I can be impulsive at times. I admit it without apology. An idea pops into my head and the next thing I know, I’m up to my elbows in a new project. This tendency is not exclusive to cooking by any means, but more often than not it does seem to involve food. Most times, the Muse stays for a while, and then passes softly, harmlessly, curling away like fog on little cat feet to tickle someone else’s fancy, and lets me go–ideally without having bought a lot of new equipment.
One evening last week I sat curled up on the couch, engrossed in a book called No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, when I read these words: “So my friend emailed me her mom’s recipe, and I made it for the first time that night. It’s the best. I’d thought you needed some sort of machine to make yogurt, but no way. You boil a quart of milk, wait until it cools enough to stick your finger in, mix in a tablespoon of yogurt culture, transfer it to a container and cover with a blanket, then wait until morning and—yippee—you’ve got yogurt. Mix with honey. Delicious.”
I stopped reading and gazed into the middle distance in wonderment. I eat a lot of yogurt. How had I lived this long without making my own? I liked the idea at once. It would be economical, fresh and delicious, with no additives, no packaging, and I could use the dairy thermometer from last summer’s cheese making project! Destiny had sent me a telegram and I hastened into action.
After enough of these spur of the moment projects, I know that they are never quite as easy as promised. I needed more information, so I did a quick Google search on “how to make yogurt” and gathered more details on temperatures, incubation times, and possible pitfalls before heading out to the co-op for supplies.
Fast forward to first thing on Sunday morning (by which I mean early Sunday afternoon) at Michael’s place. I’ve gathered my milk, yogurt culture, thermometer, and heating pad. I’ve also brought along my trusty copy of The New Laurel’s Kitchen, because for a project like this, it’s best to go straight to the source of all whole-foods inspiration.
I carefully lay out my supplies like a scrub nurse before open heart surgery. Michael has made a few Dr. Frankenstein jokes, but I can tell he’s getting curious. He pokes his head into the kitchen periodically as I slowly heat up my milk, dairy thermometer hovering at the ready. I heat, then cool, then stir in the culture before pouring the milk into containers.
The nascent yogurt rests on the heating pad, tucked in snugly under its towel like a napping baby, to maintain a consistent temperature. My sources warned against jiggling the yogurt while it was setting. I mostly resist peeking and poking at it for the first 4 hours, the amount of time my package of starter culture says it will take for the yogurt to set. I go for a run. I retire to the bathtub with Laurel’s Kitchen and a glass of whiskey. At the four hour mark, the yogurt is still not set. Not at five hours, nor six. I review the process, but can’t think of anywhere I’ve gone wrong. I wring my hands a bit and consider throwing it out and starting over. At seven, it’s finally beginning to set. I go home and leave it to Michael to refrigerate the yogurt after eight hours of incubation.
Monday morning, I get a text from Michael reporting that the yogurt turned out fine. I stop by his house after dinner, and we share a bowl of yogurt, with a spoonful of blackberry jam and a handful of berries stirred in. Delicious.
Between us, we finish off the rest this week. Studded with berries, drizzled with honey, and strewn with granola, this yogurt opens up a can of whup-ass and pours it all over the store bought stuff. The last 1/4 cup becomes the starter for the next batch.
Today, batch #2 of homemade yogurt sits incubating on my counter under its cozy towel as I go about my day. I’m an old pro now. It took no more than 15 minutes to prepare the yogurt. I’ve allowed it a full eight hours before I start jiggling.
- 1 quart whole milk (low fat will work, but produces a thinner yogurt)
- 1 package starter culture, or ¼ cup plain yogurt with live cultures
Heat milk slowly, stirring to prevent scorching. When milk is lukewarm, spoon approximately ½ cup of the milk into a separate container and mix with the starter. When milk reaches 180 degrees, remove from heat and cool quickly to between 105 and 112 degrees. This can be accomplished by submerging the saucepan in an ice bath, and stirring the milk until the temperature has dropped sufficiently. Add the starter, blending thoroughly.
Pour milk into container(s), cover, and place on heating pad set to low. Cover with a folded towel. You may want to leave your dairy thermometer on the heating pad with the yogurt for a while to verify that the temperature remains a steady 100-105 degrees.
Walk away and do not jiggle the yogurt for eight hours. Jiggling results in a less firmly set yogurt. At eight hours, check for desired consistency. When the yogurt is set to your liking, refrigerate until completely chilled (probably overnight by this point).
Serve with fruit, honey, or jam.