Yogurt famously splashed into mainstream American consciousness sometime in the early to mid-’60s as a health food, along with granola, juicing and wholewheat everything. I had a yogurt maker back then, a simple little electric heating platform that held four cute porcelain dishes, each with its own fitted glass lid. You could monitor the milk’s progress without disturbing the process; as it got closer to being yogurt, lots of water vapor collected inside the lids. The procedure, essentially as simple now as it was then, is to add a small amount of commercial yogurt to the milk of your choice and leave it in a warm place to incubate.
In the meantime, commercial yogurt has morphed into less of a healthy food and more into a vehicle for loads of sugar, preservatives and hormones. Simultaneously, we’re beginning to better understand the important role probiotic organisms play in helping maintain the natural balance of microflora in our guts—and yogurt, the organic, probiotic kind, is high in these “good” microorganisms.
So why not make your own? You’ll not only avoid all the additives, your homemade yogurt will be of clearly superior quality: creamier, cleaner.
1 quart whole milk (or lowfat, non-fat, unsweetened soy milk, goat’s milk)
1/4 cup plain whole milk probiotic yogurt (that is: containing live, active cultures)
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the milk, stirring gently to prevent scorching, until it reaches 185° on a thermometer (candy thermometer or an instant-read type). Remove milk from heat, keeping the thermometer in the pot.
When the milk cools to 115°, pour a cup of milk into a small bowl and gently stir in the yogurt, whisking briefly. When it’s smooth, stir back into the pan of milk.
Now comes the incubation period. The milk needs to stay at around 110(no lower) until it has set. One excellent suggestion is to warm your oven to 115, then turn the oven off, put the lid on your Dutch oven or saucepan and wrap it in several towels to insulate it. Place in oven and watch the time. Another method is to pour the mixture into a sterilized 32-ounce glass jar and keep it in a warm spot, covered, in your kitchen.
At 4 hours for the oven method, 10 hours for the jar, taste the yogurt. It will be creamy and loosely set. If you like this texture, your yogurt is done. For a thicker, tangier consistency, let yogurt sit an additional 3 to 5 hours.
Leave in its original container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before eating. Separate into smaller containers; leave plain or add honey, fruit, maple syrup, vanilla flavoring—experiment! Makes 1 quart of yogurt that lasts about 2 weeks refrigerated. For your next batch, save out 1/4 cup of your plain homemade yogurt as the starter.
For Greek yogurt:
Line a medium-large bowl with a piece of cheesecloth big enough to enclose two cups of your homemade yogurt. Put it into the center of the cloth, gather the four corners of the cloth together, lift the yogurt over the bowl and twist the corners to squeeze out the liquid to drain through the cloth until most of the surface liquid is drained and it’s now dripping more slowly. Tie the cloth just above the yogurt with string, place into a colander or strainer inside a bowl (don’t let it touch bottom). Refrigerate the bowl and continue to drain another 2 to 3 hours.
Remove cloth containing yogurt, place it in the sink (don’t untie it yet) and squeeze out any remaining liquid with your hands. Then remove the string and, using a spatula, scrape the yogurt into a bowl. It will be extra-thick and delicious, the consistency of sour cream or thicker.
Story by Gail Snyder