Our family is nuts about yogurt. Especially of the plain and simple variety. I’m not exactly sure how, but my kids – who love sweets in every other context – continue to prefer their yogurt rich, creamy and unsweetened. This all means that we were going to through 3-4 32. oz tubs a week. Cost not withstanding, recycling that many yogurt containers began to feel incredibly wasteful. I tried creative reuse at first but one can only hold on to so many empties before they overtake the house. Even the preschool had politely declined donations. I knew it was time to get over my fear of culturing my own food and forge ahead toward homemade. With one caveat: the finish product had to taste just like our favorite Straus Family Creamery yogurt or else. Actually, two caveats: the kids would have to eat it without complaint.
With very little trial and error and a few months of practice, I’ve earned enough yogurt-making props from family and friends to officially go public with the technique. As you’ll see, the beneficial bacteria really do all of the work.
Ingredients and tools
- 6 cups whole milk and 2 cups half and half (pick your favorite, don’t use ultra-pasteurized versions)*
- 2 tbsp of your favorite plain yogurt**
- a candy or meat thermometer (digital is nice, but not required)
- a pot large enough to hold 8 cups of liquid
- a small to mid-size cooler***
- a ladle
- a canning funnel is nice but not required
- 3 quart-sized clean mason jars, with covers. The plastic Ball covers are a gem for this project.
Process, in 5 simple steps
- Heat 6 cups of milk and 2 cups of half-and-half to 160-180º (sterilization temperature). This takes about 10 minutes. Speaking from experience, this is not the time to leave the stove. Milk heats quickly and spills are a bear to clean. Hold onto your measuring cup for step 3.
- Turn off the heat, remove pot from stove, and allow it to cool to the incubation temperature, anywhere from 90-110º. This takes about an hour at my house, for 8 cups of liquid. But could take longer or shorter depending on ambient air temperature. This is a fine time to let the milk be, and do myriad other things, as long as you check it periodically and set a timer reminder.
- Once incubation temperature is reached, pour a little milk into the measuring cup, add 2 tbsp. of yogurt and combine well. Return this milk/yogurt mixture to the pot of cooled milk, give it another couple of stirs.
- Decant (with the funnel if on hand) the cooled milk/yogurt mixture into mason jars, eyeballing even proportions. The jars won’t be full.
- Place the three jars into a small cooler, then fill cooler to just above the top of the milk with the hottest water coming out of your tap. Cover and let rest for anywhere from 6-12 hours. Overnight works great.
Once the milk and cream have turned to yogurt, refrigerate, whisk if desired and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. This is seriously delicious yogurt. Dress it up with honey or fruit jam, drizzle on pancakes, or eat as is.
Notes and Explanations
* I started making yogurt with whole milk alone but found that the texture was somewhat runny. There are several ways to thicken homemade yogurt that I explored, including trying to drain the whey (read: make a huge, wasteful mess). Adding a cup of cream – either via half-and-half or directly – worked perfectly and tastes amazing. Remember: quality fat is good for you, in moderation of course!
** A ratio of 2 tbsp. “starter” yogurt to 6-8 cups of milk/cream works really well. You can also scale this up.
*** There are lots of different options for incubating the yogurt at the right temperature, ranging from buying a yogurt maker (not an option for my maxed out kitchen) to putting it an oven with the pilot light on. I love the hot water in a cooler approach. It is foolproof and relatively waste free, especially if you find a way to reuse the water.