We love yogurt at our house – it’s a healthy sour cream alternative, great for cooling down spicy foods, a quick and easy dessert when paired with fresh or canned fruit, yummy in smoothies, a tasty and filling topping for pancakes and waffles. But I don’t like wasting plastic containers, so the golopomo way is to make it myself.
Here’s my recipe for yogurt made at home, with no special equipment except an optional candy thermometer. The hardest part about it is remembering to check on the milk throughout its stages of heating and cooling. Bare-bones instructions are in bold font for you skimmers.
Easy Homemade Yogurt
Fill a quart-size Mason jar with milk. (only to top of shoulders, not into neck area). Or if you don’t care about extra dishes, measure one quart (4 cups) of milk in a measuring cup.
Pour milk in a saucepan. Insert a candy thermometer. Heat the milk, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 180 degrees F. Or, if no thermometer, until bubbles form on top of milk (but don’t let it boil).
While milk is heating, rinse Mason jar and then add yogurt (with live cultures) until it covers the bottom of the jar (approximately 1/2-1 tablespoon, no more).
Once milk has reached 180 degrees F, remove from heat and let it cool, stirring occasionally. When the thermometer registers 110 degrees F (or if no thermometer, when milk no longer “bites” your finger when you dip your finger into it), pour the milk into the Mason jar. Use a funnel!
Immediately wrap the jar in dish towels and place it in a cooler or insulated container of some sort.
Let the yogurt incubate for 4 hours or more. Overnight is best. You can eat it right away after incubation, or refrigerate for longer storage.
Save a little yogurt for your next batch!
Notes and Extras:
This is plain yogurt – no flavors – tangy, not sweet. You can flavor it when you serve it – add sugar/maple syrup/fruit juice for sweetening, and vanilla or almond or berry puree for flavoring. Or whatever else you want to try! But plain is best if you’re using it as a sour cream alternative.
You could use a quart-size thermos instead of a Mason jar, and then you may not need to do any further insulating for the incubation period. But you’d probably want a thermos dedicated to this purpose because it might pick up the smell/flavor of yogurt. Also I’m not sure about storing a thermos in the fridge, so you may end up with extra dishes if you transfer it from the thermos to a jar or other container for storage.
For the incubation period, some people use a dehydrator or gas oven with pilot light on, or the top of a refrigerator – any warm place where it will maintain a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This recipe suggests placing it in a bowl of warm water that you reheat from time to time.
Remember that if you add yogurt to something you’re cooking or baking so that it gets heated to over 130 degrees F, you will kill the live cultures and lose much of its healthful benefits. But that’s still a fine way to use it up if needed.
You can strain yogurt to make a simple cream-cheese alternative. Line a colander with clean dish towels, cheesecloth or coffee filters, and let it drip over a bowl until the yogurt in the colander thickens like a soft cheese. The drained liquid is called whey, and you can use it in cooking or baking (but, again, if you overheat it, you will kill the good live cultures). You could also add whey to smoothies, or soak grains in it before cooking, or get creative and try your own ideas! The yogurt cheese can be spread on toast, or you could try subbing it for ricotta or cream cheese in other recipes (if you’re willing to kill the live cultures by cooking it).
This recipe works well for cow’s milk, and I would guess it might work for goat’s milk too. I may try it next with soy milk; my cursory research tells me that the simple dairy-yogurt method works with soy milk too.
I have tried this recipe with packaged almond milk, with poor results (it separated, but I used it for baking just as I would have used any other milk, and that worked fine. So at least no waste!). Making my own almond milk and then yogurt-izing it is a future project I want to try. I found a recipe for that here, which looks quite good. The blogger says it’s a bit sour, but I prefer sour yogurt to sweet, which encouraged me since other almond-milk yogurt recipes I’ve seen include adding a sweetener.