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.….

Homemade Yogurt

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.

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    Bravo Tina! That’s pretty much how mama makes it…enjoy your brekkie!

  • http://www.journeykitchen.blogspot.com Kulsum

    You are such a great Girl Tina! My mum always made her yogurt at home and it tasted so so so much better, tart and delicious. I just never did. May be I’m waiting for a similar Friday to come around.
    (friday is the official holiday).

    In India, we had the yogurt from buffalo’s milk which had a much richer taste and texture. Its
    like the difference in mozerella from cow and buffalo.

    Now that you have reminded me of how REAL yogurt tastes, I might MIGHT make my own.

  • http://Thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    Want. WAAAAANNNNTTTT. I want both this yogurt AND one of those elitist yogurt makers that they have at Williams Sonoma. Because my I care what my dog eats, and because I love yogurt. I bet this makes a great tzatziki.

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    We should make yogurt ourselves! Awaiting the strange and mysterious ways…

  • http://www.twitter.com/artychoke jen

    Wow, I am totally doing this. Maybe you know the answer to my eternal question: when I was in Europe I fell in love with the cartons of liquid yogurt drink you can buy. The drinkable yogurt I find in stores here tastes like chemicals. I wonder how you make a natural yogurt drink.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Jen – I’ve never had the cartons of European drinkable yogurt, so unfortunately I can’t comment on them! What I *can* do is give you guidelines on how to make lassi, which is a natural yogurt drink that’s hugely popular in South East Asia and the Middle East.

      Start with about 1/2 cup of yogurt and add 1/2 cup of water. Stir this together well and drizzle in 2 tsp of honey. Season with just the tiniest pinch of salt and give it another good stir to make sure that everything is combined. If you like the texture thicker, add more yogurt. If you want it thinner, add more water….etc.

      I think what will really make the difference for you is to start with a yogurt that you really like the taste of, because there are some brands that just taste….oh, I don’t know, “fake”. If you use a good, naturally creamy and flavorful yogurt you should have no problem. Good luck!!!

  • erica

    Damn you to hades, Tina!
    I have a packet of yogurt starter that has been sitting in my frig and staring at me for months now. Of course, I have also been craving yogurt on a daily basis now that I have been told that I can’t have cow’s milk. GAAAH!
    (And don’t get me started on goat’s milk yogurt. It tastes exactly like the way goats smell, only with strawberries added.)

    It’s likely destined for failure, but I’m going to take my newly dairy-free self and make some hemp-milk yogurt. I’ll be f

  • erica

    (don’t know why I got cut off before. )

    Anyway. Is that a *bag* of milk in that photo? Bizarre!

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  • JoAnn

    So I followed these instructions and successfully made coconut yogurt! I had tried to make it before with almond milk and failed horribly but I think the coconut milk had a high enough fat content to thicken up. It didn’t get as thick as cow’s milk yogurt but it was good enough for me.

  • http://www.sneakymommy.blogspot.com Londa

    I followed the link from tastespotting.com. This is amazingly good yogurt and so easy! I love your easy, thorough instructions and how charmingly you persuaded me into trying this! 🙂 I linked you in my blog tomorrow! Thanks for a great new homemade treat for my family!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    JoAnn – coconut yogurt? That’s awesome!!! I’m surprised (and delighted) that it worked! You have officially just inspired me, and heaven only knows how many other people!

    Londa – thank you for stopping by! I am just chuffed that you liked this yogurt and found it easy to make. I checked out your version and it looked great! Really set up well, which is awesome.

    I’m so pleased that you both gave homemade yogurt a shot and liked the results 🙂

  • Patricia

    Ok, so I finally succeeded at making this after four attempts. It would have saved me three failed attempts and some 9 littres of milk if I had properly read the whole thing from the begginning instead of jumping in excitement at the idea and only half reading the instructions, hence baking my bacteria for 12 hours (total disaster). So a nice yoghurt is now resting in my fridge, where can I get cheesecloth or a muslin bag? Any ideas?

  • http://www.foodista.com Amy B.

    Thanks for sharing this! Now I can make my own yogurt, such a life saver!! haha , more power! thanks ! 🙂

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  • http://www.journeykitchen.blogspot.com Kulsum @ JourneyKitchen

    Hey Tina!

    I have a pot sitting in the fridge right now. All good till now. I basically used earthern pot (food grade ofcourse!) which I’m quite excited about. And used about 2 litres of milk with less than 1/4 cup of yogurt. I didn’t bother with the measurements because I have Don’t follow instruction Disorder. It didnt set in about 8 hours so I gave it another 5-6 hours and it set quite well.

    Thanks for the guidelines. And will let you know how it tastes…

  • http://flouronmyface.blogspot.com Arlene Mobley

    I love homemade yogurt! I made a batch last week. It is so good and creamy! Love your blog by the way!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Arlene – thank you for the kind words!! Isn’t yogurt making exciting? Or maybe that’s a sign that I need to re-evaluate my hobbies, if waiting for bacteria to culture up is my idea of a good time.
      (except that dude, it totally is)

  • Slauditory

    This sounds awesome. I’m going to try this. I’ve been obsessed with plain Greek-style yogurt lately, but the cost is ridiculous, so homemade it is! I’ve loved every recipe I’ve made from this site, so I know I will love this one, too.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Slauditory – thank you for the kind comment! If you want Greek-style yogurt, don’t forget to strain it because the fresh yogurt is much thinner. However, a few hours draining over cheese cloth will fix a litany of woes! Good luck, and please let us know how it goes.

  • Diana Knapp Neff

    This recipe has served very well for years now! It really is perfect and your post describes every aspect of the preparation just as perfectly. I’m making yogurt again today and came back to say thanks for making the process so very easy! Glad to see your beautiful site.