People, I cannot even tell you how excited I am about this. If you had asked me even last year if I would ever make my own yogurt, I probably would have laughed at you. Sure, maybe I would have tried it once just for the sake of trying it, but I certainly never considered that it would not only become a regular occurrence, but would actually replace store-bought yogurt for us.
What made me decide to take the leap exactly? It was a combination of things, really. Mostly, I just wanted to try making yogurt and home and see how easy or difficult it might be. Another huge factor was all the waste created by the individual yogurt containers. When you eat yogurt as often as I do (at least once a day and often twice), those containers really add up. My dad was green before it was cool to be green, and so I grew up in a house where we were taught to waste as little as possible, conserve packaging, etc. Becoming more eco-friendly is a constant goal in our home and there is always room for improvement. Each time I threw away a yogurt container, it nagged at me a little more until finally I was just done. I decided that I simply would not be buying more yogurt beyond what was already in my fridge so if I wanted more, I was going to have to make it myself. Thankfully my friend Paula, who I met at Food and Light, has an excellent series of posts on the topic.
I set out to educate myself about what this was going to require. A whole lot of time? All sorts of special equipment? No and no. Total active time is maybe 30 minutes and the only equipment required is all items that I consider kitchen necessities: a pan, a thermometer, a bowl, some kitchen towels, an oven, and a mesh sieve. It’s shockingly simple and the results are fantastic. I’m not going back and neither should you! Here’s how you do it:
Add 2 quarts of milk to a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. (You can use whatever type of milk you prefer. I like 2%, but skim, 1% or whole are all fine too.)
Continue heating until the temperature reaches 180˚ F. (This denatures the milk proteins so that they do not interfere with the incubation process.) Remove from the heat.
Set aside and let cool, stirring occasionally, until the temperature has dropped to between 110-120˚ F. It is important that the temperature is within this range so that the bacterial cultures can do their thing. If the temperature is too hot, the cultures will be killed. If it is too low, they won’t incubate properly.
Add the milk to a ceramic or glass bowl and stir in 2 teaspoons of plain yogurt. This will provide the live active cultures needed to make your yogurt work – essentially, yogurt is a starter for making more yogurt. (Some people say that you shouldn’t use your homemade yogurt as the starter for more yogurt because it may cause a sour taste. Some people say it is fine to use your own yogurt as a starter. You’ll have to experiment and see what works for you.) If you are using instant dry milk, whisk it in at this time. (I have tried it both with and without the dry milk powder, and I like it both ways but I prefer it without.) It is used to add even more creaminess, particularly useful if you are using skim milk.
Preheat the oven (to any temperature), shutting the oven off after 1 minute. This serves to slightly warm the oven, taking any chill out of the air. Turn the oven light on. Cover the dish and wrap the covered bowl in a couple of thick kitchen towels. (I use a Pyrex dish that has a lid, but I’m sure you could use a mixing bowl and cover it with a plate just fine.) Close the oven and let the mixture incubate in the warm oven. (It is important that the mixture stay within the aforementioned temperature range during the entire incubation period. If you feel that the oven may be getting too cold, you can do additional 1 minute preheat periods every couple of hours. I find this unnecessary and anyway, I’m asleep while this is going on in my kitchen.)
Now you just wait and let the yogurt incubate. The incubation period can vary significantly. It can take as little as 8 hours but mine takes closer to 12. As such, I prep my milk mixture before going to bed at night and let the yogurt incubate overnight. (There is just no way for me to give up use of my oven for a 12 hour period on a regular basis.)
When the yogurt magic has happened, you will know because the mixture has become thick, gelatinous and, well, yogurt!
At this point the yogurt will have a lot of excess liquid and be fairly runny. Place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl, and line with a thick paper towel, coffee filter, or cheesecloth. Pour the yogurt into the sieve, place the straining set up in the refrigerator, and strain until most of the liquid has been drained from the yogurt. (This liquid is known as whey. Some people save it and use it for other things. I discard it.)
Place the yogurt in a storage container, whisk to smooth it out (I like to add a tablespoon of vanilla extract), and store in the refrigerator. Look! You just made yogurt! (This keeps for at least a week.)
I know a lot of people enjoy eating plain Greek yogurt but my tastebuds need added sweetness. If I’m eating it plain, I mix in a little bit of honey to sweeten it and top with fresh fruit. However, my absolute favorite store-bought yogurts are the kind with fruits to mix in, so naturally I have been experimenting with homemade versions of the various fruit mixtures. I’m happy to say that this endeavor is going very well and I’ll be sharing several fruit mix-in recipes soon, so stay tuned for that. I hope you try making your own yogurt at home and see how simple, satisfying, and economical it is. My grocery bill has already seen a significant improvement.