it a bit more flavorful than the smooth yogurt underneath) so I let it be. It’s still yogurt and it’s still delicious. If you’re a fussy puritan, however, you can scoop off the top 1/2″ to reveal the luscious, smooth yogurt underneath. Just don’t tell me that you did, because I’ll plead and cajole until you eat it just to shut me up.
See? I promised you that it would be smooth and silky underneath. Your yogurt is now ready to be used in sweet or savory applications.
If you crave a thicker yogurt, not to worry. That’s easily enough accomplished. Drain the yogurt in a muslin bag (or a large strainer lined with cheesecloth) for 4-6 hours, or until it is as thick as you like. If you’re going to use the yogurt to make tzaziki, for example, you will want it to be a bit firmer. This is also the process to make labneh (or leban), which is sometimes called “yogurt cheese” or “strained yogurt”. It has the consistency of soft cream cheese or ricotta, but the sharp bite of fresh yogurt, and it is delicious in a pita with both a sweet jam or a salty olive.
This yogurt, however, I am leaving as is because considering how much plain yogurt I eat, I can do with having a four-score of extra in the fridge to do with as I please.
Tomorrow morning this will be breakfast with some fresh fruit and possibly a smattering of granola. Because yes, I am feeling smug and virtuous.
Now that we have a tidy amount of fresh yogurt in the fridge, you can look forward to a couple of yogurt based recipes coming at you next week. And no, they won’t be breakfast smoothies, because you certainly don’t need ME to tell you how to make one of those. But keep your eyes peeled, because yogurt is about to be used in deliciously strange and mysterious ways….
So what are you waiting for? Go forth and make yogurt! Being smug has never felt better.