Making Yogurt

Well, here it is: the long overdue yogurt post. I’ve been meaning to write about making yogurt for at least three years now, and you can see from the abundance of photos that I’ve been preparing for it for a long time.

As I mentioned in my post about making butter, organic dairy products can be had for a lot less money by making them yourself using organic milk and cream, which usually cost much less than the equivalent amount of organic yogurt or butter (this is also true when using conventional milk and cream).

Before we get started, here’s a basic ingredient list:

  • 1 liter (quart) of milk or cream (I like to make it with at least 2% milk, not low fat).
  • 1/2 cup of powdered milk (optional, but will help make the yogurt nice and thick; this is less necessary with higher fat milk).
  • 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of plain yogurt as a starter. This can either be store bought (make sure it says it’s made with “live” or “active” bacterial culture), or saved from your previous batch.
  • heavy bottomed pot, whisk, thermometer, and jars or glass/ceramic container.

Before doing anything else, heat your oven up to 225 degrees. This is to sterilize the container(s) that will house your yogurt.  I bought a lovely pottery crock for this purpose years ago, but while it was packed during our move, I started using Bonne Maman jam jars that I originally got off of Freecycle to use as storage jars in my pantry. Put the container(s) into the oven and leave them in there for about 20 minutes. To save time, start this process right before heating the milk. When they’re done, take them out and leave the door open to let the oven cool down.

The first step in making yogurt is to scald the milk (make sure you mix the powdered milk in while it’s still cold, or it might go lumpy). Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pot or bain marie, which can be made by putting a bowl over a pot of water, until it reaches 185 degrees F. If using a bain marie, you can pay less attention to it, but when using a pot, be sure to stir it almost constantly to avoid scorching the milk. Scalding will kill any bacteria in the milk. I broke my candy thermometer years ago, so I just go by sight. The milk is hot enough when it’s steaming and frothy, but not boiling.

When the correct temperature has been reached, remove the milk from the heat and let it cool to below 120 degrees, but not lower than 90 degrees. Using my “built in” thermometer, I usually wait until it’s just slightly warmer than body temperature. You can speed this process up by immersing the pot in a sink filled part way with cold water (usually about 10 minutes), or just let it sit on the stove (about 30 minutes). While the milk is cooling, take out your starter and let it come up to room temperature. 
When the milk has cooled, stir a couple of tablespoons or so into a small bowl with the starter. Whisk until smooth, and then stir back into the pot. Pour the milk into your containers.

Check the temperature of your oven. You want it to be as close to 100 degrees as possible; any warmer, and you risk killing the bacteria in the starter. If it has cooled too much, turn it back on low for a few minutes to warm it up. I incubate my yogurt in the oven with the light left on.

It’s a good idea to lay a towel or something over the oven controls during incubation to remind yourself not to turn it on. The one time I got lazy and didn’t bother, the yogurt was boiling in its jars before I remembered it was in there (it ended up being nice and thick and tasted fine, but was no longer suitable as starter).

If all goes well, after 6 – 8 hours, your milk will have turned into delicious yogurt. The longer it incubates, the thicker and tangier it will be. When it has reached the desired consistency, put your yogurt into the fridge to chill. It will continue to thicken slightly in the fridge. If you find the resulting yogurt to be thicker than you like, stirring will break up the structure of the milk solids and loosen it up (likewise, if you like a thicker yogurt, avoid stirring it as much as possible). Yogurt will keep up to two weeks in the fridge, but use it sooner if planning to use it as starter.

While you can use lower fat milk to make yogurt, lately I’ve been making it using half and half (10% MF). This might sound ridiculously rich and decadent (which it is!), but it results in a yogurt that’s unbelievably thick, mild and delicious, like a very good Greek yogurt.

I honestly believe that the decadent nature of a higher fat yogurt doesn’t actually contribute any more calories to one’s diet than low fat, since you’re usually satisfied by a much smaller portion (and just for the record, I recently had a physical and my cholesterol levels are excellent!).

This yogurt is a fabulous addition to things like muesli or pancakes with fruit, and it’s great for making parfaits with granola. I often to eat mine with a drizzle of syrup.

