Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

I have never been a big fan of yogurt. I'll eat it, knowing that those live cultures are good for me, but it's not my treat of choice. Then I started making yogurt myself, and I find that homemade yogurt is so much better--it's milder, lighter, and somehow more satisfying than store-bought yogurt.

I started making yogurt because my husband and the girls eat so much of it (and the chickens love it, too), and I'd heard it was really easy to make at home. My friend Jenna makes it often, and she inspired me to try it myself.

When you consider that a half-gallon of organic milk is around $2, and makes a little more than four pints of yogurt, that's a pretty good savings. Not only that, I know exactly what's in it, and where it came from.

To sweeten, we stir in some homemade jam, or honey with a splash of vanilla. It's a great way to use up jelly or preserves that didn't gel completely. K likes to put it over his cereal or oatmeal, and the girls love it over fresh, sweetened strawberries.

The process is pretty simple--just make sure you start it when you won't need your oven for eight or more hours. I make it in the evening around 8 pm and leave it in the oven overnight. I've seen several different methods (some make it in a slowcooker, or you can buy a yogurt maker), but here's how I make it:

You'll need:
  • 1/2 gallon of milk (I use 2 percent or nonfat; I've used whole milk as a treat from time to time).
  • About 2 T. of plain, nonfat yogurt to use as starter (I use an organic Greek yogurt --just make sure there's nothing in it besides milk and active cultures). You can use homemade yogurt for starter, but I've found that I can only do that one or two times, before going back to a small store-bought container to build it back up. I have made it with as little as 2 tsp., and find that the more starter I used doesn't mean thicker yogurt. In fact, a heavy dose of starter seems to make the resulting yogurt thinner and a little grainier.
  • Candy thermometer or other cooking thermometer.

Pour 1/2 gallon of milk  into a large saucepan or soup pot.

Heat slowly to about 170F, or 180F.

While it's warming, I fill five pint jars with hot water to warm them, set out lids/bands (I reuse them each week), turn on the light in the oven, and pull out a roaster. I fill the roaster with about 2 inches of hot water, and set it in the oven with the lid on it. You don't have to use pint jars -- you can use a large glass bowl if you prefer. I like having them in jars so that I can fit things in the refrigerator more easily.

Once the milk has hit about 170F, let it cool until it's about 110F.

Take out about 1/2 c. of warm milk, and whisk it in a small bowl with the plain yogurt. Then pour that mixture back into the pot with the rest of the milk. Stir to mix. Pour water out of waiting jars. Divide milk among five warm jars, tighten lids, then place each in the roaster/water bath in the oven. Replace the lid, close the oven door, and leave the oven light on. This will keep it to just about the right temperature while the yogurt starts to form.

Leave overnight, or about 8 hours, resisting the temptation to check on it.

It will firm up more in the refrigerator. If you want it to be really thick and creamy, like Greek yogurt, strain it through cheesecloth for several hours. The liquid whey will sink to the bottom, leaving a really thick, wonderful yogurt behind.

Homemade yogurt will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, but we haven't really tested that timeline--ours gets gobbled up in less than a week.

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