Friday, May 9, 2014

My Recipe and Method for Making (Crazy-Delicious) Homemade Yogurt

I've been making my own yogurt lately, and it's so simple and so delicious that I thought I'd share my recipe and method with you. This method combines measurements and steps and equipment from various (sometimes super-picky and intimidating) recipes I've found on-line, and to me simplifies everything down to almost the lowest common denominator, so to speak, so that even a somewhat distracted, flighty nincompoop like me can almost always turn out a darn great, healthy product.

Homemade Full-Fat Yogurt

You will need the following ingredients and equipment:

  • 1/2 gallon of full-fat organic milk (not ultra-pasteurized, but pasteurized is okay)
  • 4 oz. plain yogurt (not Greek, which is impossible to stir into anything) (any fat content will do, just make sure you're getting yogurt that has live cultures)
  • 1/3 cup dry milk powder
  • a digital thermometer (here's a link to the one I use) with a nice long wire from monitor to probe (This just makes things easier.  A good old-fashioned but accurate candy thermometer will do, you'll just have to check on things more often.)
  • 5 1-pint canning jars with airtight sealing lids
  • a big, airtight cooler that retains heat very well
  • a bunch of hot water

The Method:

Heat the half-gallon of full-fat organic milk to exactly 180° on the stovetop (my thermometer has a temperature alarm, which I set to 180°), then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to around 115°(this takes maybe half an hour or little more, and again, I use my temperature alarm to catch it just at the right time.) At this point, very gently stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (store-bought or leftover from my last batch) and 1/3 cup no-fat powdered milk, which bolsters the thickness and richness of the yogurt like nobody's business.

Once everything is well-incorporated (with as few and as small lumps as possible - yogurt does not love dissolving), I pour the milk into clean 1-pint jars (don't go smaller than this, because a smaller jar heats up too much with the  hot water we're going to add, and that will cause the culture will kick the ol' bucket), seal the jars well with their lids and rings, and place them in my large cooler that I know closes tightly and retains heat well (mine is a Coleman, I think). With a pitcher, I pour in a few gallons of hot water from my kitchen tap, enough to just reach the tops of the jars, but not submerge them, and close the cooler nice and tight.

Now I like to keep my trusty digital thermometer in this water so I can keep a reading on the water temperature, but this probably isn't necessary. You just want to keep the water temp between 110° and 120° for the next 10-18 hours, as the yogurt incubates, so keep an eye on it and add a bit of hot water (I heat up a couple of cups of water in the microwave and gently pour them in to heat things up if necessary, careful not to pour the super-hot water close to or onto a yogurt jar, as this could kill the live cultures) if the water drops below 110°.

Listen closely, friends:  Do not take the yogurt jars out and slosh them around and turn them upside down and ooh and aah and worry and stew as you see how things are or are not coming along. This will cause the yogurt to break up and be lumpy and watery. Juse ask the Queen of CHECKING ON ALL THE THINGS A HUNDRED TIMES BECAUSE NOTHING CAN BE TRUSTED how she knows. The jars just need to sit there in the water and do their yogurty thing.

At the end of 10 hours, you can peek. One jar!  Just give it a tiny lean from side to side, just to see how it's going. No shaking!  Be so gentle, like you're trying to wake a newborn for a feed without making it cry. It's going to still look watery because there's whey (the watery stuff) on the outside of the yogurt, but if you look past that you'll see the formation of yogurt. If it's the consistency you like, you can take the jars out, dry them off, and pop them into the fridge (the yogurt will thicken a bit as it cools, too). If not, keep incubating for a few more hours and then do the lean test again. It's an art, not a science. Okay it's a science, but it's still very artistic if you're doing it right.

You can incubate for up to 24 hours. I've been happy with anywhere between 10 and 18, and I've discovered that if I use store-bought yogurt as the starter, the incubation tends to be shorter than if I'm using my own yogurt.

Jars get dried and go into your fridge, and this is the YUMMIEST yogurt in the world. I don't flavor mine until it's being served, and we love it with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or a nice dollop of homemade jam or preserves.

Enjoy, y'all!

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