Sunday, February 6, 2011

Make Your Own Yogurt (without a yogurt machine)

"For the millions of us who live glued to computer keyboards at work and TV monitors at home, food may be more than entertainment. It may be the only sensual experience left."

-Barbara Ehrenreich, author, social critic

This post is to accompany my talk on BTO for Monday, January 31, 2011.

In India to make yogurt, at the end of the day you pour fresh milk into the wooden bowl that held the yogurt from yesterday. The small amount of left over yogurt provides the active cultures to multiply overnight and along with the natural heat of the atmosphere that bowl of milk in the morning is magically, yogurt.

Here in America where the conditions might not be as perfect for yogurt making, we have yogurt machines. I didn't want to do it that way this time, although I do own a yogurt machine.

When I decided to do a show on making cheese, I wanted to cover how to make yogurt as well. I've heard of dozens of ways to do it, so I set forth to learn about some of those ways. I wanted to learn of simple, easy ways that would make home cooks be inspired to do it themselves in a way that worked with their lifestyle and used supplies they already had. Yogurt makers are great, of course, and a reliable way to make yogurt, but not everyone has the space or the desire to add another appliance to their already full, kitchen.

 yogurt mixed with homemade peach jam

I ended up using a crockpot for the incubation stage. It worked wonderfully. I've listed in the recipe below a bunch of different ways you can incubate it.

There are many benefits to making yogurt yourself. One is cost. The ingredients are milk and a little yogurt for a starter. The good news is you can portion out that container of yogurt into 2 Tablespoon size portions and freeze them for using next time. So here's how that goes. Make your first batch. Save some yogurt from the 1st batch for the 2nd batch. You can do that about 5 times. Then for the 6th batch, you go for your 2nd portion of store bought yogurt in the freezer. This makes that first store bought yogurt go pretty far. If you purchase milk for your family anyway, you may be buying milk in large quantities which would make the cost savings even more substantial.

I used a make shift double boiler to heat the milk

Of course another benefit that goes for anything you make yourself is that you know what goes in it. You can add your own fresh fruit, sweetener, flavorings, the limits are endless to what you can do with plain yogurt. You can even control the thickness of it. You can drain it to make Greek yogurt, or make a thick yogurt that acts like sour cream. Drain it even longer and make yogurt cheese, a good alternative to cream cheese, which you can later add fruit, or herbs and use as a spread.

I used raw milk from Cozy Valley Creamery, a local dairy farm

Making yogurt is also pretty easy. And like anything, once you do it you get better at it, and you get a feeling for how you prefer it. You can make it tangier by letting it incubate longer, for example. I like to do it overnight, so there's just a little work before bed, then I let it incubate all night.

I wrapped a crockpot in towels to keep the warmth in

Homemade Yogurt


4 cups milk or 1 quart- I used whole raw milk, 2% may be used, or even nonfat. If you use nonfat you may want to add the dry milk to help make it thicker. Goats or sheep's milk may also be used.

1/4 to 1/2 cup dry milk- (optional) this is to help thicken it. If you are using nonfat milk I would use it.

2 Tablespoons store bought plain yogurt- Make sure it has live active cultures in it. Also choose one that has the farthest away expiration date (you can also use freeze dried yogurt cultures that is sold at health food stores)


Put your yogurt on the counter to bring it to room temperature while you do everything else.

Heat the milk to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, or 85 degrees Celsius. I used a make shift double boiler to do this. If you don't use a double boiler make sure you heat it very slowly on medium to low heat, otherwise the milk will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. So as you are heating the milk, stir it frequently. Also if the heat is too high the milk will boil over, and make quite a mess.

If you don't have a thermometer this is the temperature of a low simmer. It is also the temperature that milk starts to froth.

*Alternately, the milk may also be heated in the microwave. I'd use medium power. If you are doing this, you can go ahead and keep it at a low power and simmer it for 10 minutes as advised in the next step.


Keep the milk simmering on the stove at 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celsius) for 10 minutes. This is done to cause the setting matrix to be formed, and keeping it at this temperature for 10 minutes will give you the best results.


