A big jar of homemade yogurt is something I always like to keep on-hand in the fridge. It not only makes great snacks and breakfast smoothies, but is versatile for lots of other cooking and baking purposes, too. It can be used to make baked goods a little lighter, and also as a lower-fat substitute for mayo and sour cream in certain recipes. (Let’s not forget, too, that yogurt can be chock-full of those healthy bacteria known as probiotics.)
In reality, though, not all yogurt is created equal. Many store-bought yogurts are filled with unnecessary additives and sugar, possibly making them a little less healthy, and sometimes making them just not taste very good. Also, not all yogurts have live, active cultures, which mean they have none of the health-giving benefits of probiotics.
Don’t get me wrong - delicious, healthy yogurts are available to buy at the grocery store. The problem is, they often come at a premium price. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money to pay $1 (and often even more) for a 6-ounce cup of yogurt, until you consider that I make half-gallon of my own homemade yogurt for $2 (that's 64 ounces)! Of course, the cost will vary depending on the type of milk that you use, and the prices of milk in any given geographical area, but if you use yogurt in your kitchen regularly, a batch of DIY yogurt is probably worth the minimal effort that it takes. (And a batch of yogurt should easily last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.)
There are several things to keep in mind with homemade yogurt. The first is the set of the final product. Homemade yogurt is often a little thinner than store-bought because it lacks the thickeners that commercial products often contain. This is especially true if you use low-fat milk when making your yogurt, as the lower the fat, the thinner and less creamy the yogurt will be. Some recipes will get around this by calling for the addition of dry milk powder, or plain gelatin to make it thicker and give it more body. My recipe, however, is basic, and calls for just 2 ingredients - milk and a little bit of plain yogurt as a starter. When I want my yogurt to be a little thicker, I simply make it Greek-style by straining off the whey using a strainer and some cheesecloth. This keeps it super-simple, with no need to add anything else to the recipe. (Of course you can always add fruit, nuts, herbs, or a little sweetener of your choice to your finished batch of yogurt.)
There is also some basic equipment that is helpful to the yogurt-making process. You will definitely need some glass mason jars, a heavy-bottom pot, and a big spoon. A clip-on candy thermometer is helpful, although not 100% necessary. If you want to strain your yogurt, you will need some cheesecloth, or a large coffee filter, or even a flour sack towel.
You will also need a way to incubate your yogurt at approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This is, after all, a process of fermentation. The bacteria that ferment the milk into yogurt like a nice, warm temperature of about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people will use their oven with just the oven light on. I have also heard of using a heating pad. For me, my incubator is an old Styrofoam cooler that I pack with jars of very hot water. Just be creative, and use what you have on-hand.
And finally, when it comes to ingredients, there are just two. You will need 2 quarts of the milk of your choice. I have used everything from skim to whole milk, and I have even added a little half and half on several occasions. Keep in mind that non-homogenized milk will have layer of cream that forms on top of the finished yogurt (which is something that I rather like). The only other ingredient is a yogurt starter. You can purchase a yogurt starter online, or do like I do, and use a small amount of store-bought plain yogurt with live, active cultures. You can also use a bit of yogurt from a previous homemade batch, but this may become less effective over further consecutive batches.
So, if you like yogurt, give my recipe a try, and see just how easy it is to make. If you do try it, please let me know in the comments below how it turned out!
- ½ gallon (2 quarts) milk
- 6 tablespoons yogurt with live, active cultures
*It’s best to use a candy thermometer clipped onto the inside of the pot to measure the temperature accurately. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can simply heat the milk to just below the boiling point, when tiny bubbles start to form around the edge of the pot.
2. When the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the pot from heat. Quickly cool the milk to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).
*An easy way to do this is to (carefully) pour the hot milk into a metal mixing bowl that is nestled into a sink or large bowl full of ice. If you are not using a candy thermometer, cool the milk so that a drop placed on the wrist will be slightly uncomfortably warm to the touch (be careful not to burn yourself).3. When milk cools to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stir in the 6 tablespoons of yogurt. Be sure that the yogurt is completely blended into the milk. Do this quickly without allowing milk to cool. Divide milk evenly between 2 quart canning jars, or 4 pint canning jars. Wipe the rim, and apply the lid and ring loosely to the jar.
4. Incubate the jars at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 hours. Refrigerate when it reaches the desired taste.
*An easy method for incubating the yogurt is to place the jars in a cooler, surrounded by additional canning jars of very hot water. Close the lid and do not start checking the yogurt for at least 8 hours. The longer the yogurt ferments, the tangier and more firmly set it will become. Use your own judgement as to when it is done, based on the taste and the set of the yogurt.5. [Optional Step] If you prefer a thicker, Greek-style yogurt, strain the finished yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, or large coffee filter. Allow it to strain for several hours, until most of the whey has strained off. The whey can be saved to add extra nutrition to smoothies, soups and baked goods.
This recipe was shared at Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.