Last week, I was seriously stuck on inspiration for a blog post. I wanted to make something, and I wanted to blog about it. But I was running low on a lot of ingredients and didn’t have the time (or energy!) to make a run to the store. I looked into my fridge, and there I found my answer– a too-full carton of milk and a nearly-empty container of Greek yogurt.
Could I culture yogurt myself? Could I do it in a way that was simple and stress free? And could I teach other people to do it, too?
(The answers to the first two questions turned out to be “Yes!” The answer to the last one is for you to determine.)
I know it seems like a lot could go wrong with yogurt– failed cultures, bad bacteria, sour milk. I’ve had a couple of yogurt fails myself, when I tried to culture yogurt in coconut milk, and then again when I tried it with nut milk. Did not work.
But there’s a very simple method for yogurt-making that, when followed, yields beautiful and consistent results.
Here’s how it goes:
Go to the store, or look in your fridge, and pick out some yogurt to use as a starter culture. Look for something with “live and active cultures,” including S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus.
Pasteurize your milk, or buy pasteurized milk. Use cow’s milk, always.
Put your milk in a saucepan and bring it to 200 F, just below a boil. Hold it there. 20 minutes for thick yogurt, 10 minutes for thinner yogurt. Let the heat work on the milk proteins– this step changes protein structures so your yogurt can set up firm.
Stir to prevent scorching, or simply strain your milk before you culture.
Rapidly cool your milk to 110-115 F.
Grab a jar, and add a little yogurt as your starter culture. Whisk in a little warm milk until the mixture is smooth.
Pour in the rest of the warm milk, straining out scorched bits if necessary.
Cover your container and put it in a warm place so the yogurt can set up. You’ll want to put it in a barely-warm oven if possible, and hold the culture at 110-115 F while the yogurt sets. Any higher will kill of good bacteria, and any lower will keep it from growing. At least 4 hours, and up to overnight. Wait until the yogurt sets firm before refrigerating, and allow it to culture longer if you like your yogurt tart.
Your yogurt should look something like this when done! The whey will be lightly cloudy and have separated out on top. The yogurt will be firm or semi-solid.
Watch out for off colors, smells, or textures! Your yogurt should look and taste like yogurt. If it doesn’t, that could be a sign that bad bacteria has taken over your culture. Toss it and start over. (Better to make a new batch of yogurt than risk food poisoning.)
This method was so easy to follow, and I’ll definitely be trying it again the next time I have too much milk in my fridge.
This recipe should make you a simple, delicious, nearly foolproof yogurt. If you’re curious about what variations you can make, look to these guides from The Kitchn and The National Center for Home Food Preservation for more details.
Use your homemade yogurt to make this Simple Blood Orange Yogurt Bowl… Or look out for another yogurt bowl recipe later this week!
How to Make Yogurt
An easy way to culture yogurt at home.
- 2 cups pasteurized dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live active cultures
- In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, or periodically hold it in the milk to check temperature. Bring the milk to 200 F.
- Hold the milk at 200 F, continuing to stir. Hold for 10 minutes for thinner yogurt, or 20 minutes for thicker yogurt.
- Remove the milk from heat and cool rapidly to 112-115 F. Use an ice bath to cool if necessary, and stir while cooling to prevent a skin from forming.
- Add the two tablespoons of yogurt to a 2-cup container. Pour in a little bit of the cooled milk and whisk to form a smooth liquid mixture. Pour in the rest of the milk, using a strainer to catch any scorched milk or skins that have formed.
- Cover or close your yogurt container and place it in a warm location to set. An oven that has been turned to low and then shut off is ideal. (Leaving on an oven light also works.) The yogurt should maintain a temperature of 110-115 F while it sets. Avoid anything higher, which could kill your culture.
- Let the yogurt set for a minimum of 4 hours. The yogurt should set up firm in this time frame, and there should be a few tablespoons of cloudy whey over the top. Allowing the yogurt to set for 4 hours will result in a mild, creamy flavor. For a sharper or more tart yogurt, let it set up for 6-8 hours, or overnight.
- Check your yogurt for doneness before refrigerating. It should have no odd colors or flavors, and should look and taste like the yogurt you buy at the grocery store. Your yogurt might turn out to be a little less firm or a little more tart than what you’re used to, but there should be no further variation. If your yogurt tastes off or varies in color, that could be a sign that another bacteria has
- Cool the yogurt and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can pour off the excess whey or stir it back into the yogurt.
- For your next batch of homemade yogurt, just save a few spoonfuls of the previous batch to culture with.
Any kind of dairy milk works with this method– whole, reduced fat, skim, or nonfat. I haven’t tried culturing yogurt this way with alternate milks like goat, sheep, or buffalo. I also haven’t tested this method with non-dairy milks like almond or coconut. This method is *not* likely to work for these alternate milks, since the yogurt setting up firmly is dependent on the milk’s protein structures. Begin with a yogurt that has live and active cultures and counting at least S. thermophilus and L. Bulgaricus. Both should be listed on the container. You can easily double, triple, or quadruple this recipe to make as much yogurt as you’d like. If you’re going for a quart of yogurt, use one quart of milk to 1/4 cup yogurt. You will need a kitchen thermometer (a candy thermometer works fine) and a warm place for your yogurt to set. You can heat your milk over a water bath to skip the frequent stirring and prevent scorching. You will have to be monitor temperature more carefully if you use this method.