Thursday, August 30, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt with Blueberries and Honey
I promised my sister-in-law some time ago that I would write a post on how to make yogurt, and now that that we're between gardening seasons, I finally have a few moments to do that. This post is for you, Melissa!

Why do it?
The rest of you may be asking, "Why on earth would you want to make your own yogurt? Wouldn't that be going to a lot of trouble to get something that you can easily buy at most any grocery store?" I'm glad you asked! After all, there are many good reasons to make your own yogurt (unless you hate the stuff--in which case, you're probably not reading this post anyway). First is cost. A 32-oz container of yogurt at our local grocery store costs between $3.00 and $4.00.  I can make double that amount for around $2.50. The difference is a bit less dramatic when I compare homemade and store-bought organic yogurt--largely because finding organic milk that is not ultra-pasteurized is is very difficult in our community. Of course, we are hoping that by this time next summer, the cost of our own yogurt will be next to nothing, as our goats will (knock on wood) be giving us plenty of milk to work with by then!

A second reason for making your own yogurt is that if you do, you know exactly what is in it--and you can put into it only ingredients that are good for you and your family. Here are just a few of the ingredients I found printed on the back of a container of "all-natural" strawberry yogurt sitting in the dairy section of our store the other day:
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (And lots of it: one 6-ounce serving has 26 grams of sugar--nearly twice as much as a serving of Oreo cookies!)
  • Modified Corn Starch (Modified? How?)
  • Pectin
  • Gelatin
  • Malic Acid
  • Disodium Phosphate
  • Tricalcium Phosphate.
Yikes! I can't remember enough college chemistry to even get started analyzing such a concoction. But I know exactly what is in the strawberry yogurt I give my girls at snack time: milk, strawberries, and honey or cane sugar.

Third: yogurt is really good for you, especially the kind without the chem-lab ingredients and gobs of sweeteners. Among yogurt's most widely hailed benefits are:
  • It promotes good digestion.
  • It strengthens the immune system.
  • It lowers LDL cholesterol.
  • It can aid in weight loss.
  • It builds strong bones.
  • It is not only more easily digestible than milk, but may also help to strengthen lactose tolerance.
It can even treat sunburns, prevent yeast infections and freshen breath! (For more information on each of these benefits, see this article at Natural Home and Garden's website.)

The final reason I'll give for making your own yogurt is that it is incredibly easy. Have you ever done something for the first time and thought to yourself: "Why on earth didn't I start doing this years ago?" That's exactly what I thought once I learned how to make yogurt. I have to admit that at first, I was a little intimidated at the prospect, especially after the first bit of research I did. The long, complicated instructions I found--many of them involving electrical incubators, specific temperatures, and precise times--didn't help. I was almost ready to quit before I'd started, when suddenly dawned on me: Wait a minute. Women in rural areas of India, Iran, Nepal, and Russia have been making yogurt for millennia [historians have confirmed that it was being made at least as far back as 500 BCE, and probably long before then]. Most of those cooks wouldn't have had ovens or refrigerators, much less fancy-dancy incubators or precision timers or thermometers. So in I jumped . . . 

It took me a while to work out a simple, flexible, consistently successful system, but now that I have, yogurt making has become both one of the easiest and one of the most rewarding things I do in the kitchen. And you can do it, too! Here's how . . . 

What you'll need:
This "hillbilly incubator" will work
perfectly fine.
  • A half-gallon jug of milk* (you can use a gallon but will need bigger pots and a bit more starter)
  • A large (8 qt.) stock pot and a small (4 qt.) stock pot with a lid
  • 2-3 tablespoons plain yogurt with live and active cultures (or a yogurt starter such as Yogourmet)
  • 1/2 cup dry powdered milk (optional)
  • 1 large metal whisk or spoon
  • A dairy or candy thermometer and a timer (neither is essential but both are helpful)
  • A cooler, a few towels, and either a hot water bottle or a heating pad.
*If you have a local source for raw milk, by all means use that. If not, use pasteurized milk. But try to stay away from using ultra-pasteurized milk: the yogurt it produces won't be as tasty or as healthy. Whole, reduced-fat, low-fat, or skim all work fine. I generally use reduced-fat (2%) milk.

What to do:
  1. Set out the starter you'll be using to bring it to room temperature.
  2. Use the large stock pot to set up a double boiler for the smaller stock pot. Pour your milk into the smaller stock pot and place it in the bigger, water-filled pot. (If you don't have a smaller pot that fits nicely into a bigger one, you can heat the pot with the milk directly on the stove top, but you'll need to stir the milk more often and keep a close eye on it.)
  3. At this point, you can briskly stir in 1/2 cup powdered milk if you like. This helps to produce thicker yogurt without the use of gelatin, pectin, corn starch, or other thickeners. 
  4. Stirring occasionally, heat the milk in the double boiler over medium-high heat, monitoring the temperature with the dairy or candy thermometer, until it reaches 185°F. (If you don't have a thermometer, it's okay. Just wait until the milk begins to steam and "froth.") (If you will be using a hot water bottle, go ahead and start heating the water for it at this point as well.)
  5. Another measure you can take to increase the thickness of the final product is holding the temperature of the milk around 185° for 20-30 minutes, but this is not an essential step.
  6. While the milk is still on the stove, fill the bottom 2-3 inches of your sink with cold water. When you are ready, immerse the pot with the milk into the water. This will significantly speed up the next step.
  7. Let the temperature of the milk drop to right around 110° (just above lukewarm for those of you without thermometers), then whisk in the starter. 
  8. Set your cooler in a spot where it will not be disturbed for the next several hours. Lay a towel in the bottom of the cooler; set the pot with the milk onto the towel; cover the pot with another towel; and place beside the covered pot either your filled hot water bottle or a heating pad set on low heat. This is what I call my "hillbilly incubator." 
  9. Close the lid of the cooler (you'll have to leave it slightly cracked for the cord of the heating pad, if that is the heat source you've chose) and walk away. You're almost finished!
  10. Set your timer or glance at your clock and plan to return in around 6 hours.
  11. If the yogurt is set when you return, take it out, stir it vigorously, and transfer it to jars or glass/plastic containers (whatever you want to store it in). Immediately set it in the refrigerator. It should keep well for at least a couple of weeks. (Be sure to save a little to use as the starter for your next batch!)
  12. If the yogurt you made is not thick or tangy enough for you, leave it for 7 or 8 hours next time (some people like it to work while they're sleeping). If it is too tangy for you, take it out at 5 hours. In other words, experiment a bit and figure out how to best satisfy your own tastes and preferences. 
  13. You can also play around with adding fruit, sweeteners, and other flavorings: blueberries, peaches, jams, honey, sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon--the options are endless! I like to add these things after the yogurt has finished incubating, but some people add them before (you can find tips for doing this online).
  14. And by all means, don't get worried if you don't do something just right. I've sometimes heated the milk a bit too long, dropped the temp a bit too much, and even forgotten the stuff for well over eight hours, and it's been fine (though slightly different) every time. See it as a culinary adventure and have fun!

1 comment:

Chester said...

It depends on the type of milk you use, the starter, and the type of yogurt you usually buy. I’ve found commercial nonfat yogurts to be very thick (almost custard-like), but I haven’t tried homemade nonfat yogurt yet. My whole milk yogurt is similar in thickness to the whole milk yogurt I used to buy.
It also depends on how long you let it incubate.
I have the Donvier Eurocuisine maker. Amazon occasionally has it for $25-30.
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