September 11, 2009

The Winging It Way to Homemade Yogurt


My first attempt at making yogurt fell somewhere in the middle realm — not an epic fail of soured milk, but not thick and creamy either. (At least it was more successful that my attempt with homemade peanut butter, which came out more like peanut paste.) My yogurt was a little on the runny side but had the most amazing sour tanginess. With maple syrup, a chopped peach, and my mom’s granola, I was in breakfast heaven.

There are more detail oriented recipes for homemade yogurt, but the lazy way seemed to work just fine for me. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t fret — all is not lost. I used the “thermos method” which involves simply pouring the ingredients into a thermos rinsed with hot water. If you have a yogurt maker, you’re obviously in business, but you can also make yogurt by placing it in a warmed oven overnight — instructions here. For having totally winged it (couldn’t find a thermometer), I thought this turned out admirably well and was a cheap way to make a lot of organic, low-fat yogurt.

Have you ever done this? Would you ever do this? Are you not into kitchen science experiments? Or does this seem like the kind of simple DIY project that’s right up your alley?

Homemade Yogurt
adapted from Whole Foods for the Whole Family

4 cups milk (I used 1%)
2-4 tablespoons plain yogurt with active cultures

Scald milk. Let cool to 110°F (I estimated by letting it cool till it was warm to the touch — like warm water from the faucet before it turns hot or like a warm bath). Stir in yogurt. Pour into a thermos rinsed with hot water. Wrap thermos with a towel, place in a warm place, and let sit for 6-12 hours until yogurt has thickened.

Words of wisdom from the cookbook: “The heat source is the most critical factor for successful yogurt making. Too low a temperature will incubate sour milk bacteria rather than yogurt bacteria; too high a temperature will kill the bacteria. There are other alternatives to a commercial yogurt makers or a thermos. You can put the dish or jars in a water bath (95°F to 115°F) in an electric fry pan or crock pot, in a gas oven with pilot light on, in an electric oven preheated at is lowest temperature setting, then turned off, in a box with a light bulb [!], or in a box set on a heating pad. All of these sources work well, so experiment and see what works best for you. Once you establish your heat source yogurt making will be simple.”

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  • Andrea: My mom made yogurt all the time when I was growing up. It was always served in glass punch cups. She would sometimes freeze it in popsicle molds, too. She had a brown yogurt crock – I don’t know if that was for making it or just storing it. It was always runny, but very good!6 years ago

  • Andrea, The fact that your mom’s yogurt was runny, too, gives me hope. :) And what an elegant touch to serve it in glass punch cups!6 years ago

  • Pomona: If you use UHT longlife milk you don’t have to do the heating and cooling bit – the milk can be used at room temperature straight out of the carton. And when you have made the yogurt, if you strain it through a double layer of muslin in a sieve, it becomes really lovely and thick like Greek yogurt.

    Pomona x6 years ago

  • Jazz Smollett: My mom used to have us drink yogurt from our baby bottles when I was a toddler..she would add a little water to plain yogurt so that it would be thin enough to come through.6 years ago

  • Phoebe: I love homemade yogurt! so much better than anything that you can buy! Lassi made with homemade yogurt is amazing. I highly recommend it.6 years ago

  • Pomona, Yes! I knew the great straining trick, but do you know why if you use UHT milk you don’t have do the heating and cooling part?

    Phoebe, Mmm, that lassi sounds great.6 years ago

  • Sarah Jane: I’ll admit, when I first read the title of this post I thought “Isn’t that just leaving some milk out and hoping for the best?”

    I love to experiment in the kitchen, especially with basic, commonly bought staples. I’m going to stick with the bread and leave the yogurt to the pros…

    …by the way, greek yogurt is awesome. I wonder if one could make that at home?6 years ago

  • rhonda35: I enjoy “home kitchen science” projects like making creme fraiche or buttermilk/sour milk, but once bacteria get involved, I get freaked out! So, to answer your question, no, I would probably never make yogurt, although I make Greek style yogurt by filtering store-bought plain through a coffee filter or fine mesh sieve.6 years ago

  • Christine H.: How did you know I was thinking about trying this out? As I continue to tighten my belt, it’s getting harder to justify splurging for my giant tub of organic yogurt every week (or thereabouts). I do believe now is the time to compare and contrast instructions and give it a go!6 years ago

  • Sarah Jane, You could thicken up either storebought or homemade yogurt (thereby making it Greek style) by straining it, as others have mentioned. Strain it long enough and it becomes yogurt cheese!

    Rhonda, I know what you mean about the bacteria. It’s like creating a little mini-universe!

    Christine H, Because we are both belt-tightening at the same time! :) Go for it!

    Now does anyone have advice about my homemade peanut butter? Seems that’s the kind of thing I should just by next time…6 years ago

  • Lisa: I have been meaning to make yogurt for ages and ages and AGES … with no good excuse. I do know that all the farm yogurt I normally buy is much runnier than store-bought stuff, unless it has powdered milk added. I’ve really come to prefer it runny though!

    We just got a goat (!) so as soon as she gets really used to being milked, I believe my yogurt procrastination days are over.

    I’ve had some luck getting slightly thinner PB by adding a little olive oil to the blender or food processor.6 years ago

  • Kristen: If you add 1/4 cup instant dry nonfat milk right before you add the plain yougert it really helps with the thick and creamy part and I make it with skim milk.6 years ago

  • bloodorange: from what I heard, fat milk gives thicker youghurt…6 years ago

  • Christy: I’ve been making homemade yogurt for years, and I absolutely love it. I have a hard time eating the commercial stuff. There’s nothing like it. Except for banilla yogurt…mmmm…

    I have a little incubator, and I’ve found it to be the easiest way to go. It makes about a quart at a time, which is the perfect amount for me.

