Letting Life Lead
My almost three year old son loves yogurt. He has asked for yogurt every day since he was almost two and he gets very put out if there isn’t any available for breakfast. Yogurt was never a usual thing in our house because I’m picky. I only really like one particular style of yogurt — mild, thick, creamy, and not too sweet; other types I merely tolerate. A small store-bought container now and then served me well, but this boy has never met a yogurt he didn’t like. He is particularly fond of tangy ones and consistency is a non-issue. He’ll drink it from a cup, through a straw, or use a spoon as long as he can have his “yo-guck”. Big sister has her moments too where she’ll suddenly want to have some in mass quantities.
I was not happy with the extra costs of buying enough to satisfy my little minions.
Around here $3.99 for one quart on sale is usual. Regular price can put a bigger dent in the wallet. A gallon of whole milk, on the other hand, can go from a commonly seen bargain $2.79 to as high as $6.00 for organic. When you make yogurt it is an equal transfer, so four quarts of milk will yield four quarts of yogurt. Even if you have to strain it to get it to the thickness of Greek style, you will still yield four quarts combined of yogurt and the whey (which you can use to bake with). Even the organic milk will come out cheaper than buying the ready made stuff.
You don’t need a fancy electric yogurt maker or clay yogurt pot unless you really desire consistency and reliability in producing your end product. I just used our crock pot. When you make yogurt on the fly your results may vary depending on how steady you have kept the incubation temperature. We have gone through many batches of thin, runny yogurt before I figured out the warmest spot in our house and what temperature my starter preferred. Yogurt cultures are living creatures; they can be particular about what environment they like best! The brand of yogurt I like to use as a starter when my previous batch has gotten sluggish likes to start at 120F, but the range of temperature is between 110-120F (43-48C). Any higher and you’ll kill them, and any lower they’ll go to sleep. The video below will show you the results. Dark and low beginner quality just like we like them right?
You will need milk (I use whole, but any will do), plain yogurt to start (you can thereafter use a portion of your previous batch), a container, a thermometer, and an incubation place.
Step 1: Choose your vessel. Any container will work. I prefer my crock pot with the removable inner pot because it holds heat better.
Step 2: Choose your heating method. You can fashion a double boiler set up with two pots, go directly on the stove top (watch out for scorching), or use a crock pot (it will take a couple of hours; other methods are faster).
Step 3: Heat the yogurt to 185F/85C (the range is between 175-185F or 80-85C which is just below boiling). If you do not have a thermometer, wing it. The milk has reached 185F when it is just under boiling and it starts to froth around the edges. I use a classic, non-electronic candy thermometer.
Step 4: Let the milk cool down to between 110-120F or 43-48C (my yogurt prefers the warmer 120F range; experiment with yours). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can try your luck with the finger test. Dip a clean knuckle into the milk. If you can tolerate the temperature for a count of ten before your brain makes you draw your hand back, that is probably around 115F. This cooling can take 30 to 60 minutes depending on how cool or warm the house is.
Step 5: Cover and wrap in a towel or blanket. Incubate in the warmest spot in the house. For some that is the oven (you can warm the oven first then shut it off). I put ours near our wood burning stove. You can also wrap it up with a heating pad, or put it in a cooler with hot water bottles. Whatever you can put together to keep them between 110-120F or 43-48C.
Step 6: Wait. How long depends on you. It might take two hours or up to twelve. Generally, the longer the fermentation the tangier and thicker the product. Play with the range until you find the sweet spot you prefer.
Step 7: Cool it down. When you are happy refrigerate to stop the process (transfer the yogurt to smaller containers if you like first). The yogurt will thicken a bit more when it is cool.
Making yogurt does take time, but is not at all difficult. Even if you think you’ve messed up your yogurt, it is still usable. If you’ve accidentally killed your starter and nothing happens after a couple of hours, check the current temperature and pitch it again. If it got too cool and the yogurt is runny you can still make smoothies and cook with it. You can also strain it and keep the whey for cooking. I have even scorched my milk (oops) and it still made yogurt. Penny-squeezers don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
And that’s it. There is a lot of waiting, but not a lot of labor involved. Try it out and tell me if you were thickly successful or ended up with yogurt soup.
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