I ended up at an article over at Slate that tested how cost-effective it is to make certain kitchen staples at home such as bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, jam, and granola. Substitute bread for bagels, butter for cream cheese, and these are all items I have made at home.
Most recently was yogurt! Yogurt containers are made of a plastic that is not commonly recycled. We go through an impressive amount of yogurt at our house, so we have a plethora of these containers saved which we use for food storage. The perfect food to go back in them? Home made yogurt. No fancy equipment needed!
This is the recipe that got me started making yogurt at home. I don’t use a yogurt maker, just my oven with the door closed and the light on to keep it warm. Like yeast, you want the temperature to be warm enough to incubate your bacteria, but not so hot that you kill it! The recipe link also has resources for cheese-making and other such information. Though I am seriously considering buying a yogurt culture, I currently use store-bought plain yogurt as a starter.
Step 1: Make sure your yogurt is plain and has “active yogurt cultures.” I accidentally used vanilla once, and it tasted funny.
One of these “single serve” cups is enough for me to make two batches of yogurt (one half gallon of milk). I leave the yogurt out to warm up a bit while I take care of the next steps.
Step 2: Bring 4 cups of milk just to a boil on the stove over medium-low heat (or in the microwave). This ensures that you are providing a sterile environment for the yogurt culture. We don’t want to grow any other bacteria! Remove milk from heat and allow to cool to about 115F. I actually don’t have a thermometer, but judge the temperature to be right when the milk is warm to the touch but not hot.
Step 3: Place yogurt starter (about 1/4 cup or so) in a bowl or other heat-proof container large enough to hold 4 cups. Whisk.
The cooled milk will have formed a skin on top. Remove the skin with a rubber scraper or spoon. Take a small amount of the warm milk and whisk it in to the yogurt.
Add the rest of the milk gradually, whisking gently.
Step 4: Incubate your yogurt. I place the bowl in the oven with the oven turned OFF, but the oven light left ON and the door closed to keep in the heat. Leave the yogurt there for 8-10 hours until it is set. If after 10 hours it is still liquid, your starter culture was dead, or it got too hot. Any longer than 11-12 hours will not make your yogurt any thicker, just more tart.
Once it is set, put your yogurt in the refrigerator to chill and thicken. It may not be terribly photogenic, but it’s delicious!
~ After chilling, you can mix in fruit or jam for flavored yogurt.
~ For thicker yogurt, you have two choices. Before boiling the milk, you can also add up to 1/2 cup of powdered milk which will result in a thicker finished yogurt. You could also boil the milk longer to reduce the water content before incubating. Just
~ The other option is to make strained or Greek yogurt. After chilling the yogurt, place it in cheesecloth in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge and let it drain. The expelled liquid is whey and can be saved for bread baking or other uses. This will reduce the volume of your yogurt significantly, up to half. But it’s delicious!
The largest determining factor in the thickness of your yogurt, however, is your original culture. If you use a thinner yogurt starter, you will end up with a thin yogurt. It’s up to you! I have made yogurt with skim milk, 1% and 2%, with and without powdered milk. It’s all good. Most low-fat or fat-free yogurts compensate for the missing richness of fat by adding pectin and other sugars. Homemade yogurt using skim milk has a much better texture and taste! Try a few methods out to see what you like best.