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Monday, November 16, 2009

Lovely, creamy, fresh yogurt


I've mentioned before that I have become a huge fan of Greek yogurt. It's my one splurge at the grocery store -- the only thing I buy just for myself. And it is a splurge at $4.99 for a 2-cup container, or $2 for a little personal serving with a side of fruit. Expensive, but I always justify the purchase by saying, "at least it's not chocolate."

Recently, however, I sat up and took notice when Sara made her own yogurt. Make your own yogurt? I never even thought of it. The thought of making my own yogurt was like the thought of making Swiss cheese. I just never imagined I could. But, I have found that making my own yogurt is really as easy as making bread. It's more science than cooking, and once you get the procedure down, it's like magic!

I admit the first time I made it, it was a complete flop. I ended up with a crock pot full of room-temperature milk and a thin layer of yogurt on the bottom. But I examined my technique and realized I completely left out the science. I kept track of the time each step required, but didn't take the temperature of the milk -- crucial step in yogurt-making. There are basically three steps in making yogurt: (1) heat the milk up to a high enough temperature as to kill any germs that might grow in the process, (2) cool the milk down so you don't kill the yogurt cultures when you add the yogurt to the milk, (3) grow the yogurt by adding it to the milk and then keeping the milk at a warm enough temperature. Step three was where I made my mistake the first time -- my kitchen was much too cold for the yogurt to grow, so it just sat there and did nothing. The second and third times I made it, I kept my milk nice and warm, and it grew and grew and grew into a lovely, creamy whole milk yogurt. Yum!

You can find loads of recipes on the internet, but they are all basically the same. You can use the crock pot to heat your milk, or the stove. I use the crock pot because it's fairly simple and I know I won't walk away from the stove and burn my milk. The second time I made it, however, I was in a bit of a hurry and so I heated the milk in the microwave to get it warm and then let the crock pot do the rest of the work. It's a bit of a trick to get the temperature just right for the third step -- growing the yogurt. I placed my crock pot, wrapped in towels, in the microwave which is above my stove. I turn the light on above the stove and it heats the inside of the microwave to a nice toasty temperature, not too hot, just warm. It's a great place for growing bread dough, too. I also turned my oven on for a just a short while to boost my initial warm temperature. Like I said, it's a bit of a trick, so you may have to try a couple different places to get it right. I have read that some folks use a heating pad, others a incandescent light bulb (basically what I do), and others yet the pilot light on the stove The key is too keep it right around 116 degrees F.

After my yogurt grows, in order to get that rich, creamy consistency of Greek yogurt, I strain a lot of the liquid out overnight in the refrigerator. If I didn't continue on with that step, I would have regular yogurt -- whole milk variety. It's still very thick and creamy, but not quite the way I like it. I lay a double thickness of cheesecloth in a strainer, spoon in the yogurt and tie it with a string, so that all of the yogurt is contained in the cheesecloth. I set the strainer in a bowl overnight and then in the morning, I have thick, creamy Greek yogurt. So yummy! And my cost -- $1.79 for a quart of Greek yogurt.

After straining overnight in the refrigerator.

The liquid that strained out -- I find it mysterious!

I make myself some fruit sauce to mix in.

Homemade Yogurt
yield 1 quart Greek yogurt

2 quarts whole or low-fat milk
(don't go below 2 percent milk-fat until you know what you're doing)
1/2 cup yogurt
(the fresher the better and no additives -- just plain yogurt -- check the ingredients)

(the beauty of the homemade yogurt is that once you make a batch, you just buy the milk to keep it going -- the last 1/2 cup goes toward the next batch)

Pour milk into the crockpot (if you use the stove -- heat it slowly)
Put it on low for (about) 2.5 hours -- it must reach 180 degrees (it could take an hour it could take four -- the temperature is the important part). Turn off the crockpot and let it sit for (about) 3 hours (my house is cool and it didn't take even close to three hours) -- you want to get it around 116 degrees F.
Stir the yogurt gently into the milk -- very gently, but thoroughly.
Wrap crockpot in a thick towel and let sit (in a warm place) for (about) 8 hours.

Your yogurt should be thick and creamy. If it is not thick, but has started to turn, crank up the heat and let it sit a little longer.

For Greek yogurt, place thickened yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth, coffee filters or a clean tea towels. Refrigerate for about 12 hours or until desired consistency is achieved.

Remember to save the last 1/2 cup for the next batch!

Here is a link for a stovetop method that I have also tried and it turned out well.

UPDATED: After making a dozen batches, I have found that the yogurt does not need to strain overnight. Just an hour on the kitchen counter before it hits the fridge is sufficient. And if you whisk the finished product for a minute or two, you will have a creamier product that is less likely to separate.

Blueberry Sau

1 cup sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1 cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

In a saucepan, combine cornstarch and sugar. Add water.
Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Stir in blueberries; reduce heat. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes
or until blueberries are burst.




Anonymous said...

I've done this in the past, but never thought to strain it. I must try it! Thanks!

Nicole said...

I have done this once before Barb, and my husband refuses to let me try again (not sure I want to either) because I got extremely ill. It was definitely some sort of food poisoning...I think I should have sterilized the container or something...any ideas?

scmom (Barbara) said...

Oooh, Nicole. So sorry to hear that. I know that it is very important to get the milk to 180 to kill anything that is in the milk, bacteria-wise. I also left the milk in the crockpot container as opposed to putting it it another container to grow the yogurt because I didn't want to expose it to the air or another container. I rinsed the crockpot in boiling water before I started, too.

I would not let it grow longer than about 10 hours, either. If it's not yogurt by then, it's not going to be.

All I can say is there are yogurt makers out there on the market that basically do the same thing, but are another piece of equipment I'd rather not have around.

Nicole said...

Thanks, Barb. That makes sense. I moved the yogurt to a plastic container after I had heated the milk up. So that could have been the source of contamination. I can't remember how long I let it grow. Well, I don't think I would ever try it again unless it was a store bought yogurt maker. We eat a lot of yogurt around here and I wished it would have worked! I am just glad that I was the only one who tasted it and not any of my kids!

scmom (Barbara) said...

I actually looked at yogurt makers on Amazon yesterday and they are (I think) reasonably priced around $30 - $40. If you eat a lot of yogurt, it would be worth considering -- the milk is the only investment after the initial equipment purchase. I am rethinking what I said about another piece of equipment and considering putting one on my Christmas list!

Anonymous said...

Barbara, I made some this week using the instructions at and it came out just fabulous! My Donvier yogurt maker quit working after about 8 months of use...what a waste of money ;(
These instructions using an electrical heating pad are easy as pie and my yogurt came out nice and thick!

Jane said...

Barbara, thanks for the recipe. I tried making yogurt in the past but like others, mine was never thick enough. I'd like to try staining it as you suggest.

I usually buy Fage 0% Greek Yogurt. Have you tried using less than 2% milk now that you are experienced?

scmom (Barbara) said...

I know it's a little late to be answering your question, but just in case you are still reading -- I just tried my yogurt with 1% milk and it was great-- just as good as the whole milk variety.