Growing up, my mom made nearly everything from scratch; if she didn’t, she certainly could. Chicken stock. Cheese soup. Gorgeous cakes before the age of Pinterest. Egg rolls. Yup, I said egg rolls. She made lasagne that was to die for. I grew up knowing you could make nearly anything yourself and she took great pride in that.
Yogurt however, was not something I ever knew you could make at home. Not until I was 17 and working at a Lebanese restaurant did I have my first exposure to “homemade” yogurt, called lubin, which was a base for their house dressing as well as a side for stuffed grape leaves. I remember watching the cook in awe as she heated the milk, and then added yogurt, and like magic, the next day, there was new lubin!
I didn’t understand the science of it until much later. Yogurt is a fermented food. Chances are you have had other fermented foods, even if you don’t know it. Sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, beer and Kombucha are all fermented foods. At its most basic level, fermentation is the process of using bacteria and other microorganisms to alter the state of your food. In yogurt, “good bacteria,” are added to milk heated to a specific temperature, which allows the bacteria to flourish and digest the milk, altering its chemical structure, and make wonderful yogurt.
Ready to give it a try? I promise it’s worth it. In addition to being super simple, making your own yogurt is economical (this recipe calls for a little less than half a gallon and you end up with about a quart.) You also eliminate any potential additives, and have a myriad of sweetening choices and flavor additions when you start with a blank canvas. Plus, when you make it at home, you know its gluten-free!
6CupsWhole MilkFeel free to use 2%, but don't go less. The texture isn't very good.
1Cup Heavey Whipping CreamGo ahead and add milk instead if you are worried about the fat, this makes for creamier, thicker yogurt.
4 Oz,Full Fat Live Culture Plain YogurtIt doesn't matter what kind, just be sure it has live, or active cultures. (If my starter goes kaput, I usually re-start with Fage, or Chobani) 2% can be subsituted.
Servings: Quart, plus starter
You won't need most of your special equipment until Day 2- so if you don't have cheese cloth or a strainer don't worry. You do however need a thermometer today. Pour your milk and cream into your crockpot. Measure 6 Cups of Milk, and 1 Cup of cream and add it to your slow cooker. Turn it on to High.
Insert your thermometer. The goal is to reach about 180-185 degrees. If you have an alarm on your thermometer, set it for that temp. If you don't have an alarm, just check back every 30 min. or so. Every crock pot is different, but mine takes about 3 hours to get to 185 degrees.
When your temp reaches 185 degrees, turn off your slowcooker, and keep the lid on. Keep your thermometer in too. Now you want the temperature to drop to 115-120 degrees. In my slow cooker, this takes about 2 hours. Check on it after an hour, then every half hour or so.
When you reach 115-120 degrees, go ahead and add your yogurt. I usually do this by tablespoonful, all over the slow cooker for optimal distribution.
Put your lid back on, and find something to do for the next 18-24 hours. When you check your yogurt, it should be thick, with a little liquid on top, but not super runny. If it is still runny, just put the lid back on a walk away for a few more hours.
When your yogurt is thick, its time to set up your draining rig. I use a bowl that fits my strainer snugly, and drape a double layer of cheesecloth over my rig. (If I am in hurry, a single layer works fine, but if you have the time, double leaves less of the yogurt in your whey.)
Then, using a soup ladle (or other spoon large enough to move thick yogurt efficiently,) move your yogurt into the strainer. You will have about 8 oz. of yogurt left, put that in a small container and put a lid on it- that's your new starter for next time, so you won't have to buy another yogurt.
Take your strainer rig and SUPER CAREFULLY, move it to your fridge for at least 2 hours, or until the yogurt is the consistency you want it. For me, this is usually 4 hours. I like thick yogurt.
After your yogurt has strained completely, you can finagle your yogurt into a suitable container (a widemouth quart container works well for this.) and Voila! You've got yogurt!
Now, what to do with the liquid you are left with? It's called whey. I have frozen it and used it in smoothies, and some people use it in place of water when they bake bread (I have not been successful with this and GF flours, if you have success, let me know your secret!) You can also throw in in thick soups like butternut squash, or cheese soup. It has a mild flavor, and all the good bacteria that's running around in your yogurt too!
Don't use milk or cream labeled UHT (Ultra High Temp.) The temperatures used to pasteurize milk labeled UHT exceed the temperatures that keep specific enzymes in tact, and your yogurt won't set.
Make sure your starter yogurt isn't expired. Yogurt cultures can live a while (withing a week of making it is ideal) in your fridge, but not indefinitely. When in doubt, buy a fresh one. If you have one of the fancy yogurt starter packets, you can use these in the same way and at the same time during cooking, just sprinkle them into your cooled milk.
Should you want to make sweetened yogurt (or vanilla), you can add about 1/2 c. honey or maple syrup after it comes to 185 degrees. Just whisk it in before returning the lid. If you want vanilla yogurt, add a TBSP of vanilla extract with your sweetener. You can still keep a starter for next time, but you will have a sweetened starter, so you will have to sweeten any subsequent batches made from that starter.
Why 185 and 120? Bringing the milk to 185 degrees breaks down proteins to help the microorganisms digest them and reproduce. You add the milk at 120 so that the heat doesn't kill any good bacteria.