Our family is growing in many ways... Growing in numbers, knowledge, parenting skills, growing in love, in our faith, growing our culinary skills (if you can call it that), growing without gluten (some of us), growing green...........

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homemade Yogurt

I've been making our yogurt for a while now. I started mostly because I didn't want to buy sugar-filled yogurt when Aiden was starting to eat it as a baby. We got a yogurt maker and were set. The yogurt was good, easy, we knew what was in it, and we flavored it ourselves. I had heard about making yogurt without a yogurt maker, and not too long ago, I finally tried it. I was kind of getting tired of using those little jars to make yogurt, for one thing. And it took up space on the counter, which is already so small. Anyway, after looking up some recipes online, I went for it. And it worked! I've tried several ways, many of which work just fine. If you want to make yogurt at home, I recommend it. It's really very easy; you'll just have to find which method works best for you!

Why make your own yogurt? Any flavored yogurt out there will also be loaded with sweeteners, for one thing - and way more than you need (and probably way more than you want, once you really take the time to look at the label). There are usually preservatives and other things that are unnecessary. Even organic yogurt (and especially those yogurts made for babies and kids!) will have stuff in there that you probably don't want. Plus, organic yogurt is expensive - making your own organic yogurt is a lot less costly. Yogurt you make requires only a couple ingredients. Milk and some kind of starter. Yes, that's it. We do buy freeze-dried yogurt starter for some batches. I'll make yogurt with that, and then the next round or two is made with leftover yogurt that hasn't been flavored. Below I'll show you how I make yogurt for my family. The recipe I use is based on a post from Passionate Homemaking (great blog - check it out!).

So, here's how to do it all...

Milk and yogurt (or starter) - that's about all it takes!
Start with milk. We use whole milk. For this recipe, I used 8 cups (2 quarts - about half a gallon) of milk and 1/2 cup of plain yogurt left over from last batch as the starter. When I make yogurt with freeze dried starter, that recipe calls for 40oz of milk, which is about 5 1/2 cups.

Heat milk until about 180 degrees F - watch for it to start to bubble around the edges (but not boiling). Take the milk off the heat and let it cool to between 110-120 degrees F. This is the trickiest part because you don't want it too cool too much. If you want to hurry it along (letting it cool on it's own can take a while - 30 minutes or more...I don't really time it, just check it from time to time), you can put the pan of milk in some ice water. Sometimes I'll put the pan in the sink, put ice around the pan and add a bit of water. Just keep an eye on the temp because it might lower faster than you think this way.

Once the milk has cooled some, put about a cup or so of the milk in a separate container and gently stir in the yogurt or starter. Don't stir too much if using actual yogurt - just enough to gently incorporate the yogurt. Then, pour that back into the milk and swirl it around. Pour the milk into containers. I use mason jars. They're good for just about everything...

Place the jars into the pan you used to heat the milk. I didn't need such a big pan for the milk, but it's the right size for the jars, and I'm all about using as few dishes as possible. It doesn't matter if you've cleaned out the pan or if there is a bit of milk left at the bottom. You're only using it for incubating past this point... Pour HOT water over the jars, up to the rims. I almost boil the tea kettle full of water and then pour hot tap water after that.

Pour in hot water - just up to rims of jar lids but not past that point.
The work part of this is over... Now you just wait!

Put the lid on the pot. And leave. For a long time. Let it sit overnight. Usually somewhere around 10-12 hours works fine for me. Your time can range from 8 hours up to 18, from what I've read. I use whole milk, so maybe that's why it doesn't take longer. In the yogurt maker, I always set it for 8 hours, but I let it go a bit longer with this method. I sometimes drape a towel over the pot to help keep the heat in. You don't need it to stay hot, but the heat from the water you poured in will stay warm throughout the wait time.

After the wait is over, check your yogurt to see if it's about the right consistency and thickness. Put it in the fridge for a few hours to stop the process and cool the yogurt.

Jar turned upside down to show how thick it is...
It's not super thick, especially once you stir it up,
but notice that it isn't too thin, either - you can see
the space between the lid and the yogurt...it's not
slipping down even when turned upside down!

And that's it! It might take a few times to find out what time-frame gets you the results you want in regards to thickness. I've never really had a batch not turn out well. A couple have been thinner than I would have liked, but it was still fine - or I could make greek yogurt by straining it. Simply put a strainer lined with a coffee filter/cheese cloth over a container, pour the yogurt in the strainer, and let sit for a few hours or overnight. You can use the liquid (whey) in other things such as baking (do a quick google search and you'll find all kinds of ways to use it - it's really good for you, so don't toss it!), and the yogurt is nice and thick and can be used as greek yogurt or even sour cream.

Straining the yogurt to get greek yogurt (and whey is the
liquid you will have in the bowl once you're done).

We normally flavor our yogurt with my homemade strawberry jam. I also often add in some ground flaxseeds. Aiden thinks yogurt is supposed to have that stuff in it, since that's pretty much how he's always had it. I'm still getting used to it. Or I might add in some chia seeds/gel. The jam added in makes some delicious strawberry yogurt. You could use whatever kind of jam or fruit you wanted, or add in some vanilla and honey. When he was a baby, we simply added pureed fruit. There are all sorts of ways to flavor yogurt. Or maybe you like it plain! I can eat greek yogurt plain but not regular yogurt. Ryan's had a bit of a harder time getting used to something that didn't taste like Yoplait, but he just adds more jam to his yogurt than the rest of us. I just try not to watch and see how much he really uses... Even so, it's better for us than buying it, which *will* have more sugar and all those other extras. Plus, this is a heck of a lot fresher!

