Amelia offers up a confession, alongside a recipe and tips for making your own yogurt at home.
by Amelia Schmelzer on April 2, 2015
I have to start with a confession: I have a serious obsession with dairy products.
In fact, a college roommate once remarked that my personal food pyramid had milk and its derivatives on the bottom, with everything proceeding from there. She was sort of right, but I have my reasons; there’s nothing like a really good cheese (or some heavy whipping cream) to bring out the flavor of pretty much anything else.
Yogurt1, for me, is the Holy Grail of breakfast foods. It’s so hard to find the right one; most of them are thin, pretending unctuousness with a touch of carrageenan2 here, a spoonful of modified corn starch there. And that’s just plain old standard yogurt. Don’t even get me started on Greek yogurt — as soon as you find one you like, get ready to drain your trust fund because you’ll be spending a minor fortune on what is essentially regular yogurt… but thicker.
The News: Hold onto your hats, folks… Greek yogurt is just regular yogurt that’s been drained overnight. It’s pretty much run-of-the-mill yogurt, but with slightly less water. It’s kind of like a professional wrestler just before weigh-in. (Unlike a wrestler, however, Greek yogurt doesn’t go rehydrate after it makes its weight class.)
So admittedly, I might be an amateur dairy snob, but I think that the only way to make a really nice yogurt is to do it yourself. Luckily, the process is simple. All you have to do: heat milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, cool to 110 degrees, whisk in a bit of pre-made yogurt, and keep it warm (but not hot) for 4-8 hours. Voila! Dairy magic.
Only one question remains: what shall you stir into it? If I may, I’d like to recommend a bit of homemade granola or some fresh fruit. Or maybe both, if you so choose.
The Do’s and Do not’s
A few quick pointers for making your own yogurt:
Don’t buy “yogurt culture.” Get yourself one of those small tubs of yogurt, ideally one with live cultures and no weird thickeners or artificial sweeteners, and stir that into your warm milk. That’s all you need to get started.
Whole-fat milk will yield a creamier, more robust yogurt than skim or 1%. Non-dairy milks (like almond, soy, and coconut) may require additional additives to get them to set up nicely, since the protein structure is different from that of cows’ or goats’ milk. Be sure to do your research before you begin!
Probably the most reliable way to make yogurt is in a commercially-available yogurt maker. That said, there are people who cure yogurt in an oven or a cooler; I’ve even had success using a heating pad to generate gentle heat overnight.
The warmth of your yogurt is the single most important part of this recipe; if the yogurt culture gets too cold, it can’t grow and activate. If it gets too hot, the good bacteria (which make milk into yogurt) will die. If this makes you nervous, remember: people have been culturing milk for literally thousands of years. Do a little extra research, be methodical, and you will most certainly succeed.
The longer you cure yogurt after it is set, the thinner and sourer it will get. For a really mild yogurt, cure it just until set, then sweep it into the refrigerator to finish setting up. Homemade yogurt is much milder than the store bought version because it’s generally cured for a shorter time, meaning the bacteria in the yogurt culture can’t eat as many of the milk’s natural sugars.
Save about a cup of homemade yogurt as a starter for your next batch.
Set some Yogurt
These instructions make use of a yogurt maker, an appliance designed to keep your cultured milk at the right temperature for the right amount of time. If you don’t have a yogurt maker, you can check out instructions for curing yogurt in an oven, a cooler, or on a heating pad here: Six ways to incubate yogurt.
You will need:
- 6 cups milk (1.4 liters)
- 1 small tub yogurt, with live or active cultures (about 2/3 cup, or about 140 grams) – the actual quantity doesn’t have to be exact
Warm the Milk
On the stovetop, bring your milk up to 82 degrees Celsius (180 degrees Fahrenheit), stirring every once and a while to prevent it from scorching. This step breaks down the proteins that inhibit the yogurt culture and kills any other bacteria in the milk.
Meanwhile, take your yogurt culture from the refrigerator and let it start to warm up.
Once the milk reaches 82 degrees, remove it from the heat and cool to 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit). You may want to stir it every once in\ a while to keep a skin from forming on the top.
When the milk reaches 43 degrees, whisk your yogurt culture in, making sure to combine it thoroughly.
Pour your milk into glass containers or jars (if applicable), and prepare it for curing according to whichever method you are using.
Leave the cultured milk, covered and warm, for 4 to 12 hours, or until set.
Once set, place in the refrigerator and chill at least 3 hours. This is the final step in the curing process, and will help the yogurt set up a little bit more.
Culture & Cure
Serve with honey, jam, fresh fruit, or granola! Homemade yogurt can be kept in the fridge, covered, for 1-2 weeks.