Homemade yogurt – easier than you think

Homemade yogurt is easy to make, and cheaper than commercial yogurt. I have made it in the past, but not for a few years, and my mom used to make it sometimes when I was growing up. Last week my mother-in-law asked me if I had ever made it and wanted a recipe so she could make her own yogurt. My father-in-law eats a lot of it and she wants to save some money by making it herself.

I called my mom and asked how she used to make it – scald the milk, mix in some commercial yogurt and let it sit for several hours in a warm place. She used to use the top of the fridge, when refrigerators used to vent out the back. Now they usually vent out the bottom in the front and the top isn’t much warmer than anywhere else in the kitchen.

I looked up a recipe I had from a cheese making class I took a few years ago – heat the milk to 110 degrees, add commercial yogurt or a powdered starter culture and let it sit in a warm (100 degree) place for 8-12 hours. Or, for thicker yogurt, heat the milk to 180 degrees and keep it at that temp for 10-20 minutes, then cool to 110 and proceed as above.

I also looked online and found recipes that were all over the map – heating the milk anywhere from 100 degrees to 185, using varying amounts of yogurt as a starter, and using all kinds of different contraptions to keep the milk warm for the culture to work.

I ended up combining my mom’s recipe with the more precise directions from the cheese making class. I heated the milk to 180, which made it steamy and frothy around the edges, but not boiling. I poured the heated milk into a glass bowl because I thought it would cool faster than leaving it in the hot, thick-bottomed pan. I should have used metal because the glass retained the heat instead of dissipating it, but I do think it cooled a little faster than it would have in the pan. I could have used a water bath to cool it even faster, but I didn’t want to go to the trouble.

It took about 30 minutes for the milk to cool to 110, which is just warmer than lukewarm to the touch. Don’t skip this step – if you add the yogurt while the milk is too hot, you will kill the cultures and you won’t get any yogurt.

I decided to keep my culturing milk in a cooler with a jar of hot water next to the container of yogurt for heat. Low tech, and it used what I already had on hand. It worked beautifully. You could also use the oven with the light turned on and the door closed, or you might have that warm spot in the kitchen that I don’t have. Find a place that you can leave undisturbed for 6-12 hours.

And, you have yogurt.

My breakfast this week – yogurt over granola, with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of honey.

Homemade Yogurt
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 1 quart yogurt

3-quart saucepan
Large bowl, optional
Quart canning jar or quart container with a lid, preferably glass, for culturing and storage
Quart canning jar or other container for hot water
Picnic cooler large enough to hold the yogurt container and the water jar
A warm place you can leave undisturbed for 6-12 hours, like the oven preheated to 100 degrees and then turned OFF, with the light left on, or anywhere else warm you can find in your house.

4 cups (1 quart) milk, skim, low fat or whole (I used skim)
¼ cup plain yogurt (non fat, low fat or whole milk), make sure it contains live, active cultures. I used non fat Dannon.

Heat the milk to 180 degrees in the saucepan over medium heat. After the first 5 minutes, you need to stir frequently to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The whole process should take about 10 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, the milk is ready when it is very steamy and very frothy around the edges. Don’t let it boil.

Remove the pan from the heat. If you like, pour the milk into a bowl to cool faster. Stir occasionally until milk cools to 110 degrees, which is slightly warmer than lukewarm. If you test with your finger, make sure you wash your hands first! This should take 20-30 minutes. Add the yogurt to the warm milk and stir gently to combine.

While the milk is cooling, fill the jar or container with very hot water and place it in the cooler to start warming it.

Pour the milk/yogurt mixture into your storage container and cover it. Place the container into the now-warm cooler and close the lid. You might have to turn your cooler on its side, as I did, for the container to fit.

Leave undisturbed for 6-8 hours. Check to see how thick your yogurt is with a clean spoon. If it is to your liking, move it to the fridge. If it isn’t thick enough, give it more time, up to 12 hours. You might need to rewarm the water in the jar once to keep the cooler warm enough. My yogurt was done after 8 hours, and I rewarmed the water in the jar after 6 hours, but I don’t think I really needed to.

There may be a layer of liquid whey on top of your yogurt when it is done. This is fine – you didn’t make a mistake. Spoon it off and save it to use as part of the liquid when you make pancakes or homemade bread. It will keep about a week in the fridge. Your homemade yogurt might give off more whey in the fridge than commercial yogurt. Just gently stir it back in or spoon it off and save it for cooking.

Yogurt keeps 7-10 days, in the fridge.

Download the recipe here.

9 thoughts on “Homemade yogurt – easier than you think

    • I hope you try it soon! The yogurt I made the other day is not as sour as commercial yogurt, which was a nice surprise. Write back and let me know how it works for you when you try it.

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