I mentioned there were other methods you can use to make yogurt...

Yogurt in a slow cooker is definitely another option! It just doesn't work for us because of our cooker... The lid has a rubber seal around it, and no matter what I do, I can never get the smells off of it, so the one time I tried yogurt in it, there was a hint of savory spices. If you don't have this problem, slow cooker yogurt might work for you. (I love my slow cooker otherwise - it's great, just this one little issue...)

You can also heat the milk, cool it, add the starter, and then put the mixture in the oven with the light on overnight. That works really well, too, and I recommend it. I would turn the oven on to 350 until it was preheated and then turn it off. Put the jars in the oven and wrap a towel around them. Turn on the oven light (but leave the oven off), close the oven door...and leave it. Cool in the fridge when the time is up. The reason we have been doing the method I explained above with water in the pot is that I usually make our yogurt during the daytime, and I would have to deal with trying to plan making it during days I wouldn't need the oven. With the method I use now, I don't have to worry about that, so it's just simpler for me. If you choose to make yogurt overnight, any of these methods would work just as well.

Have you tried making yogurt? Any tips or other methods you prefer and want to share? Please do!


Brittany @ The Pistachio Project said...

We make our yogurt in the crock pot. I've found that when I add more "starter yogurt" (I now use 2 cups) I get much thicker yogurt. I also make sure to scoop out my new "starter" from the yogurt before I do anything else. That way it's the thickest and freshest possible. I don't have to buy a new starter now like I used to.

Daisy and Ryan said...

I've tried making it in our crock pot, and I LOVE the idea. But our crock pot has a rubber seal around the lid. Nice concept (it's one that's made to be more portable, I guess, so the seal would help prevent spills), but it means the seal holds onto smells from spices. Ugh. I've tried soaking w/ baking soda and all sorts of things - and it just never goes away. It's the one thing I don't love about our crockpot. The yogurt came out with a hint of the spices.... Not quite the ones you want with yogurt. Haha!

Becky said...

I keep a jar of wheat germ mixed with flaxseed meal in the fridge. we call it "topping" and put in on the yogurt. Colin usually eats it off the top without stirring it in. It tastes better than straight flax and has a better texture.. plus wheat germ is good for you!
Maybe now that school is over I can try to make my own. But thanks to you we switched to plain yogurt in large containers and flavor it ourselves instead of buying the prepackaged stuff.

Daisy and Ryan said...

Becky - We have some wheat germ in our fridge that is probably expired by now... Haha! Since half of our family eats gluten-free, it's been forgotten (and I'm the one who would have put it in people's foods). Let me know if you do try and make some of the yogurt! But hey - buying plain and flavoring it yourself is definitely better than getting the sugar-laden pre-flavored kinds, so props to you for doing that!! :)

Unknown said...

I just made this for the first time this weekend, but mine had about 1" that was thick in the bottom of the jar and the rest was like milk. I used some Nancy's yogurt from the store for my starter, do you think that was the problem? It could also be that I only left it for 9 hours because leaving it all night was going to be to long. Any advice?

Daisy @ Our Growing Family said...

Hi there! Hmmm... It should at least be mostly thick; even if not too thick, it shouldn't be the consistency of milk. I'm not familiar w/ that brand of yogurt, but I'm not sure if it should matter. (Just curious - was it flavored or plain yogurt?)

What kind of milk did you use? Meaning...skim, 2%, whole? We typically use whole milk, and it comes out really well (I usually let it sit overnight or maybe even a bit longer, so it's usually about 12 hours.) This past week, hubby brought home 2% b/c the store was out of whole, and it made a big difference in the consistency of our yogurt. It was a lot thinner - not thick enough for my liking, really.

Here are some things you might want to consider...
*If you're using a lower fat milk, try whole.
*Try more time, ESP if you're sticking to a lower fat milk.
*When you leave the milk alone to go through the yogurt-making process...make sure it all stays warm. You can wrap a towel around the pot after the jars of yogurt (or just yogurt in the pot) are inside. I pour very, very hot (if not boiling) water over the jars in the pot, put the lid on, and then wrap with a beach towel. You can also put the wrapped pot in your oven with the oven light on. That will help keep your oven warm, which can help. (Sometimes I'll even turn the oven on while empty, until it's preheated to about 350. I'll turn the oven OFF, turn the light on, and then put the pot of yogurt inside... I did this before I started putting the jars in the pot with the hot water. I would just put the jars in the oven with a towel wrapped around the jars on a rack.)

And if your yogurt is not as thick as you want it still, you can strain it (directions for this in the original post) until it's the consistency you want. With the thinner 2% yogurt I made last week, I strained it for a few hours to thicken it up. (You can do it overnight if you want Greek yogurt or just for a few hours if you simply want it a bit thicker.)

I hope all of that helps! Please let me know if you try again and how it turns out next time!!

Anonymous said...

The problem people have with thinner yogurt is that they let it cool too much too fast. You want the temp to stay at about 100 degrees for the entire time you are letting it set (8-12 hrs) or whatever time you choose. The longer it sets, the more sour it gets. I use 1% or fat free, add 1 cup of powdered milk, 1 cup honey, and 4 Tbsp vanilla to mine. Comes out THICK every time, after only 8 hrs.