Sunday, July 8, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

I've been experimenting with homemade yogurt lately.  It first started with a counter top version in which all you have to do is add 1 Tablespoon of yogurt to 1 cup of milk, cover and let sit for 24 hours then chill and that's it. 

I THOUGHT making the kind that has to be warmed would be impossible since I didn't have a yogurt maker, and my crockpot didn't have temp settings on it.  I tried to make yogurt in my crockpot about 6 months ago and it never thickened, so I just thought I couldn't do it, in spite of all those recipes out there saying you could.  My crockpot just didn't work for it and instead of buying a different crockpot, it'd probably be about the same price to just buy a yogurt maker, which I didn't really want to do.

My husband bought me a Nuwave for Christmas.  It dehydrates, cooks, bakes, all kinds of stuff.  I got the idea a week or so ago to try to dehydrate some of my countertop yogurt when a friend out of state was asking about how I made yogurt and I was thinking that I wished I could send her some starter.  I remembered that when I ordered my starter from a website, it looked like some dried yogurt flakes.  And I thought, "I wonder".  So I decided that I'd use my Nuwave to dehydrate some of the yogurt and see if it worked.  While I had that going, I then realized that this machine would also stay at approximately the right temperature to incubate yogurt.  "Hmmmm.....I wonder".  I thought again.  :)

So I pulled out my Yogourmet yogurt starter that had been sitting in my refrigerator for months from my previous failed attempt at making yogurt in the crockpot.  Mixed it up and stuck it in the Nuwave.  It made wonderfully thick and creamy yogurt that my son devoured saying "It tastes just like the store stuff!"

Ok, so that worked.  The countertop yogurt that I dehydrated also reactivated back into yogurt as well.  I was on a roll here!  So, lets try some of the other ideas I've seen now that I had the basic idea of yogurt making.  I had seen recipes using heating pads, letting the yogurt sit in the oven with just the light on, using a cooler.   Wait, what?  Using a cooler?  That's interesting.  Let's try that one!  After I read through some info, I did it off the top of my head just because I thought I understood well enough to not follow their every direction.  Plus, I can't remember what website I got that info from, so I had to kind of wing it.

When making the warmed (or cooked) yogurt, basically this is what you're doing:

1)  Heating the milk to prepare it to cultivate
2)  Cooling the milk so it doesn't kill the yogurt bacteria when you add them
3)  Maintaining a temperature that will allow the yogurt bacteria to replicate
4)  Cooling the yogurt to stop the bacteria from continuing to replicate

Those are your four basic steps.  There are (apparently) tons of different ways you can get the outcome of each of those steps. Particularly step #3.  Most importantly though is that your milk and yogurt culture needs to stay between 108-112 degrees for at least 4 hours.  I've seen directions that went all the way up to 8 hours.  It depends on the type of yogurt you're using, and what flavor you like best.  The amount of time you incubate it, will affect the flavor. 

If you start from a dehydrated yogurt culture like what can be ordered on Cultures for Health, or the Yogourmet starter you can buy in the stores, then follow those directions to get your first batch and THEN use that to start your other batches.  (Which is what I did)  However, you CAN just get an individual cup of plain yogurt from the store and use that right away making yogurt without needing to start a 'starter' batch.

Ok, so here goes:

You'll need:

4 glass quart sized canning jars
4 canning rings and lids
1 canning funnel (optional)
1 stainless steel spoon
A large pot
8 tablespoons of plain yogurt
1 gallon of whole milk  (2%, 1%, skim can all be used, but it will result in thinner yogurt)
a cooler
a thermometer
A gallon or two of Hot water

You'll want to sterilize your equipment.  So just bring a large pan of water to boil and throw in your quart jars, your lids (I reused some old canning lids.  I just needed them to work as a lid and not to SEAL like when canning, so I just reused some), rings, funnel (if you want to use one) and a spoon.  Sterilizing IS important.  After all, yogurt is bacteria.  If the wrong bacteria is introduced and allowed to cultivate, you could get sick.

Ok, so you've boiled everything up and it's ready to go.

Bring 4 quarts (plus a small amount of extra to account for any evaporation that might take place) to boil.  Some instructions said to use a double boiler, or one pan inside of the other to prevent scalding the milk.  I tried doing one stainless steel pot inside of another larger stainless steel pot with water in between and I honestly didn't see a difference.  I actually prefer to just dirty one pot rather than two, plus the skin that stuck to the stainless steel pan was WAY more difficult to scrub off than using my nonstick pot.  I DID learn to just not scrape the bottom of the pan when heating the milk because a layer of milk does stick and I didn't want to scrape that off the bottom and stir into my milk.  It will also create a thin skin on top and I just gently skim that off as well.

Warmed milk
The yuck at the bottom of the pan

So, now you've brought your milk to boil at 185 degrees.  Turn it off, remove from heat and cool.  Either you can let it sit there until it cools, or you can sit the pan into some cold water to help it cool faster. 

Milk cooling in a sink of cold water
Cool to approximately 110 degrees
Add 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt to each sterilized, cooled quart jar.

Now, pour your cooled milk into the jars with the plain yogurt.

Stir GENTLY the milk and yogurt together.  Add your lids and rings and tighten, then sit inside the cooler.  Pour HOT water into the cooler.  It should be approximately 115-120 degrees.   I added 2 gallons of hot water.  It doesn't need to COVER the jars though.

Close the lid and KEEP it closed for at least 4 hours.  Put your cooler someplace free of drafts and it's not going to get bumped and moved around.  After the time is up, take it out and chill for several hours.

Sweeten and flavor as much as you'd like.  Add fruit, granola, make smoothies, or eat plain!

When you want to make more, just use some of your own finished yogurt to redo the process!

See!  Pretty simple right!?  I always thought there was just too many steps when looking at people's instructions and it seemed so daunting.  Once I figured out there were just 4 basic steps, it seemed so much easier to me.  I hope it helps you as well and that you give it a shot!

******Added notes, Greek yogurt only needs to be heated 160 degrees initially, then cooled to the recommended 110 degrees.  Let it cultivate at that temperature for 5-8 hours.  I've had good luck with the 7 hour mark with it.  (all the way up to 12 hours!  As I've forgotten about it before and went to bed.  Still good!)   Then, the magical thing that makes it "greek" is that it's strained.  Simply put a cheese cloth or flour sack towel in a colander and allow the whey to drip into a bowl underneath.  What's left is "greek" yogurt.  You can use the whey for other recipes as well.

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