    Whole Foods has dried cultures (near the yogurt section), which have dried milk in them, giving a slightly thicker consistency for my skim milk yogurt. You can also play with the time for a thicker/thinner product.

    Also, making sure that everything involved is sterilized will greatly aide in successful yogurt (i.e. boiling water to kill germs on your spoon, pan, receptacle, etc.).

    I lived with a Russian girl for a year, and she didn’t use any special equipment to make yogurt.
    Her mother sent her liquid bacterial cultures, which she added to scalded then cooled milk (this is how I learned how to do this all sans thermometer), which was at the perfect temperature when you could touch the pan without burning yourself.
    She then tempered the culture into the milk and poured the mixture into a large, sterilized pickle jar. She wrapped this jar in plastic grocery bags, then towels and left it near a window (or the vent if the heat was on). The next morning (or 8 hours later) produced a delicious, easily-made delicious yogurt.6 years ago

  • Steffie: For cream cheese, you can take this one step further by lining a colander with a flourcloth or muslin and pouring the yogurt into it and leaving it in a warm spot over night. If this freaks you out too much, the fridge will do. Make sure you keep a bowl or something underneath to catch the whey (good for making sourkraut). The other way to do this is to gather the flourcloth into a pouch and suspend it with zipties and a wooden spoon over a bowl so the product doesn’t sit in the whey.

    If the runny yogurt bothers you, turn up the heat source about ten to fifteen degrees or let it set longer or both.

    And lemme know if you figure out the peanut butter thing. >.>;6 years ago

  • jill: been wanting to do this for a long time. thanks for the inspiration.6 years ago

  • I love everyone’s comments about their experience with homemade yogurt! Who knew so many people were doing this?!?

    Lisa, Homemade goat milk yogurt! How fabulous. You’ll of course have to tell us how your cheese making goes, too. :)

    Kristen, Good tip about dry milk.

    Christy, I love that story about the Russian girl’s mother sending her live active cultures! That’s amazing.

    Steffie, I will definitely share about the PB, if I ever find out. I almost tried Lisa’s suggestion of adding olive oil, but the I didn’t. With all the shelling involved, though, I’m not quite sure PB ends up being time/cost effective.6 years ago

  • Pomona: The heating and cooling is to kill the bacteria that would interfere with the yogging (I think it is lactobacillus that does that), and then bring it back to the right temperature for the process. UHT is Ultra Heat Treated (to preserve it) but it also means that the heating has been done for you – and because you store UHT at room temperature, then the temperature is OK. I found this out from the manual that came with my bulk yogurt maker (from Lakeland in the UK, about £20) – it is a great time saving trick. The other thing is not to joggle it while yogging – it upsets the process, nor leave it in a cold draught, eg from an open window – so overnight is great. And when you wash the container, rinse it out thoroughly, as traces of detergent left on it can also inhibit yogging.

    Pomona x6 years ago

  • Wendy Bussell: After many years of telling myself I need to try this, I finally did this summer. We are able to buy raw milk from a dairy and in reading a different blog, found a recipe to make yogurt in the CROCKPOT! Crazy idea right? It works great! In my experimenting, the longer the yogurt is heated,by 30 min. increments, and the type of culture used, is what makes the yogurt thick or thin. Try these 2 sites for examples and
    It’s a great feeling to do something new!6 years ago

  • patsy: If you cook your milk longer, thereby reducing it a bit, your results will be creamier. I cook my organic cream-line whole milk on the very lowest heat for 1 to 2 hours, then empty into a mixing bowl. I add the culture when I can keep my finger in the milk for 10 seconds. I use culture from commercial greek yogurt.6 years ago

  • patsy: Oh, and I forgot to add that I cover the bowl and wrap it in a blanket and keep it on the counter for 4-8 hours.6 years ago

  • Jen R: If you have a crock pot, you can use that to make yogurt. It works! years ago

  • Lydia: Wonderful! I absolutely love yogurt. I’ve always wondered how to make it, yet I’ve held off because I know it involves working with heating milk. For some reason that petrifies me. Maybe that sour milk in the refrigerator did me in as a child. Thank you for being courageous!5 years ago

  • Kenneth Udut: I absolutely love homemade yogurt for the cost savings and convenience.

    I figured out the cost, and by making your own Greek yogurt, you’re cutting the cost of the yogurt by 1/3 to 1/4! That’s like a 75% off sale on Greek Yogurt everytime you make it yourself!

    The cheapest way?

    Powdered Milk and get the freshest plain yogurt you can for the starter. (I just get the one that has the furthest off expiration date).

    I purchased the EuroCuisine 2 qt yogurt maker and i’m in heaven! I was doing it in a slow cooker and it worked great – but this is even easier. Two Quarts of yogurt makes about a quart of Greek Yogurt (and a quart of whey of course).

    To strain, I use a coffee filter in a “permanent coffee filter” (flat bottomed) and put that into a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Perfect Fit!

    Buy the biggest cheapest box of powdered milk you can get. -Kenneth Udut, Affordable Trapping 239-465-9291 naples, FL5 years ago

  • qqtpie: if you live in Arizona, you can just set the thermos on the patio. it’s 95-115 for most of the year. In the summer, it’s even that warm at night.4 years ago

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