Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You Made This? Yogurt

Last week, I attended a class in town put on by Lisa from the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Community and Heidi Thompson from Painted Hill Farm. The intent of the class was to teach us "re-skills"--things that everyone used to know how to do but don't commonly do any more due to modern convenience. The skills we were to learn that night were how to make cheese, butter, and yogurt. I went with the intent of learning something interesting, taking a class with a friend, and that was it. There's no way, I thought, that I would have time to make yogurt. I figured it would be some tedious process.

I was so wrong!

Making yogurt at home couldn't be easier. It took about an hour of my time, plus 4-5 hours to allow the cultures in the yogurt to thrive, and I had yogurt! It's so much cheaper to make your own, too. My favorite brand, Stonyfield, is about $1.20 for a small container. It cost me $2.99 (or $3.99, I can't remember for sure) for the organic milk and the $1.20 for a container of yogurt to use as a starter, and after a little work, I had a half gallon of homemade yogurt.

I used whole milk, but you could also use 1 or 2 percent.

Pour the milk into a large pot. You'll want to heat it gently until it reaches 185F.

I don't normally recommend kitchen gadgets, but a kitchen thermometer is a great tool. Mr. Kim Chee bought me a digital thermometer a while back and while I don't use it all the time, it's a great thing to have on hand.

I set my burner on medium to medium-low, stuck the thermometer in, and let it do its own thing.

Heating the milk alters the proteins in the milk. It creates a finer, denser consistency.
It took about 40 minutes for the milk to reach that temp. You can see in the picture that the milk is starting to bubble a little.

Once the milk has reached 185F, it's time to cool it down. I filled my sink partway with cold water and ice cubes and stuck a bowl in to pour the milk into. I strained the milk because I didn't stir it at all while it heated and I could feel some milk bits on the bottom. You'd probably be safe skipping this step, though.

I popped my thermometer in and started gently stirring to cool the milk down. You could just put your pot or bowl in the fridge, too.

After about 20 minutes of fairly consistent stirring, the milk was down to 120F, right where I wanted it. It was time to add the yogurt starter.

I used 4 really large tablespoons of the yogurt. I used Stonyfield because it's my favorite brand, I had it on hand, and it has 6 live cultures in it. Whatever brand you like would work fine, as long as there are active live cultures there.
 I thinned the yogurt with a little of the cooled milk.

I stirred the milk and yogurt together until they were smooth. Then I poured the yogurt mixture into the milk.

I wanted a little subtle flavor so I added two tablespoons of vanilla.

I sweetened the yogurt a little with two tablespoons of honey.

I got this honey as a gift from someone on the Internet. It's definitely not local to me, but it's also definitely delicious!

Look at those great little vanilla flecks!

Now here's where I went wrong. The instructions said to pour the yogurt into a jar or an insulated container. Well, all my jars are being used. They're full of beans and pasta.

Looks like it's time for me to buy more jars.
So instead of using a jar, I poured the yogurt into a plastic Tupperware container.

Well, the idea was good, but I think the container let the heat escape and wasn't condusive to allowing the cultures to thrive. My yogurt didn't set up as much as I thought it would. I knew it would be a runner product, but it really was too thin. Next time I will buy some more Ball jars and try again.

Anyhow. Whatever container you choose to host your yogurt will need to be wrapped up to keep the heat in. Set it somewhere warm. If you have a stove with a pilot light, you can keep it in the oven with the light on. I have an electric stove, so I set my yogurt on top of the fridge.

Let the yogurt hang out somewhere warm for at least 4 hours. This will help the cultures get busy and give your yogurt its tang.

After the yogurt has set, you can put it in the fridge where it will firm up more. I was pretty excited to be able to eat my own yogurt for breakfast! Once you've seen how easy it is, I bet you'll want to try it yourself! I topped mine with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. Mr. Kim Chee is planning to try it out with some Great Granola.I've got other plans for homemade yogurt too--what about in Lamb Curry instead of coconut milk or in Buttermilk Pancakes or Honey-Pepper Cornbread instead of buttermilk? So many possibilities!

Oh, and keep a few tablespoons of your homemade yogurt to start your next batch. You'll never have to buy expensive yogurt again!

Recipe: You Made This? Yogurt

1/2 gallon milk (I used whole but you could use 2% or 1% as well)
4 tablespoons of a "starter" yogurt (any yogurt that has active, live yogurt cultures)
2 tbsp. vanilla (optional)
2 tbsp. honey (optional)

Heat the milk to 185F. The milk will begin steaming and bubbling slightly.

Cool the milk to 120F.

Thin yogurt with some of the cooled milk; add yogurt to the cooled milk.

Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into a jar or insulated bottle. Cover and keep in a warm place until it sets (4-5 hours).

Once the yogurt sets, refrigerate it to firm up more. Eat!

If you want a thicker yogurt, strain in cheesecloth and let the excess liquid drain.

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