I used to hate yogurt. I knew that I was supposed to like it and it was healthy and had the great digestive benefits and all that jazz, but I couldn’t swallow the texture. About two years ago though, for health reasons, I had no choice but to incorporate yogurt into my daily diet. I couldn’t eat lactose, but I learned that I could ferment homemade yogurt for 24 hours, breaking down all the lactose. Making yogurt became part of my weekly routine, and as I’ve mentioned before, I use it for everything from smoothies to salad dressing. Today I wanted to show you how to make yogurt at home – it’s easy to do and another of those fun domestic-y projects that I love.
Yogurt is made by heating milk to the scalding point (nonfat, whole, 1%, powdered) in order to kill any bacteria, subsequently cooling it off, then adding yogurt starter to the cooled milk, and finally bringing the mixture back up to a warm temperature for an extended period of time to grow the “good” bacteria and thicken the mixture. The supply/ingredient list is pretty small. You will need:
- pan/pot to heat the milk on the stovetop
- 1 Tablespoon of yogurt
- yogurt maker or homemade contraption to keep yogurt at a warm/consistent temperature (there are options all over the internet for this)
- measuring cup with pour spout (optional)
Okay! Let’s get going. First, you will measure out the amount of milk desired. This should be equal to the volume available in the yogurt maker. So, if you’re using a yogurt maker with 6 – 8-ounch jars, you’ll measure out 48 ounces of milk. If you’re going to make your yogurt in a single quart-size jar, you’ll need one quart of milk. Make sense?
Pour the milk into a dry, clean pan and place it on the stovetop. We’re going to heat the milk over MEDIUM heat just until it simmers and reaches about 185-190 degrees Farenheit. The purpose of this is to sterilize any bacteria in the milk. Clip a thermometer on the side of the pot and monitor the milk carefully. Do NOT burn the milk. I don’t typically stir the milk, but it heats quickly, and I have had the unfortunate experience of the milk boiling over – it is a nightmare to clean burned milk off a stove top – take it from me!
As soon as your milk hits that simmering point, turn the heat off – it’s time to cool the milk. The reason why we cool the milk is so that, when we add the yogurt starter, the heat does not kill the good bacteria we’re adding! The quickest way that I’ve found to cool the milk is to fill a slightly larger saucepan with ice water and place the pot with the hot milk right into it. BE CAREFUL that not a single drop of water gets into your milk mixture!! This will change the texture of the finished yogurt. Cooling the milk using this ice bath method takes maybe about 10 minutes. Check the thermometer frequently and swirl the warm milk every now and then to redistribute the remaining heat. When the thermometer reaches 90-100 degrees, you’re ready to move to the next step.
Add the yogurt starter: I use Fage yogurt because I like the taste and because it contains the particular bacteria strains that are most healthy for me and my health issues. I stay away from yogurts with any bifidus strains. Note that the yogurt starter that you use will effect the flavor of your finished yogurt. So, you just need a spoonful of yogurt starter to add to the cooled milk mixture, no need to measure, you don’t need much (and probably not nearly as much as my picture here). I whisk the starter into the milk because I think it’s the easiest way to thoroughly mix it in.
Working quickly, it’s time to pour the milk mixture into the yogurt maker. I usually transfer the mixture into a glass measuring cup with a pour spout – this just makes it super easy to transfer the liquid into each jar.
You’ll want to work fast and avoid any jiggling of your containers once you’ve filled them. I’m not sure why, but movement in the yogurt as it’s fermenting causes some changes in the texture. For the smoothest finished consistency, limit the jiggling! (And on that note, you’ll want to transfer the liquid into the yogurt maker in the location where it will be fermenting; you don’t want to be moving around the yogurt maker either!)
Now, if you’re using a yogurt maker, you’ll just need to set it for at least 4-5 hours and it will do its thing. If you’re making yogurt for a special dietary need, such as the SCD diet, set the machine for 24 hours (or the maximum time and then reset again for additional time to achieve the 24-hour fermentation period). The longer that you ferment the yogurt, the thicker it will become and the stronger the flavor. A yogurt fermented for just 4-5 hours will be much thinner and mild in flavor, particularly compared to store-bought yogurt. You can experiment with different lengths of time to find the best results for your particular preference!
(A note about the yogurt makers – they are an investment and not necessary. If you are simply curious about homemade yogurt, try making it using a method that doesn’t require you to purchase a machine. There are all sorts of instructions on the internet, including warm water baths in ice chests and using the pilot light in your oven. I have made yogurt using a couple of these methods in the past – they totally worked! but they also required a lot more babysitting and adjusting to ensure that the temperature of the yogurt stayed consistently warm!)
When the yogurt is done fermenting, cover the jars with lids and put them into the refrigerator for at least a few hours before eating. Ta-da!! What do you think? Have you made yogurt at home before? If not, do you think you’ll try it?