I have a long history with congealing liquids.
I made friends with Jell-O about the time I started speaking in complete sentences.
My family ate it almost every night, because I always wanted to help in the kitchen, and Jell-O was within my abilities.
No knives, no flames. I’d just sit on the counter, happily stirring away.
It affected me pretty deeply.
You can tell because, years later, I get a thrill out of something that requires basically the same skills: making yogurt.
I love a nice bowl of homegrown bacteria.
And while making yogurt is slightly more complicated than dissolving Jell-O, it only takes a couple tries before you can make a batch on auto-pilot.
Which is good, since I like to focus on the song I’m singing or the conversation I’m having in the kitchen.
I love the rhythm of the process — and of course, I love the stuff that comes out of it.
Homemade yogurt isn’t like anything else I’ve ever eaten. It’s not as sour as plain yogurt from the store, and it’s lighter, somehow. It almost tastes cleaner.
No, I didn’t say it tastes like cleaner. Gross.
It’s cheap, too — and once you’ve made it, you can get creative with all kinds of flavors (and use it in a thousand recipes).
But the only ingredients you need are 1) milk and 2) plain yogurt.
The yogurt starter is where you get your bacteria. Choose any plain yogurt with active cultures. (I used Fage. If you have trouble, make sure your starter yogurt contains Streptococcus thermophiles and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.)
How to Make Yogurt
Pour eight cups (2 L) milk into a saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring often, until the temperature rises above 185°F (85°C).
(If you don’t have a thermometer, heat until the milk is frothy – but don’t let it boil!)
While the milk is heating, clean some containers for the yogurt. I use glass quart jars—plus one small jar to save for a starter. (After you make a batch of yogurt, you can use it to make more. Like sourdough.)
Set aside about a quarter cup of yogurt starter.
Remove milk from heat and allow it to cool until the temperature drops below 120°F (49°C), or until you can touch it for ten seconds without burning your finger.
(You can speed this process by setting the pot in cold water.)
Then pour some of the warm milk over the yogurt starter. Stir these together until smooth, then whisk into the pot of milk.
(This helps you ensure that the bacteria permeate the whole batch.)
Beware: If you mix the milk with the starter before it has cooled, you will kill the bacteria. That’s bad.
Then it’s time to let the wonderful bacteria grow. Pour the milk into your containers, and find a place keep them warm.
This is the point at which my first attempts failed. A “warm place” does not mean a sunny porch in 70° weather. You must keep your milk above 100°F (38°C) for it to set.
One popular method is to place the jars in an insulated cooler full of warm water. Other people use a dehydrator or yogurt maker.
I always put the jars in our toaster oven, using the lowest “keep warm” setting. This holds the milk at about 120°F (49°C).
Leave the yogurt until it sets up.
(If you really want to know what’s happening now, you’re waiting for the pH to reach 4.6.)
This will take at least three hours. My yogurt usually sets up in five.
When the yogurt has coagulated (what a word!), move it from your chosen incubator to the fridge.
Warning: Don’t let it culture too long, or you’ll get lots of liquid separating out.
This completes the basic process, but most people like their yogurt thicker than it usually turns out.
There are several options for accomplishing this.
One is to remove the whey after the yogurt sets up. This is what I usually do. After refrigerating the yogurt, pour it into a colander lined with coffee filters.
Let the yogurt drain until it reaches your desired thickness.
(Don’t drain the small container you hopefully remembered to set aside as a starter for next time.)
Other methods for thickening your yogurt require other ingredients. Give them a try, and take note of your favorite results.
- Use milk with a higher fat content. This results in a firmer set and creamier yogurt (some people add extra cream for an even thicker consistency).
- Add dry milk powder to the starter. This also results in firmer yogurt. Start with 1/3 cup and adjust to achieve your desired result.
- Use gelatin. You can read how in this article.
(And while I’m laying out your options – you can also try making yogurt in your crock pot.)
What a peaceful adventure.
I highly recommend it — not only for the yogurt, but also as therapy (second only to knitting).
Don’t be scared away by the thermometer and science words. A three-year-old could handle this!