Cool the milk to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. (43 degrees Celsius.) Do this using a water bath (a bowl of ice water under your bowl of milk) or just let it sit on the counter for a half an hour or more checking on it periodically, stirring frequently. If will feel warm to the touch, but not hot.


When it gets to 110, stir in the 2 tablespoons yogurt and the dry milk (if using.)


Pour the yogurt into whatever container(s) that will work best for the incubation method you are using. See below. I didn't need another container because I used my crockpot.


Keep the yogurt at about 110-100 degrees Fahrenheit (43-37 degrees Celsius) for 7 hours minimum. If you prefer your yogurt more tangy go longer, up to about 12 hours. Also keep it still. Don't move it around too much or stir it at all until it's done.


Different Incubation methods (whatever works for keeping your yogurt at 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, 43-37 Celsius, for 7-12 hours.) Using a thermometer once in a while to check the temperature is a good idea, if it's your first time using a particular method.


-yogurt machine-duh. if you have one you probably already know how to make yogurt.


- crockpot- This is what I used this time. I turned my crockpot to warm, poured in the milk/yogurt mixture, then kept an eye on the temperature for a half an hour or so. It was a consistent 110 for a while, so I turned it off and wrapped it in towels. Half way through I turned it on warm again for a half an hour, then turned it off again. I got this idea from Stephanie from A Year in Slowcooking. She makes hers entirely in the crockpot though.


-top of stove- Pour the milk/yogurt into jars, place them in a large pot of warm water with a lid. Keep the water warm by heating it periodically if it gets cold. If your kitchen is hot, you may not need to.


-oven- pour the milk/yogurt mixture into jars and place the jars in a vessel with warm water. If you have a gas oven keeping the pilot light on may be enough heat to keep it at 100 degrees. If not, you may turn on the oven let it heat up a bit, then shut it off. Later you can turn it on again and then shut it off. If you do this, be careful not to heat the oven too much. Keep a thermometer in the water to check the temperature once in a while.


-cooler/ice chest- place the yogurt/milk mixture in jars placed in warm water in a cooler (the kind you keep soda in for a picnic.) If the water cools down too much add warm water again later.


-thermos- Place your yogurt/milk mixture in a thermos. Place it in a warm spot. Near a heat source, or I read of someone placing the thermos between the wall and the refrigerator, because the refrigerator produces some heat. Or if you don't have a heat source, wrap it in towels to preserve the heat.


-warming tray- pour the milk/yogurt into jars then place the jars inside a vessel filled with water then place the vessel (covered) on the warming tray. I think I'm going to try this next time. I have a few of these I use during Thanksgiving to keep food warm. (I love them.)


- aquarium heater- put the heater in a bucket of water, pour the milk/yogurt in jars and place the jars in the water. Make sure it doesn't have an auto shut off.


-warm blankets- Pour the milk/yogurt into a large covered vessel, wrap it in an electric blanket. Make sure it can be programed to not shut off automatically.


-sun-pour the milk/yogurt in jars and cover. Place in the sun on a hot day, or on a window sill.


-wood stove- pour yogurt/milk in jars and place on the back of the cooling wood stove. Don't do it while it's on, obviously. Only if it was on, then turned off for the night.


-heating pad- fill jars with yogurt/milk mixture then place on a towel covered heating pad. Also cover the jars with towels to keep the heat in. This can only be done with a heating pad that doesn't shut off automatically after 15 minutes. (mine does) Unless you want to keep turning it back on.


Use your imagination! I'm sure there are many other ways that have not been mentioned here. I would like to hear them if you have another way you've been doing it, please let me know in the comments. It's kind of fun learning all of these different ways to make yogurt!


