Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making Yogurt

There's not much in the way of an ingredient list or cooking times when it comes to making yogurt this way, but I still need some sort of reference post to go to when I forget the numbers or ranges involved in the process. Here's my yogurt tale.

My kids love yogurt, and before I realized we could make it at home, it was only a once in a long time treat. Those little 1 qt tubs for $3 that are gone in one meal after everyone got one serving each, just weren't all that affordable. And besides... they were always runny. Sloupy. Not to mention, the flavored ones were more like candy (with all the sugar and food coloring you have no control over) and the flavor options were limited.

One evening when were were at Chasm's house way back in May, Chasm's Lady offered me some yogurt that she'd made. It was plain yogurt - I usually avoided plain yogurt because it always seemed bitter to me. But I tried her yogurt, and it was good! Really good, even though it was plain. I could perfectly picture sweetening it just a tiny bit with honey and having an absolutely delicious desert. I asked about how she'd made it and got a few vague approximate values. She'd followed some advice/recipe online using a crockpot, but it wasn't a picky process, so she didn't have exact information for me, but she did send me home with a small tub of it.

So, I looked online and found as many recipes/instruction methods using a crock pot as I could, and compared the likenesses and differences and tried it myself. My first try turned out perfectly, and that was the end of store-bought yogurt for us.

Anyway, as long as I made a batch of yogurt every week, the information was fresh enough in my mind that I didn't have to go looking up details, but toward the end of September we went on a trip and when we got home the last of the leftover yogurt in the fridge had spoiled which meant I didn't have a starter to work with. By the time I got around to finding some, I couldn't remember all the particulars in my process. So I had to start over finding all the online information to compare and after that I decided to write down my own version for reference. Finally I got around to taking some pictures during the process to go with my post.

Crock Pot Yogurt

The tools and ingredients.

  • Milk - Any kind is supposed to work, but the closer to whole milk makes for the best results. So far I've only tried whole milk, so I don't know what kind of changes would need to be made for other types yet.
  • Yogurt with live/active cultures for a starter. I've only used plain yogurt for a starter. I don't know if you can use a flavored yogurt or how it would turn out if you did. The ratio of yogurt to milk is 1 cup to a gallon.
  • A Thermometer. It has to be able to register as low as 110° and as high as 180° F. I have a digital meat thermometer and a dial candy thermometer, and I still can't decide which I like best.
  • A Crock Pot. It just needs to have a 'low' setting and must be big enough to hold the amount of milk you're turning into yogurt.
  • Thick bath towel. For extra insulation.
  • Small mixing bowl, Whisk, Stirring spoon & Mesh colander or fine seive.

    The Directions: (more or less)

    1. The first step is just putting the milk in the crock pot, making sure the lid in on and setting it to 'low'. I stir and check the temperature every hour or so and usually coming straight from the fridge, it takes my crock pot approximately 3 or 4 hours to reach 180° which is what you need it to reach before going on to the next step.

    2. Once the milk has reached 180°, turn the crock pot off, stir the milk, and leave the lid off. Now the milk has to cool to 110° so that you can add the starter. Again, I stir and check the temperature every so often. This is when you take the 'starter' yogurt out of the fridge to start coming to room temperature. If it's too cold, it will cool the milk down too much and the yogurt turns out sloupy. Hm, I think I like that word.

    3. When the milk has cooled down to the 110°-115° range (for me this takes another hour or two depending on how often I stir it), scoop out twice the amount of starter you will use into the mixing bowl and add the starter to it. For example, if you're making a gallon of yogurt, you'll be using a cup of starter, so you're going to take out 2 cups of warm milk to mix the starter into.

    4. This step is probably still part of the last one, but I'm going to separate it, to emphasize my point. Make sure to mix the 'starter' and warm milk well. Then once you add it back into the crock pot of milk, make sure to mix it well there too. But once it's mixed into the warm milk, DO NOT MIX IT ANY MORE. This is when the yogurt cultures need to 'incubate' and do their work. Stirring it disturbs the process and alters the final outcome. You want to do this step quickly, because the more you stir, and the longer you take, the faster you'll lose your target temperature of 110°.

    5. As soon as your starter mix is stirred into the crock pot, put the lid back on, check your temperature and then completely wrap the crock pot (which is still OFF at this point) with the bath towel. The idea here is to try to keep the temperature at 110° for 7 to 8 HOURS. I check the temperature every couple of hours (unless it's sitting overnight).

    If the temperature drops too quickly, I'll turn the crock pot back on for 10 minutes, but REMEMBER TO TURN IT OFF AGAIN!!! I completely cooked my last batch of yogurt because we got sidetracked doing a puzzle before the kids had to go to bed and by the time I remembered my yogurt it was back up to 165°. Anything over 120° will kill the yogurt culture and I haven't figured out what to do with a ruined gallon of milk/yogurt stuff. It has to be usable some how, but it'll need some experimentation.

    After 8 hours, the yogurt starter/culture will have done it's trick, and you'll be almost done. This is when you can stir it up, and stick the whole batch in the refrigerator to stop the process completely. The longer you leave the yogurt un-stirred and not chilled, the tangier the plain yogurt will be. So the amount of disturbance you choose, is up to you. I usually just give it a quick stir, and put it in the fridge for a few hours at least because there's one more step I like to go through to avoid sloupiness.

    6. Finally, I drain the yogurt. Some people put the whole batch in a cheesecloth and let it drain from 2 or 3 hours to overnight, but I like to drain it in smaller amounts. One reason is that I don't usually have cheesecloth floating around, and the other reason, is that I need to get my giant crock pot out of the refrigerator since it takes up way more space than is really practical. Plastic containers with flat lids stack so much nicer than a 5 qt crock pot with a dome lid on it. I fill my little strainer and place it over a container on the counter to catch the whey. After 45 min to an hour, I dump the drained yogurt into an empty container, put it in the fridge and then repeat the process until the whole batch is drained. If I use more than one strainer, the time to drain the whole batch is even less. I make sure to stir each strainer-worth into the rest of the drained yogurt when I add it, and the result is a thick, creamy, delicious yogurt.

    You can eat it plain, or add almost anything to it. We've tried mint jelly, orange marmalade, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped peaches and blueberries among a handful of other ideas. It's the breakfast AND snack of choice around here - especially with a spoonful of homemade strawberry jam or a swirl or two of honey stirred in. The only drawback is that a batch never lasts more than a week even when I ration it out. Apparantly, you can store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, but I haven't had a chance to test that since ours is always gone long before that estimate.

    Just make sure to take enough out to save for your next batch's starter. Also, the starter yogurt can be frozen! This is especially nice if you're not going to get to making another batch right away. Or when you accidently let someone eat the last of the yogurt before you remembered to take some out for a starter. Or when you cook your yogurt to death like my last batch.

  • 1 comment:

    1. Thanks for the great tutorial! Looking forward to trying it out. a. kathy