Wednesday, March 12, 2014

how to make yogurt at home {with no fancy gadget}

Author's Note: In honor of the Family Breakfast Project, I am sharing seven days of easy family breakfast recipes. At the end of the week, I'll write about how the project went for our family. You can try it out too! Sign up for emails, click through on the web, or download the whole guide here. {Disclaimer: I am not being paid for sharing the program; I am mentioning it because I think it's a great way to help you share breakfast with your family.}

After the first two days of breakfast recipes (read: buttermilk biscones and breakfast cookies), you might believe I start every morning with a fresh, sugary pastry. But actually, our breakfast breakdown looks more like this:




For a good six months out of the year--all of the warm months, basically--my kids request yogurt almost every day for breakfast (with dry cereal on the side...weirdos). I'm happy to oblige because of the probiotics, calcium, etc., blah blah. I probably don't need to tell you why yogurt is good for you. But did you know that you can make it yourself at home without fancy gear?

I started making my own yogurt two years ago because I wanted to:

  • reduce the amount of packaging waste in our home,
  • save money,
  • and control the ingredients for a healthier food. 



I kept making yogurt after that first time because once I got the hang of it, I realized the process is quite simple. If you want a more detailed discussion of making yogurt than I can provide, grab a copy of The Art of Fermentation (or see its excerpt about yogurt on the Splendid Table website); a simple step-by-step guide is also offered here. I recommend making your first batch on a weekend day or another time that you're home for a solid hour. That's about how long it takes from firing up the stove to incubating it.

So what tools do you need? When I first started making yogurt, the timing coincided with first making jam. Because I had those fancy tools on hand, I used them. But over the past two years, I've learned you don't need special canning jars or a jar lifter. You won't ever submerge the jars completely with water (hence no jar-lifter thingy), and you aren't storing the jars in a cabinet once they are full of yogurt (hence no Ball jars).

The only true "gadget" I recommend is a fancy meat thermometerif you EVER cook a chicken, you probably should have one of these babies anyway. They aren't expensive, and the alarm function allows you to leave the kitchen while your milk is heating. In my experience, what's most likely to go wrong is overheating the milk or letting it cool too much. But if you don't have one, a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer is fine too.

Vivi's lunch: homemade yogurt with apple-cranberry jam


homemade yogurt
makes 2 quarts

Ingredients:
  1. 2 QT (1/2 gallon) whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized; see notes below directions)
  2. 1/4 c. plain yogurt with active cultures, at room temp. (NOT containing pectin; see notes)
Tools:
  1. large heavy-bottomed pot
  2. thermometer (see above)
  3. quart Ball jars or old spaghetti jars, washed in the dishwasher (original metal lids are fine too)
  4. whisk
  5. igloo cooler
  6. bath towel
  7. a few rags or dishtowels 
  8. oven mitt
Directions:
  1. Remove the starter yogurt from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the next steps. 
  2. Starting with clean jars, place them on top of a rag in your pot. The rags keeps the jars from jangling around enough to annoy you and/or crack. Fill the jars with milk, leaving 1-inch headspace at the top (for the yogurt later). Fill the pot three-quarters full with water. 
  3. Put the pot on the stove. Add the thermometer. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until the milk is at least 180ºF, preferably 185ºF. It is important not to heat the milk too fast, both for the risk of scalding and because fast heating leads to grainy, odd-textured yogurt. Contrary to common belief, you aren't heating the milk to kill any bad bacteria; the heating process just gives you a thicker yogurt. In fact, the longer you leave it at 185º, the thicker the end product will be, but even if you take it off the heat right away, it should be plenty thick. 
  4. When the milk is 185ºF, remove the jars from the pot to a dry dishtowel on the counter. Cool the milk to 115ºF. Some how-tos tell you to put the yogurt in an ice bath to cool it more quickly; you only want to do this step if you are starting with a pan of milk, not with the milk already in the jars. If you start with jars like me, putting them in an ice bath could cause a crack.
  5. When the milk is 115ºF, add 2 Tbs. tablespoons of yogurt to each QT jar (for a spaghetti jar, one Tbs. will do the trick). Another myth to bust is that adding more yogurt yields a thicker end product; it seems the opposite "less is more" axiom holds true instead.
  6. Screw on lids and place the jars in a bath towel-lined cooler. Tuck the jars under the towel like a baby taking a snug nap, and leave the jars in the cooler for at least 6 hours; I leave mine for 7 hours. The longer you leave it, the tangier it will be. Transfer the jars from the cooler to the fridge to cool completely; it will thicken a bit more as it cools.

Notes:

  • Starter yogurt: I have never bought any "yogurt cultures" that are sold specifically for making yogurt at home. I began my batches with commercial plain yogurt (Stonyfield, Oikos, etc.) that has active cultures but no artificial thickeners like pectin. Read the labels. Now I just make sure to save a 1/2 cup of my last yogurt before starting anew. You can also freeze a bit of yogurt as a back-up in case you forget to save it; the freezing process does not kill the active cultures.
  • Milk: Ultra-pasteurization is a process that heats the milk to an extremely high temperature very quickly, which results in a more shelf-stable product. The problem is that the heating process also changes the whey proteins so that yogurt will not set up properly. We use milk from a local farm; because it doesn't travel far, it is even cheaper than national brands of organic milk.
  • What to do with your yogurt: Although the girls and I do eat plain yogurt on occasion and enjoy its tanginess, I also like to dress it up. If I'm sending it in a lunchbox, I usually swirl in some homemade jam (blueberry is the oft-requested favorite) for a "fruit on the bottom" effect. It is delightful this way and reminds me of the Danon of my childhood. At home, we add any of the following accoutrements: honey, shredded coconut, granola, and/or dried raisins and cranberries. Some days the girls will ask for dessert, and I'll give them more yogurt with some fruit and call it a parfait!
Author's note: This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.

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