Sunday, April 14, 2013

Homemade Yogurt

I had three different things to tell you about that would lead to why I decided to make yogurt. But they all failed to illustrate my brain properly. So I'm just going to tell you that I decided to make yogurt. There. Done.

I found several recipes for homemade yogurt and mashed a few of them together, but you can read them individually here and here. The ingredients are the same, the processes vary only slightly, and while the idea of using my crock pot was intriguing, as suggested somewhere else,  I decided to skip that process altogether for the first try.

What you'll need: 

  • A large pot with a lid and spoon or spatula
  • Milk
  • Yogurt starter (a couple of tablespoons of store-bought yogurt is fine)
  • Honey (optional)
  • Thermometer
  • A couple of towels
  • A warm oven or a heating pad
  • Sink and cold water
  • Cheesecloth or coffee filters and a bowl for straining (optional)
  • Jars for storing

I heated the milk (about a quarter of a gallon of organic milk) directly on the stove, stirring gently and constantly until it reached ~185 degrees F. I stirred in a few glops of honey (I didn't measure). Then I plopped the pot into a water bath in my kitchen sink. Note: My sink has only a three inch divider in it, so I had to use a wash tub with cold water for this step. If you have a "normal" sink, you should be able just to plug it and fill it 1/3-1/2 of the way with cold water. You don't want it too full or your pot may float and tip over.

When the milk had cooled to ~115 degrees F, I put in the yogurt starter (a few tablespoons leftover from Trader Joe's Greek Honey yogurt). When that was all mixed in, I covered the pot, set it on a heating pad on medium heat (on top of a wooden cutting board) and wrapped it up in towels.

And then I waited....and waited... and waited. 7 hours.

When I shimmied the pot, it still looked like liquid. I removed the lid and poked it with my spatula.. Yup, liquid. After a frantic Googling to find out why my yogurt hadn't set, I figured it was one of two things: 1. Because my heating pad has an auto shut-off feature, it could have been incubated too inconsistently  2. Medium heat could have been too warm.

Uncle Google suggested that I should add a bit more starter and let sit for another 8 hours. I heated the oven to 170 degrees (the lowest setting on my digital oven), then turned it off. I had to take out the top rack to fit the pot in, but did so wrapped with towels. I left the light on, as suggested in many other blogs to help keep the oven warm, and left it over night.

When I woke up the next morning, the yogurt was set and smelled divine! I gave it a good stir and divided it between three mason jars. I covered them tightly and put them in the back of my frig (the coldest area). After a couple of days, I finally got around to straining it a bit to achieve a thicker "Greek" consistency. Note: Save the whey that you drain from your yogurt! You can use it in place of water in many recipes, like pancakes, muffins, and this whey bread!

You'll end up with less yogurt than you started with, after you drain out the whey, but it will be thick and creamy. If you prefer regular, non-Greek style yogurt then you can skip this step altogether and just eat away!

Serve with some (more) honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon and you're in for a treat. Just don't eat it ALL! You'll need to save a couple of tablespoons to use as starter for your next batch. Once you get the hang of this, you'll never need to buy yogurt again! The best part is, you control the ingredients. You can use organic or not, whole milk, low fat milk, honey, spices, fruit - the options are endless. You can also put a few tablespoons of your favorite fruit butter or preserve on the bottom of the jar for a "fruit-on-the-bottom" effect. Go wild and enjoy!