Friday, March 13, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

As I've been looking around for ways to trim the grocery budget, yogurt stands out as an obvious choice. At $3 a quart for Nancy's yogurt, it seemed worth figuring out if I could do better.

I hauled the yogurt maker out of Narnia,* and gave it a try. It worked reasonably well, but reminded me why it was consigned to Narnia in the first place -- it makes eight 4-ounce cups, which is way too much fuss and bother.

So I turned to middle Joy to learn how to make yogurt without a special machine. Middle Joy (1975) is the go-to version of The Joy of Cookingfor do-it-yourself back-to-the-land recipes. Middle Joy suggests using the oven, but ours doesn't have a low enough temperature setting. It also suggests just putting the yogurt in a cooler to work its magic. Bingo! We have a beverage cooler that is just the right size to hold a quart canning jar.

Making Yogurt in a Cooler

This recipe is very simple. The only time consuming bit is waiting for the milk to cool.

I have tried using nonfat milk and supplementing with a bit of dry milk powder as a thickening agent, but haven't had very good results, so now I use fresh milk with 1% fat. I don't generally drink milk but, since milk is much cheaper by the gallon, I buy a gallon and freeze the rest for later yogurt making.

I find that yogurt made with yogurt as a starter tastes a bit better than yogurt made with powdered starter. Also, a box of 6 packets of powdered starter costs about as much as 6 yogurt cups. so you might as well get the extra yogurt for your money. If you make yogurt frequently enough, you can use your last batch of yogurt as a starter for the next batch, and not have to buy starter at all.

  • 1 quart milk
  • yogurt starter (per package instructions) or 2 tablespoons of reasonably fresh yogurt (less than 5 days old) with live cultures
  1. Heat the milk to 185-190 degrees F (a digital thermometer with an alarm makes this easy). This takes about 8 minutes.
  2. Cool the milk to 110-115 degrees F (this takes roughly half an hour at room temperature).
  3. Put starter in a separate cup, mix in a little of the warm milk, add it back to the rest, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour mixture into a quart canning jar and put in cooler. Add towels on top of the jar to fill up any extra air space inside the cooler.
  5. Let cooler sit undisturbed for about 10 hours. (Jostling interferes with yogh-ing).
  6. Refrigerate yogurt.

Bread Machine as Yogurt Maker?

Despite the manifold virtues of the cooler system, I wasn't satisfied at first, because it's not particularly easy to get the yogurt out of the tall quart jar. Two wide-mouth pint jars are better for serving but, stacked on top of each other, they're too tall for my cooler. Of course, I didn't discover this until I had them loaded and ready to go.

As I stood in uffish thought, I noticed my bread machine (another fantastic money saver - over time). The jars fit perfectly into the machine's loaf pan. I made a custom program that didn't do any kneading and spent as long as possible on each of the pre-heat and warm cycles. Unfortunately, my particular machine forces you to include a bake cycle in the custom program, and maxes out at 6 hours for the other cycles. So I set my kitchen timer for 6 hours, came back before the bake cycle, restarted the custom program and took the yogurt out after another 4 hours.

I was pleased I could make it work, but the process was too much fuss for me - I'll live with yogurt in a quart jar from now on.

*Narnia is our random term for deep storage of unneeded kitchen wares -- couldn't say why. Neither can we explain why the food processor is called the Gorbachev -- it just is.

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