|Homemade yogurt: delicious with homemade granola|
Homemade yogurt is one of those things that is so easy... once you figure it out. There are about a gazillion posts and web pages about how to make homemade yogurt. And all are determined to convince you how very simple and doable it is. And yet they all give slightly different directions. And often give pseudo-scientific reasons for doing so (e.g., if you add too much starter the bacteria in the culture fights with each other and won't work correctly). The problem is the number of variables involved:
- Milk (whole, 2%, skim, raw, pasteurized, goat, cow, sheep)
- Type of starter (brand of yogurt, greek or regular, flavored or not, powdered)
- Ratio of starter to milk
- Method of heating milk
- Temperature milk needs to reach to kill vagrant bacteria
- Temperature milk needs to cool to before adding starter
- Other ingredients (powdered milk, gelatin, flavorings, sweetener)
- Incubation temperature
- Length of incubation period
- Method of incubation
So after thinking about making homemade yogurt (and bookmarking many sites on the topic) for a long, long time, I finally bought a yogurt maker because I thought that would make it simpler (note: buying a yogurt maker is not necessary). It's true my yogurt maker is basically a big piece of plastic that heats up. (I never use the little jars that came with it for yogurt -- but I do find them useful for storing small quantities of things, like homemade salad dressing). But I don't own a crock pot or a heating pad, so I figured buying a yogurt maker wasn't worse than buying one of those. And I knew I didn't want to babysit my oven, turning it on and off every few hours.
I bought the Yolife Yogurt Maker because it allows you to use your own larger container (like quart canning jars) AND the product description said that you could start with cold milk, which sounded oh-so-simple. Sadly, my attempts to start with cold or room temperature milk resulted in lumpy thin yogurt. I think it's just too difficult to incorporate a yogurt starter uniformly with cool milk. So then I began trying other methods, taking notes, and living in the lovely land of trial-and-error. Eventually, I found a method that works for me.
|Heating the milk to about 105 degrees.|
Ten Steps to Homemade Yogurt
- I use low-temp pasteurized non-homogenized organic 2% cow milk bottled in a glass bottle (which can be returned and reused) from a local dairy. Alton Brown convinced me 2% was ideal. I tried whole milk once and it didn't work as well.
- I pour the milk into quart-size jars. I make 3 quart jars full of yogurt at a time, so I fill 3 quart jars with milk minus room for the starter (about 1/3 cup for each quart).
- I put the quart jars inside a pot of water and heat the pot until the milk is about 100 - 105 degrees (see photo above). I got this method from Kitchen Stewardship, and let me tell you, it is far superior to heating the milk right in the pot (which involves babysitting the pot or burning the bottom of the milk), especially since I can put the quart jars right in my yogurt maker. Some folks want you to heat the milk much higher to kill all the bacteria or something. I always use a just-opened bottle of milk and don't think that's necessary. I'm trying to heat it to the temperature I want it to incubate. If it's too hot (120 or more), and you add the starter, you'll kill the live cultures, so let it cool down a bit before adding the starter.
- I add no additional ingredients (no sweetener, no flavoring, no gelatin or powdered milk to thicken).
- I add the starter. I use a ratio of about 10:1 milk to yogurt starter. I use about 1/3 cup starter yogurt for about 3 1/2 cups milk (which results in about 4 cups yogurt).
- For starter I use Straus/Trader Joe's Organic Whole European Style Yogurt. It's thick and creamy, but can be poured -- so that gives you some idea of the consistency. It's my family's favorite yogurt. I've never tried using homemade yogurt as the starter (it always get used up first). I put the starter yogurt in a large measuring cup. I add some of the 100-115 degree milk and whisk it together. Then I add it back to the quart jars of heated milk and whisk again. I've also tried powdered starter and that worked well too.
- I put the quart jars immediately into the yogurt maker. I plug the yogurt maker in, and let the milk incubate about 14 hours. I usually start the yogurt around 5 or 6 pm and turn off the maker in the morning. I've taken the temperature of the finished yogurt straight out of the maker, and it's about 100-105. Alton Brown says 100-120 works for incubation, with 115 being the ideal.
- I put the yogurt into the fridge for 6 to 8 hours.
- I strain some of the yogurt until it is about the thickness of greek yogurt. I absolutely love this thick yogurt with honey and bananas, but my kids don't like the homemade yogurt plain. They still want the Straus yogurt (whose consistency I cannot duplicate). So they get to eat the rest of the package I used for starter. But I buy a lot less yogurt (and recycle many fewer plastic yogurt cups) than I used to. I use a paper coffee filter over a metal strainer over a bowl to strain the yogurt (see photo below). I tried using and rinsing out cheese cloth and did not like it. I plan to use something reusable eventually instead of the paper coffee filters -- maybe an old T-shirt or reusable cloth coffee filter purchased on Etsy? But we don't drink coffee and we have a lot of coffee filters. If I could compost them, I would feel less bad about the single-use filtration system. But I don't compost. And the rat infestation I currently have in the garage isn't helping me feel motivated to begin composting anytime soon.
- Enjoy homemade yogurt! I use the unstrained yogurt as is in recipes that use yogurt and to make smoothies. I use the whey (from straining yogurt) in my homemade whole wheat bread, healthy whole grain "cookies," or elsewhere. I don't use it in pancakes (buttermilk is best!).
|Straining the yogurt (unbleached coffee filter on metal strainer over bowl in the fridge).|
Steps 1-4 take about 10 minutes total. Then it's just a matter of waiting.
I usually make 3 quarts of homemade yogurt once a week. Every now and then, for reasons unknown to me, the yogurt doesn't take and I have runny warm milk with a little yogurt in it in the morning. It's only happened to me once (out of dozens of times) since I settled on this method, but it was a big bummer, and I didn't make yogurt again for weeks. Does anyone know if it's safe to use this milk for anything? Pouring it down the drain really bums me out.
So that's how I make homemade yogurt. It costs about half as much as purchasing the yogurt and uses a lot less plastic.
Of the dozens of sites about yogurt-making I've browsed, here are those I found most useful:
- Alton Brown's Good Eats episode about making yogurt: transcript, recipe, and YouTube video
- University of Missouri: Making yogurt at home (describes several methods of incubation)
- Soulemama's How We Make Yogurt - she uses a heating pad for incubation; tons of readers describe their methods in the comments, which might be TMI for some
- Kitchen Stewardship: homemade yogurt recipe (she uses a large cooler for incubation) and troubleshooting (more than you might want to know)
- WSJ Test Kitchen: Yogurt Makers
If you want to make homemade yogurt, I recommend picking a method and trying it and then going from there. I took notes until I found a method that worked for me. If you think buying a yogurt maker will help, go ahead. I have several friends with yogurt makers who simply followed the instructions the first time and ended up with great homemade yogurt and have never looked back. If you already own a crock pot or heating pad or want to use a cooler, consider trying a method that uses what you already own before purchasing something new.