When I first started making my own yogurt, I read a bunch of different recipes and combined what sounded like it made the most sense. Since then, I've been making it at least twice a month, so I've changed my process over time to make it even simpler.
INGREDIENTS / TOOLS:
1 qt milk
Yogurt for a starter - with live active cultures
Heavy-bottomed pot works best
Large Covered Bowl
Thermometer - optional
Vanilla - optional
Milk Powder - optional
Agave or other sweetener - optional
- Over medium heat, whisking frequently, bring the milk up to roughly 200⁰.
- Whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming, let cool to roughly 115⁰.
- In large bowl, whisk starter yogurt, then temper with a bit of the warm milk, adding a little at a time until all the milk has been incorporated.
- Whisk in vanilla if using.
- Cover bowl, wrap with a towel, and store in the oven for about 12 hours.
HEAT: I have read in several places that if you heat the milk above 180⁰, it won't set properly, yet when I first started making it, the recipes I was following said to bring it to a boil until it started to rise - at risk of boiling over - remove from the heat, turn off the burner, and keep placing the pot on/off the still-hot burner until the milk stopped rising. The logic was that by letting it bubble, more steam would escape, meaning less water in the final product. I have found that 200⁰ works best for me, and definitely sticking with medium heat. When I made attempts to heat it faster over a hotter temp with constant whisking, I definitely noticed a thinner texture. Using a heavy-bottomed pot will reduce the odds of scorching, but if that happens, don't panic. If you go back to whisk and can feel a layer sticking on the bottom, just don't scrape at it - continue whisking lightly. If soaking doesn't help remove that layer from your pot later, try pouring some salt on it and using that to scrub. You can certainly use a thermometer if you have one, but if not, no worries - heat the milk until you have a complete layer of froth on the top and it just starts to bubble, then cool until you can stick your little finger in it for a 10 count without it being too hot.
MILK POWDER: I had originally read that the milk powder makes it more stable, which sounded like a logical idea, so that's how I started out ... until the price of powdered milk suddenly skyrocketed and I refused to buy it. Turns out you really don't need it at all!
VANILLA: What can I say? I love vanilla, so I put it in pretty much everything. I don't even measure it, just whisk in a swig at the end.
SWEETENER: I started out adding agave nectar to my starter yogurt as a sweetener, but somewhere along the line, I realized that when I eat yogurt, it's either with fruit, honey, or a spoonful of jam or fruit spread (and often a sprinkle of granola or some crumbled cracker bread), so you really don't need any extra sweetener, unless you plan to eat it plain.
TIMING: Another thing you'll find in looking online is people insisting that you have to ferment the yogurt for no longer than 8 hours, others insisting 12, etc. To be honest, over Labor Day weekend, I went out of town to a cookout at a co-worker's house and completely forgot that I had yogurt resting in the oven. I told him if he didn't see me at the office on Tuesday, he'd know I had poisoned myself. No worries - it was totally fine!!
STRAINING: Something else I would do when making yogurt is strain it for a thicker end product. As it turns out, if you leave it in the big bowl you started in, the yogurt will strain itself. When you scoop, just be sure to scoop down rather than across the top, causing wells. The water will seep out and hold the yogurt in place, then you can just strain it when you get down to the bottom if you want. Most people use cheesecloth to strain it through, but I just line a strainer with a coffee filter and set it over a bowl in the fridge for a while.
STARTER: Don't forget - if you're going to get into the habit of making your own yogurt regularly, be sure to save a scoop at the end to serve as the starter for your next batch. To start a new batch, they say you only need a tablespoon or so, but I usually pick up a single-serve of plain yogurt and use the whole thing. You will also read elsewhere that it has to be full-fat yogurt, but since that's almost impossible to find nowadays anyhow, I've realized that's not true either. I have used Chobani, Fage, Oikos, and the generic store brand and find that Chobani seems to work the best, but there's not a huge difference. The Chobani and store brands tend to give you a thicker, creamier yogurt.
|This is what it looks like at 200⁰ - complete layer of foam on top and big bubbles just starting to surface.|
|Nice and thick - spoon isn't sinking into it.|
|A few days later, self-straining in action.|