Here at the Bear Cave, Barbara and I eat yogurt nearly every day. It shows up on the breakfast table with hot grain cereal in the winter and homemade granola in the summer. We love the tartness of our yogurt contrasting with the subtle, sweet honey flavor of granola. By carefully selecting the yogurt “starter,” we can control the flavor so it is consistent and tasty every time. Years ago, we had a yogurt maker with four little cups in a row nestled in a heated chamber. The machine was plugged in and “voila,” yogurt would result. Unfortunately, I like yogurt a lot. I eat it on my breakfast cereal and in the evening with fruit or even a bit of local honey as my evening treat. The little machine just couldn’t keep up.
Now, with very little fuss and no special equipment, we enjoy the knowledge that there is always yogurt in the fridge. The security of good food on hand is a happy thing. The “tools” Barbara uses to produce great yogurt are simple and handy – a three-quart saucepan, a simple whisk, an instant-read thermometer, a small travel cooler and a couple “squeaky clean” old quart mayo jars. With these, Barbara provides us with firm, tart yogurt for the price of whole milk. We tend to use organic milk, which drives the price up a bit, but equally tasty yogurt can be made with any quality whole milk.
Beyond the great eating yogurt provides, there are significant health benefits to this great food. The cultures in “live” yogurt assist digestion. This is especially true for those who have taken antibiotics for a time. Yogurt can reestablish necessary flora in the intestines so necessary for good digestion and good health.
The first step toward great yogurt is simply heating milk to 180 degrees F in a saucepan. Barbara generally makes 2 quarts of yogurt and uses a 3-quart saucepan. Care should be taken not to burn the milk so this step requires some consistent attention.
When the thermometer reads 180 degrees, the saucepan of milk can be placed in the sink in a couple inches of cool water. We use a half gallon milk jug with frozen water to cool the milk quickly. Monitor the temperature and when the milk reaches 110 degrees, remove the pan from the cool water.
For a richer yogurt, Barbara adds 1/2 cup of NON-INSTANT powdered milk to the pan and stirs it in with a whisk before adding the starter. After the powdered milk is well blended, add 2 tablespoons per quart of room temperature yogurt. This process is similar to using sourdough starter. Typically, we retain the last four tablespoons of yogurt to serve as a starter for a new batch. Every few months, we will introduce a new strain of starter by buying a small container of good commercial yogurt to reinvigorate the process. Be sure the new yogurt has the degree of tartness you prefer. Not all plain yogurts are equal by any means. Also, be sure your yogurt starter is at room temperature or it will cool the entire mixture and have a negative impact on your yogurt.
After both the powdered milk and yogurt starter are completely blended into the milk, pour the mixture into “squeaky clean” jars. We simply use old mayo jars. Barbara washes and rinses them carefully, but does not sterilize them as you would for canning.
The jars are closed with the plastic lids and placed in our old camping cooler up to their necks in 110-degree water. Monitor the temperature of the water periodically as the yogurt ferments. Because consistent temperature is important, a thermometer reading is made every two hours or so.
If the temperature of the water drops, remove some of the water from the cooler and replace it with hot water until the desired 110 degrees is established. This part of the process takes from 8-10 hours. But, other than a few checks for temperature control, really doesn’t involve any effort.
When the yogurt is ready, it will have a firm texture with little or no liquid at the neck of the jar. Barbara places the jars in a large bowl with cold water up to the necks of the jars prior to placing the jars in the refrigerator. More or less yogurt can be made in any one batch simply by adjusting the amounts of milk, powdered milk, and starter. Our two-quart recipe lets us enjoy homemade yogurt for desserts and breakfast for about 10 days. Additional uses of homemade yogurt at our house include substituting for sour cream in bean burritos and on pancakes and waffles.
We hope you enjoy both the eating and the making of homemade yogurt.