5 Simple Steps to Yummy Yogurt
When it comes to yogurt I am Goldilocks: I like it not too sweet, not too sour. It’s got to be just right! So making my own yogurt is a great way to ensure my yogurt is to my taste.
However when I went looking for details on how to make yogurt I was overwhelmed by the number of articles and blog posts on the web. Some of them seemed good, but I wanted more details. I needed to understand the process in more depth.
So I did some research and found a great book: Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. The instructions below are from Cheryl’s book and detail how to make basic yogurt. Check out her book for more details and some great recipes.
What you need
- ½ gallon of milk
- 2 tablespoons of live yogurt starter at room temperature
- Heavy pot / crock pot / Dutch oven
- A funnel is also handy to help transfer your yogurt from the pot to the container.
- Insulated food jar / thermos flask. Here’s what I use:
What to do
Basically there are 5 simple steps to making yogurt:
- Heat the milk
- Cool the milk
- Add your yogurt starter to the milk and let it culture
- Cool the yogurt mixture
Now here are the same steps, but with a little more detail:
- Add milk to your pot and heat it to 180°F/82°C over a medium-high heat. Do not stir.
- TIP: Heat the milk slowly to avoid getting granular bits of overheated and congealed milk protein in your finished yogurt
- When the milk reaches 180°F/82°C turn down the heat and maintain the temperature at 180°F/82°C or a few degrees higher for 5 minutes. This will help to naturally thicken the yogurt.
- Remove the pot from the heat and use ladle to lift off any skin that has formed.
- Allow the milk to cool to 115°F/46°C. Stir the milk occasionally and check the temperature frequently.
- TIP: you can place the pot in a bath of cool water to speed up the cooling. You can also stir more frequently to release the heat quicker.
- Once the milk has reached 115°F/46°C, put the yogurt starter in a jug or bowl and ladle in about 1 cup of warm milk. Whisk the milk and yogurt starter together (this is called “tempering”) and then add this mixture into the warm milk
- TIP: If you have placed the pot of milk in a water bath to cool it faster, remove the pot from the water bath when it reaches a temperature of about 120°F/49°C so that it does not cool too much. If the temperature does fall below 115°F/46°C then you will need to rewarm the milk.
- Now you need to incubate your yogurt. This needs to be in a warm spot that is between 100 °F / 38°C and 112 °F / 44°C.
- In the Yogurt Culture book, Cheryl recommends covering your pot with a towel and putting the pot in the oven for 6-12 hours with just the oven light on as a heat source.
- I prefer ladling my yogurt into pre-warmed insulated food jars/thermos flasks.
- The yogurt should be ready when it is thick set and wobbles only slightly when you jiggle the pot.
- Transfer the yogurt to a container and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before eating and use it within 7 – 10 days.
- You can also remove about ¼ cup to use as a starter for your next batch. This can be stored for about 1 week in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer. If you are freezing it, thaw before using it.
This is definitely a money-saver. My favorite yogurt is Trader Joe’s European Style Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt which I can buy for $3.99. If I make my own yogurt using the Trader Joe’s yogurt as my starter, it only costs me $0.94.
How much time?
The first time I made yogurt it took me about an hour to heat and cool the milk, add the starter and transfer it to the flasks. Cooling the yogurt can take a considerable amount of time so I put the pot into a sink full of cold water to speed up the cooling.
After doing it a few times I have got quicker and often make the yogurt while doing other things in the kitchen so my hands-on time is about 30 minutes now.
Is it worth it?
If this was all about money then making home-made yogurt would easily get a 5 Pig rating. However, it loses a Pig because it does take a bit of time and you need to keep an eye on the milk as it heats and then as it cools to ensure the milk is at the correct temperature.
Anything else I should know?
Here are some of the questions I had when starting out:
1. What type of milk should I use?
You can use whole milk, low-fat or skimmed milk. If you are new to yogurt making then starting with whole milk is easier as it produces a thicker yogurt.
The Cultures For Health website has more details about other types of milk like goat or sheep milk.
2. What is a yogurt starter?
A yogurt starter is basically a blend of bacteria that converts the lactose in milk into lactic acid. It is the lactic acid that gives yogurt it’s flavor as well as changing the consistency of the yogurt.
A yogurt starter can be:
- A commercial yogurt starter. I have used the Yo Gourmet Yogurt Starter and found that it is very tasty.
- Or you can use your favorite yogurt as a starter. Just make sure that:
- It contains live cultures
- It is plain or unflavored
- Does not contain any additives
- It can have any fat content, this does not affect the yogurt
- Alternatively, if you will be making yogurt very regularly, you can use a commercial yogurt starter for your first batch and then use some of that yogurt as the starter for your next batch
3. Why do I need to heat the milk?
There are a couple of basic reasons:
- Milk has its own natural bacteria so which can interfere or compete with the yogurt starter so heating the milk will kill these bacteria.
- To change the structure of the milk protein casein which is needed to make a thick, firm yogurt.
4. Do I stir or not stir the milk as it is heating?
Although the Yogurt Culture book does explicitly state that you should not stir the milk as it heats, I have also found other articles that say you should stir and most that do not mention it either way. According to Sandor Ellix Katz in The Art of Fermentation: “Holding the milk at this high temperature [180°F/82°C], with constant stirring, will result in evaporation and concentration of milk, further contributing to a thicker end product.”
I have made yogurt by stirring and not stirring the milk and I cannot tell the difference in taste but the stirred yogurt was definitely thicker.
5. How long do I ferment the yogurt?
Any time from about 4 to 10 hours. Usually a long fermentation time will give you a tarter flavor, but the type of yogurt starter will also influence this.
6. Do I need a yogurt maker?
No, as shown above it is very easy to make yogurt with basic equipment that you probably already have in your home.
However, if you do use a yogurt maker I would be very interested to hear about your experience with it. Is it worth buying one? What are the benefits?
7. My yogurt is made but the pot is covered with milk gunk – how do I prevent that?
Honestly I wish I knew! In the Yogurt Culture book, Cheryl claims that rubbing ice around the pot results in easier clean-up but I have not found that this works. Perhaps my ice rubbing technique is incorrect? Anyway, if you have any tips on clean-up please let me know as I think that the clean-up is the worst part!
8. My yogurt is not as thick as the yogurts I buy, how can I thicken it?
This is usually because commercially made yogurts use thickeners. To thicken your yogurt naturally you can:
- Use milk with higher fat content.
- Heat the milk at 180°F/82°C for longer. Instead of 5 minutes, try heating it for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Strain the yogurt through muslin or cheesecloth. This is also how Greek yogurt is made.
- Or a mixture of all 3 options
If you do try making your own yogurt don’t stress to much about it. Follow the directions above and keep an eye on the temperature and you’ll be fine.
Once you get comfortable you can try experimenting with:
- Different types of starter. Perhaps try a commercial one or a different yogurt.
- Different types of milk
- The length and/or temperature of the fermentation
- Sweetness of the yogurt. If you prefer a sweeter yogurt you could add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the milk before you warm it. Or more or less sugar depending on your taste.
- Flavorings. Honey, vanilla, jam, fruit, nuts, coconut – the choice here is totally yours.
Happy yogurt making! Let me know how it goes for you?