After 8-12 hours have passed, you will have your yogurt. It will probably have some greenish liquid on it. This is the whey. It is highly nutritious. I spoke about it in my making Ricotta Cheese post. You can either stir it in the yogurt or drain it off. I like my yogurt on the thicker side, so I strain it to get it to the consistency I like, by placing a cheesecloth lined fine mesh strainer over a bowl to catch the whey for about an hour or so. Commercial yogurt has added thickeners in it, so our homemade yogurt is going to be naturally not as thick, unless you strain it.


Refrigerate the yogurt. It will get thicker as it sits in the refrigerator.


Flavor the yogurt by adding in fruit, jam, maple syrup or whatever your heart desires.

Some great links on making yogurt


Lee said...

I've never made yogurt, maybe I'll give it a try. I do like eating it for breakfast.

Jules said...

I use 4 hours, 2 large jars, wrapped in a blanket. Suits my taste buds better :-)

But thanks for including the Celsius measurements as well! For those of us in Europe, doing the conversions is a pain.

The Alchemist said...

Jules-thanks for the feedback, wow, only 4 hours? I've never tried it for less than 7. Next time I'm going to check on it sooner.

And your welcome. :)

Cheryl S. said...

Have you successfully made ricotta from the drained yogurt whey? I tried that once and got only a few tiny curds. I figured maybe there just wasn't enough milk protein left in the drained whey. But maybe I just didn't do something right - it was a long time ago and since then I've just used the whey for making bread. I have made ricotta from milk with no problem.

The Alchemist said...

Cheryl S.- No, I haven't tried it. I haven't had enough whey leftover. I think you'd need quite a bit, to yield enough to make it worthwhile.

I was thinking of freezing the whey every time I make yogurt until I have a substantial amount, then try to make ricotta from it.

Unknown said...

I also make yogurt in a crock pot this way! I also make Russian-style yogurt called ryazhenka. For this, you bring the milk to simmer and then cook the milk on low heat (I use the "low heat" setting on my crock pot) for a long time, 8-12 hours, depending on how much milk is in the pot, until it turns pinkish beige and has a "crust" on top. Then I eat the crust (can't resist:) and make yogurt with this milk.

The Alchemist said...


The Russian yogurt sounds interesting, thanks for the info!

Swa said...

Thank you for this idea!
I took the link to Stephanie’s blog and used her instructions to make it entirely in the slow cooker, just to see if it would work.
It works, but next time I will heat the milk the traditional way, because with her method, you basically waste 5½ hours before you even begin incubation.

I used your advice though and also checked the temperature and turned the slow cooker back on warm for about three times during the 8 hours of incubation.

I think if I had just wrapped it in a blanket and left it over night, as Stephanie suggests, I wouldn’t have had such nice results (it’s Winter, after all, and we turn down the temperature during the night).

I strained the yogourt through a cheese cloth, which yielded a small bottle of whey, and the texture of the yogourt itself is amazing, though next time I will allow a little more incubation time in order to add some tang.

Thanks again! I had been looking for a method which doesn’t require me to buy any superfluous appliances, and this is perfect!

The Alchemist said...

Swa- I'm glad you had such great success! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

My Turkish mother-in-law has been making yoghurt for most of her life. Lots of Turkish people do. You can get raw milk from local farms easily. She adds sugar and salt to her milk when it's cooled. I asked her why, she said bacteria feed on the sugar, but she couldn't tell me why she added salt, she just did (maybe her mother did?) Any ideas why? Also, she never buys store yoghurt, it's always from the old batch and sometimes it's as old as a week. The yoghurt lasts for ages, even at 2 weeks it's fine, but tastes a bit fizzy, it makes great yoghurt drink called ayran.

Stephanie Lin said...

I made yogurt using something like this. It works :O And much more reliable I think than using the oven.

Jokejazz said...

I made mine yesterday by just wrapping an ordinary blanket round it. It wasnt ready in 5 hours so i left it for another 7 hours. it came out so nice.i dont think i would be buying commercial yogurt anytime soon.

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Susan Mercurio said...

In San Francisco I used to put my jar of yogurt on the hot water heater overnight. It worked perfectly.
Also, I did the Russian-style yogurt. I didn't know what it was; I just like thicker yogurt.