When I first moved to the USA, I really really missed Yogurt from back home. I know there are things at the store under that label, but to me, they tasted funny and having an ingredient list no one can pronounce (why would you need gelatin and guar gum in your yogurt, really? And let’s not even go to the sugar content). It’s not liek I eat yogurt all the time, but I go through phases when I enjoy having it with fruit for breakfast, or some yummy Granola as a snack. I tried different brands, and flavors, but even brands that were available back home are, as I have since learned ‘reformulated to appeal to the American palate’ (speak, add sweet, add thickener, add more sweet) But being the resourceful girl I am, I would not let that stop me. Yes, I admit, I even went as far as trying to bring yogurt back from Switzerland, but that’s another story.
Well luckily it is pretty simple to make your own out of ingredients that are easily available to anyone. And I have been making my own for years now. You can of course, get yourself a yogurt maker that automatically keeps the whole thing at the right temperature for the yogurt culture to do its thing. But there are much cheaper and just as easy ways that allow you to try it without having to invest in an other appliance, especially it you are not sure you are ready for the ‘my own yogurt’ commitment. At first I used a BIG insulated mug to keep it warm during the process, but now that fall is here and I dug out my slow cooker, I was wondering if there might be yet another use for the delightful little tool…
There are a few thing that are important in the yogurt making process: temperature and cultures:
Essentially all yogurt starts with milk heated to 180F or higher before cooling to the ‘incubation’ temperature where the bacteria culture gets added and is happily converting your milk into thick and creamy yogurt. For the heating process, a Pot Watcher is really useful as it will alert you to the milk almost boiling before it becomes bigger than the pan I am permanently scarred from making breakfast for my parents on a Sunday morning while I was little and heating milk on the stove top. I highly recommend you get yourself one of those little glass discs. 🙂 I do like my pot watcher a lot. But back to the yogurt making: In most cases the commercially available yogurt cultures (speak the ones in the plain yogurt from the store) like it warm, they are happy at around 108-112F. By cooling the milk to that temperature and then holding it there for 4 to 6 hours (longer if you like it real tangy) the live culture ferments the lactose in the milk and adds the characteristic flavor of yogurt. The thick texture of yogurt is primarily due to the high heat destabilizing certain whey proteins and causing them to link together forming the yogurt body.
Without this step in heating and cooling, you really do not have a true yogurt. The final result would be a much thinner fermented milk (not saying it would not taste good, but, nope, not yogurt).
If you want to learn more or get a starter culture, the New England Cheesemaking site has a bunch more info on this.
Just stir in fruit or berries… Mmhhh!
Ok let’s get started:
You will need:
- 1 quart of milk
- 3 tbsp plain yogurt
- a food thermometer
- a few canning jars to hold the yogurt during the process
- a slow cooker with a warm setting, or other insulated device of choice (you could use a cooler half filled with hot water)
Check all temperatures with your nifty thermometer.
- Heat the milk to 185°F (it’s not really boiling at that point but starts to foam, ) then allow it to cool down to 112°F, now stir in the 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt.
- Fill your slow cooker with warm water (about 112°F), turn it to the warm setting.
- Fill your glass jars with the milk-yogurt mix and set the jars into the slow cooker. Close the lid and check the water temperature every once in a while, slow cookers vary and you don’t want to cook your yogurt. (You may have to turn it off and turn it back on in a half hour.)
- Wait 4 to 6 hours. When the yogurt has the desired consistency place the jars in the fridge until ready to eat.
- You can re-culture the next batch from the yogurt you just made. If after some time the yogurt gets too tart (there are several cultures in yogurt and some might work quicker than others, so over time your yogurt might get more and more tart) just start over with either some more store-bought plain yogurt or a packet of dry culture.