Thursday, March 18, 2010

Homemade Yogurt Demystified

When I lived at a Co-op in Berkely, I was terrified by the concept of homemade yogurt.  "What do they mean they let the milk ferment and incubate?  How can that be safe?", I thought to myself.

After a month of not seeing my housemates keel over, I worked up the courage to try it.


Now that DH and I are settled into our condo, I finally decided to try it for myself.  I take the basic process from Simply in Season, page 322.

Homemade Yogurt

Difficulty Level: Can you boil water?  Then you can make yogurt.  SUPER EASY. 

Equipment Needed:
  • 1-quart thermos dedicate to yogurt making (do not use for anything else)
  • Pot large enough to hold 1-quart of milk
  • A digital food thermometer (you should have one of these anyway - go get one!)
  • Cheese bag, fine cheese cloth, or coffee filters (optional)
  • Funnel (optional, but very helpful)
  • 1-quart of good quality milk (organic is best, raw milk is great if you can find it)
  • 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures (called the 'starter')*
The whole yogurt making process is very basic.  Yogurt has good bacteria inside - active cultures, probiotics, whatever label you give them they are simply a healthy-for-you live bacteria.  In making yougurt, simply put you are going to create a breeding ground for these good bacteria. 

Choose a starter yogurt you like and want to re-create.  Do not start with a low-fat or fat-free yogurt, and make sure it has active cultures (the label will say this).  Use plain yogurt only.

Step 1
Fill the pot with 1-quart of water.  Bring to a boil.  When boiling, using a funnel pour the boiling water into the 1-quart thermos and close.  This serves two purposes.  First, it serilizes the pot and thermos so only the good bacteria (which you introduce with the starter) will grow.  Second, it heats up the thermos so that it maintains the proper incubation temperature for the yogurt.  If you are going to use a funnel to add the yogurt later, make sure you use it with the boiling water so it becomes sterile.

Step 2 (can do this while waiting for water to boil in Step 1)
Reserve two tablespoons of the starter yogurt. Take the rest of the starter yogurt and put 2 tablespoons at a time into the sections of an ice tray. Freeze. When frozen, take the individual yogurt-cubes and put them all in a ziplock bag (or other freezer-safe container) and return to freezer.  You can use these to start yogurt batches later.  Making yogurt requires the introduction of live cultures.  While you can buy live cultures through mail order, the easiest and cheapest way is just to start with another yogurt container.  Once you have your own production up and running, you can reserve some of your own yogurt as the next starter.

Step 3
In the now-empty pot, pour in 1 quart of milk.  Turn up heat to medium-high.  Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom while it is heating.  Scald the milk (that is, bring it to a point where bubbles form around the edges but it is not quite boiling.  Temperature should be 180 degrees.  Any hotter, and it will burn to the bottom of the pan.)  Remove from heat.  This kills any bad bacteria that may be lurking.  Because of this step, it is safe to use raw milk for yogurt making since you are pasturizing it yourself.

Step 4
Let the milk cool to 105-110 degrees.  Add the reserved yogurt 'starter' and stir.  Pour the boiling water out of the thermos, and using a funnel pour the milk/starter mixture in.  Close tightly and shake a couple of times.  Walk away for 6 hours and do not disturb the thermos in this time.

Step 5
After 6 hours, PRESTO - you made yogurt!  Open and pour into a bowl to let it cool before putting in the fridge. 

Immediately rinse the thermos with very hot water until clean.  It is normal to see some yogurt stubbornly sticking to the side of the thermos so cleaning it immediately is critical.  NEVER use soap in this thermos as soap residue may interfere with the good bacteria growth.  You will sterilize it with boiling water every time you make yogurt so it will be safe.

Step 6 (Optional)
The yogurt you buy in the store is very thick because gelatin is added.  Your homemade yogurt will be runny, but you can easily thicken it up yourself.  Pour the entire batch of yogurt into a cheese bag or into a collander lined with fine cheesecloth or large coffee filters.  Let it drain for about an hour.  It will be much thicker when you are done.  You can reserve the liquid that drains off (the whey) and use it to bake bread.  It's full of protien and will add a nice sourdough-like tang!

Flavoring the Yogurt
One of the nicest things about plain yogurt is that you can flavor it however you like!  My DH and I perfer different things.  He eats it plain with his homemade granola, I like it with honey and blueberries. I've seen people add boysenberry syrup, maple syrup, strawberries, all kinds of flavors!  It's up to you!  You can flavor the entire batch, or flavor it a little at a time for variety.  Whatever you choose - ENJOY!

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