I wrote a post a while back about my first attempt at making yogurt, and while that first try turned out a great batch, I think I’ve figured out a couple tricks to make it even better; for anyone who wants to try their hand at homemade yogurt, you might appreciate this more succinct recipe to the ramblings-on of my old yogurt-making post (which was long but kept me occupied with writing as I waited for my milk to culture).
If you’re concerned about how much time or fussing-over homemade yogurt will take, don’t fear. It does take time, but relatively little fuss. I incubate my yogurt in a small cooler over the course of 3-6 hours – no special equipment or extra attention needed, except for a temperature check halfway through. Milk in, yogurt out. Easy as pie.
Homemade yogurt – makes 1 quart regular, or about 2.5 c. Greek yogurt
To make a quart of your own yogurt, you’ll need:
1 quart of milk (fresher is better). I use whole milk but any kind will do.
2-3 T. yogurt, to use as a starter*
A thermometer that will measure as low as 100 and as high as 180 degrees Fahrenheit
A pot to hold the milk
A small bowl and spoon, for mixing
A clean/sterilized 1-qt mason jar
A portable cooler
Heat the milk over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scalding, to 180 degrees. Turn the temperature down to low and hold the temperature at 180 for about 10 minutes. This pasteurization will kill any bacteria already present in the milk that might compete with the yogurt cultures that you want to multiply.
Pull the milk off of the stove and set aside until it cools to 120 degrees. To speed up the process you could immerse your pot in a basin or sink full of cool water.
Once it gets to 120, pour about 1/2 cup of the warm milk into a small bowl, and gently whisk in a scant 3 T. of your starter yogurt. Pour this mixture back into the pot of milk and gently stir it until everything is mixed in. The inoculated milk is now ready to go into a sealed mason jar.
There are a few ways to incubate the milk while it cultures, but I think this is the easiest method. Place the mason jar of milk into an insulated cooler and fill with 120 degree water (my tap produces water this hot). Close it up, cover with some blankets or a winter coat if you want, and set it in a place where it won’t be disturbed. Yogurt cultures best around 110 degrees; the water going in is a little warmer than that, but it will cool over time and sustain about 110 for a few hours. It is important not to move or mess with the culturing milk at this point – too much agitation will cause the culturing process to stop. Yogurt cultures are finicky things.
After three hours have passed, you can take a peek. When its ready, it will have a little jiggle to it, and should mostly hold its shape if you tilt the jar so that the yogurt pulls away from the side. You can taste it too, and if it has the flavor and texture of yogurt, its done. If not, close it back up and check it again after another hour. If the temperature in the cooler has gone down too much, add a little more hot water to bring it up to ~110. If, after the extra hour, it’s still not quite there, no big deal. It can sometimes take more than 6 hours (up to 10-11) but it has never taken that long for me. Just keep checking every once in a while (30-60 minutes). A layer of clearish liquid might form on top when it’s done – this is just whey, and nothing to worry about. In fact, you can use it for baking, soaking grains and beans, or even on your plants as a nice nutrition booster
Once it has finished culturing, refrigerate the finished yogurt overnight. It will continue to firm up as it cools. If you want Greek yogurt, strain it through a tea towel/pastry cloth, or even a colander lined with a coffee filter, for 4-12 hours, depending on how thick your yogurt starts out.
*You can use any kind of plain yogurt for your starter, as long as it contains live and active cultures. I look for ones with a nice list of cultures (L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei are pretty typical, but as long as it has L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus you should be okay) . I steer clear of anything that has pectin or cornstarch as an ingredient. At my local grocery, this limits my options to Greek yogurt. I used Fage the other day with really great results.