If you prefer the flavored variety, it’s really easy to make fruit sauces that can be stirred into your delicious homemade yogurt. Just stew the fruits of your choice with powdered sugar to taste (powdered sugar contains cornstarch which will help thicken the sauce). You can also use granular sugar and a bit of cornstarch. This is a great way to use up all of that frozen fruit at the bottom of your freezer.

Even if making your own yogurt didn’t save you any money, it would still be worth doing. The active bacterial cultures in homemade yogurt are very good for you, and the taste is beyond anything you can buy in the store.

While it may sound like there are a lot of ways that making yogurt can go wrong, it’s actually a very forgiving process.  If it’s not already part of your repertoire, I hope you’ll give it a try!

14 thoughts on “Making Yogurt”

  • I've been thinking about making yogurt lately but just haven't gotten around to it. I've always made mine in mason jars as they hold the heat so well when fermenting. Inspired now…maybe this weekend.

  • I'm a little confused on the incubation process. Do you keep turning on the oven to keep it at around 100degrees while the jars are in there or do you get the oven at about 100 degrees, put the yogurt in, close the door and leave it in for 6-8 hours without touching the temperature controls?

  • Carla – I like the idea of using mason jars. I find having to go and buy the starter to be the biggest hurdle to getting started (I never remember when I'm actually at the store), so I've really been trying to keep it going. I hope you manage to squeeze in a batch this weekend!

    Anonymous – Sorry that wasn't clear. Once the oven is nice and warm, I just use the oven light to maintain the temperature. You might want to keep an eye on it the first time though to make sure that it doesn't get too hot or too cold. Wrapping the jar in a towel can help protect the yogurt from temperature changes.

  • I just wanted to add that I don't think I've ever used a thermometer to check that the oven is exactly 100 degrees. If it feels comfortably warm, it's perfect.
    And if you do wrap your jars in a towel, make sure you've got the oven controls disabled/covered somehow! : )

  • I've tried warming the jars in the oven, but because I use mason jars and it's usually just one jar per batch, I usually put them in a water bath, take them out and let them steam dry before adding the yogurt. Then wrap the jar in a towel and it usually stays the right temperature…depending on the time of year. Might be a better idea to let it sit in the oven. I, too, have never used a thermometer and I always use whole milk or add some cream to get a nice thick creamy yogurt.

  • Carla – That's a good point; if you're only doing one jar, it might be worthwhile to sterilize it on its own. I just do it this way out of habit, as that's how I sterilize my jars for canning, and since I want the oven warm for incubating, it serves both purposes.
    I once knew someone who made their own incubator using a box and layers of styrofoam cut to fit snuggly around the crock/jar. It retained the heat of the warm milk long enough for the starter to work its magic. Would love to do something like that myself.

  • OK…love those little jars with the red/white checkered lids!

    Here with my weekly reminder of your link party going on over at the kinderGARDENS contest. Anytime between now and next Wednesday you can share any post you have pertaining to gardening with kiddos!

    Have a super day, Kim

  • Kim – Thanks for the reminder! I'm glad to know we don't always have to publish right on Thursday, we're having a crazy week!

    Michele – I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Good luck with your yogurt!

  • I had the same question as Anonymous. That answered, I have a pretty cold house and don't think that I can maintain a warm oven for 6-8 hours. Do you think that towels would be enough or should I turn the oven on every once in a while? I think the lowest oven start setting is 170"F though.

  • Just your Thursday reminder that the link party is up for kinderGARDENS if you have anything you want to share…I'm also having 'Sunflower House' book giveaway.

    Happy Gardening! Kim

  • Elizabeth – Sorry for the late response. You could definitely just set a timer to remind yourself to warm the oven up every once in a while if necessary (I'd be careful if you have a towel in there, though!). Someone on my Facebook page mentioned that they use a crock pot to incubate their yogurt in a warm water bath, which I thought was a great idea (just make sure you can get the temperature low enough).

    Emily – So sorry to hear that, I hope your luck is better this time!

  • I have made yogurt before but I would like to try it with more cream. I have done the unhealthy thing and added instant vanilla pudding instead of powdered milk just because it is cheaper and also gives a nice flavour. I have made it in the winter and put it under the wood stove on the stone hearth which works well for me. My electric oven has two dials and if the temperature dial isn't on, it is like having a light on as it maintains a very low heat. An excellent post as usual.

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