My mom started making her own yogurt around the time I left for college. I remember some of the earlier batches, while she was trying to perfect her recipe, being pretty soft and runny. And I know that store-bought yogurt is generally only as thick as it is because they add stabilizers like gelatin and pectin, but because that firmness is what I was used to, the softer homemade yogurt was kind of weird.
Sometime during my first semester away, my family back home switched to buying/drinking/using exclusively whole milk. Coming home to that from several months of drinking exclusively skim milk or water, the richness of the whole milk made me ill. With the exception of cheese, I pretty much stopped consuming dairy on my visits home.
And so I completely missed the fact that switching to whole milk had given Mom's homemade yogurt the firmness I was missing.
Ever since I became pregnant with Little Bear, it's been a given that we always have yogurt in the fridge. It was one of the few foods I could always eat even on days I felt sick, and unlike some things that I loved while pregnant and haven't been able to stand since, plain yogurt with a little fruit or honey and granola is still one of my preferred breakfasts and snacks. As I learned more about the "stuff" that goes into low-fat yogurt to give it the same texture as full-fat (whole milk) yogurt, I started making an effort to buy exclusively whole milk yogurt... but there is only one non-fancy-pants-organic brand of whole milk yogurt carried by any of the grocery stores in town, and while it's cheaper than the organic stuff, it's still expensive!
Every so often, my mom would remind me of how easy it is to make yogurt, and how much less expensive. I believed her, but somehow I never managed to find the time or gather the equipment. A couple of weeks ago, though, coolers went on end-of-summer clearance and I finally picked up a little one, along with a candy thermometer and a half-gallon of whole milk.
Then Little Bear found and broke the candy thermometer, and we waited another week until I replaced it.
But we finally did it, and it came out incredibly well. I was shocked at how thick it was. It doesn't have as strong a tang to it as some yogurts, but Little Bear and I like the mellow flavor.
Next time, I'd like to try making it in little half-pint jelly jars instead, to have individual servings that Matt could take with him to work.
Want to give it a try? You'll need:
- one lunchbox-sized cooler (mine is 5 quarts)
- four pint jars with lids and rings
- a candy/frying thermometer
Make sure your jars can fit in your cooler with the lid closed!
In a large pot (you want lots of surface area) over medium heat, bring 6 cups of whole milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and cool to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk in 1/4 cup of plain yogurt (I used whole milk yogurt). Ladle into jars, no fuller than the point where the sides start to curve in toward the neck (the jar's "shoulders"). Put jars in cooler and fill it with the hottest possible tap water up to the jars' shoulders, then close the cooler and set it somewhere it won't be touched. Take the jars out in 12 to 24 hours*, and you have yogurt! (Which should now be refrigerated.)
*Apparently 12 hours will give you a slightly softer yogurt, 24 will make it thicker; I took mine out at about 22 hours.