Recently I had a request to write a post about how to make homemade yogurt. I’ve been experimenting with yogurt-making for about 6 months now. So while I’m no expert, I’ve tweeked my recipe and process significantly from my initial yogurt failures.
It’s really not too difficult, actually. You just need to find a way to keep the milk/culture mixture at a constant temperature for an extended period of time. There are various ways of doing this, and you need to figure out which will work best for you. I’ll talk more about these later.
First things first. Here are the ingredients:
- 1 quart very fresh milk (try to use milk that’s just been opened)
- 1 packet starter culture OR 4 Tbsp. plain yogurt with live active cultures (I like to use a small container of 1% clover organic yogurt with live cultures)
- 1/4 c. dried milk (optional)
- 1 sheet gelatin (optional)
The key to successful yogurt-making (in addition to maintaining a constant temperature) is to use very clean tools. Since yogurt is made by propagating good bacteria, you need to make sure there are no bad bacteria around (that’s the scientific term…really). I generally wash all of the materials I’m using in warm soapy water, and then rinse them with very hot water. Once all it nice and clean, pour the quart of milk into a heavy bottomed pot. If you’re going to use the dried milk and/or gelatin, add these now. These are meant to thicken the yogurt. So if you like thick yogurt, give them a try. Otherwise, you can leave them out. If you want to experiment and see what you like, I would try adding just the dried milk first. Then if it’s not thick enough for you, try using both on your next go.
If you added the dried milk and/or gelatin, let the milk sit for about 5 minutes. Now warm the milk up on medium heat. You’ll need a cooking thermometer for this, because the milk needs to reach 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). While the milk is heating up, fill your sink with about 1 inch of cold water, and add several cups of ice cubes. Once the milk reaches 180 degrees F, place the pot of milk into the icy sink. This will help cool the milk down rapidly.
Periodically check the temperature of the milk until it reaches about 116 degrees (no higher than 120, no lower than 110). At this point, remove the milk from the sink, and add the starter culture or yogurt with live cultures, whichever you’ve chosen to use. Mix it well with a whisk to remove any clumps.
Now here’s where you have a choice. At this point, you need to let the milk inoculate at a constant temperature for 6-8 hours. There are several ways of doing this:
- If you have a well insulated oven, you can heat it up to about 150 degrees (if it goes that low) and then turn it off. Pour the milk into a heat proof bowl and set it in the oven for 6-8 hours. This is the method I’d always heard about, but when I tried it, I ended up with what I started with- milk. I’m not sure if I started the oven too high and killed the live cultures, or if the temperature dropped too low and didn’t allow the cultures to propagate. Either way, it didn’t work.
- If you live in a really really warm place, you could just put the bowl of milk on the counter, covered with plastic wrap, and let it inoculate there. My friend from India told me that this is how they made yogurt at home. Somehow though, I don’t think it’s warm enough here. Plus, if you do live in an area where the temperature can reach between 110 and 120 degrees inside your house, you probably have a/c and it’s probably on. So scratch that idea.
- You can put your milk mixture into mason jars, and put them in a cooler with warm water in it. This works well and is what I did for the first several months of my yogurt-making endeavors. I actually used Nalgene bottles instead of mason jars, because I didn’t have big enough mason jars. But with all the talk about the possibly-cancer-causing-chemicals-that-maybe leeching-from-the-Nalgene-plastic, I decided I didn’t want to risk it. So…that brings me to my current method of yogurt inoculation…
- Yogotherm! I know this sounds like some sort of yogurt super hero, and while it may be my super hero, it’s really just a big thermos for yogurt. The set up includes a plastic bucket with a lid that fits into a styrofoam bucket with a lid. Genius! All you have to do is pour the milk mixture into the plastic bucket, place the plastic bucket into the styrofoam one, and set it aside. I love it because it really simplifies clean-up and takes all the guess-work out of the temperature maintenance.
Once your yogurt is ready, put it in the fridge to cool down before eating it. Once it’s cool, set aside 4 Tbsp. of yogurt in a clean jar for the next batch. Then serve up a bowl of your freshly made yogurt and add your favorite topping. Enjoy!
Below is a picture of my breakfast from this morning- a Strawberry Peach Yogurt Smoothie.
I used 1 peach, 1 c. fresh strawberries and 1 c. yogurt.
Oh, and if you’re interested in purchasing a yogotherm, a cheese thermometer, yogurt starter cultures, and a whole host of other cheese-making supplies, check out Ricki’s New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
Edit: Here is one more picture of the final product! I got a set of replacement jars from a fancy electric yogurt maker and use them to mix up flavored yogurts for the hubs and I to bring to work/school. Here we have plum, blueberry and marmalade yogurt, respectively. I just mix in some homemade jam with the yogurt to get our customized flavors.