Tip #1 - Make sure you plan when you'll make your yogurt. You'll need about an average of 8 hours to make your yogurt. I know it sounds like a lot, but most of it is just waiting. A big chunk of that time can be spent while you're out running errands or while you're sleeping. :)
Tip #2 - You NEED a food thermometer. I use a cheapy $5 meat thermometer. I read where a lot of folks just follow a certain set of directions, but never actually check the temperature. These are the folks that will sometimes end up with a failed batch of yogurt. It's not a total loss because you can just start the process over again with the same batch.
Tip #3 - You need to have a place for the yogurt to sit for several hours at about 100 degrees. If your oven will allow you to set it that low, that will be perfect. Otherwise you can use other methods which I will talk about later in the instructions. I know it's starting to sound really tedious, but once you figure out which of these methods works best and easiest for you, it's smooth sailing.
It's good to actually understand why you're doing what you're doing. That way if for some reason it didn't work, you'll know or have a better idea what to fix. I will be putting the "what's and why's" in italics throughout the tutorial.
Let's get started!
You will need:
1/2 gallon of milk (I use 2%, but you can use skim or whole milk as well)
A few tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures (As far as I know, as long as it's fresh non-expired yogurt, it will have active cultures. Either way, it should say on the container "active cultures". Once you make your first batch, you'll already have some yogurt to use for your next homemade batch and you won't have to worry about going to the store to buy one little measly container of yogurt.
Large bowl that will hold 2 quarts and is microwaveable
Another Large bowl that will hold 2 quarts
Cheesecloth (This is a cloth typically used for straining out liquids to make cheese and/or yogurt. I got mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They're pretty cheap. Couldn't find it at Wal-mart)
(Need to heat up the milk enough to kill the bacteria.) Start with your 2-quart microwaveable bowl. Pour in 2 quarts of milk (1/2 gallon). Microwave for 17 minutes.
Check the temperature. Your milk should now be around
Now you just let it sit and cool down to below 120 degrees.
This will take about 1 1/2 hours.
OK, so no picture here, but after the milk has cooled to below 120 degrees you will add your starter, the two Tablespoons of your plain "live culture" yogurt. Whisk, and whisk until it's melted into the milk. (If you mix the yogurt/starter in with the milk before it's cooled then the heat of the milk will kill the live bacteria that's in the yogurt. You want the live bacteria to stay alive and continue to grow. That's how you end up with more yogurt later. That little bit you added has grown into a whole bowl full.)
Now is when you just let it sit. Put your container into your "warming vessel" (that's just what I call it) and put a plate on top. Leave it for 6-12 hours. The longer you leave it the more sour the flavor. I don't like mine too sour, so I leave mine anywhere from 6-8 hours. But the trick is letting it sit while keeping the temperature around 100 degrees. Some of the newer ovens will allow you to set it at 100 degrees. Most won't let you set it that low. I have a large toaster oven so that's what I use. Now my toaster oven's lowest setting is 150 degrees. What I do is just turn the dial to below the 150 mark right where it clicks on. It's hard to tell from this angle in the picture, but I also have the door open a little bit to let some of that excess heat escape. (Keeping the temperature around 100 degrees will set the perfect environment for the bacteria to continue to grow and make more yogurt. If it's too hot then you may end up killing the bacteria altogether and therefore no growth...no yogurt. ) When I make yogurt, I will either start the process in the morning and then once it's gotten to the point of sitting in the oven, I go about my day running errands, cleaning house, whatever. Around dinnertime it's done. Otherwise I'll start the process 2 hours before bedtime, then when it goes in the oven I go off to bed. It'll be ready for me in the morning. If the oven/toaster oven option doesn't work for you, then you can try the crock-pot method. It's pretty easy. I've never done it that way because it takes more babysitting. But if I plan on being home all day and I have the time to stop and babysit, then I wouldn't mind. I'll put instructions for the crock-pot method later in the post.
6-12 hours later, you go take the bowl out of your warming vessel. At first glance it doesn't look like anything happened. But then you stick a spoon in there and what do you know! It's yogurt! The liquid at the top is the whey separating. This happens with all yogurt. It's separates a little. If you just want regular yogurt, you're done. Give it a stir to incorporate the whey and add whatever sweetener or flavoring you want.
**This is where I go ahead scoop out a few tablespoons to keep for making my next batch. You have to remember, I make this stuff once, sometimes twice a week.
If you want the higher protein, little bit thicker, creamier, delicious, oh so yummy Greek yogurt, then read on.
OK, so now you get out that other 2-quart+ bowl. Set your strainer on top, and then place you're cheesecloth inside the strainer. Don't skip out on using the cheesecloth. The strainer isn't enough to hold back you're yogurt. You only want pure liquid to be strained out. Again, the liquid is the whey separating. There is one exception: If you happen to have a bouillon strainer, then you don't need the cheesecloth. A bouillon strainer is much more tightly woven than your standard strainer.
Now just pour your yogurt in. WARNING: It doesn't actually pour in. It's more of a big "plop". Be ready for a little whey splatter if you're not careful. Not a big deal. Especially if you have kids, I'm sure you've had worse things splatter onto your clothes. :)
Fold over the corners of the cheesecloth so it covers the top. Set it in the fridge to sit for about 30 min- 1 hour. I usually set my timer for 30 min. After 30 min, I pull it out and pour off the whey that's strained out so far. It's usually quite a bit. You don't want your yogurt sitting in the whey liquid if you can help it. Otherwise you defeat the purpose of straining. I put it back in the fridge and let it sit for another 30 minutes. I just pour the liquid whey down the drain. Some people use it for baking breads. Others use it for their dogs. Flavor up their food by adding some liquid whey. I almost feel bad for throwing it out because it's a lot of liquid that could be used for something else. I'm not a big bread maker, but it's never too late to start. :) OK, back to our tutorial. The longer you let it sit and strain, the thicker your yogurt will be. One time, I forgot to set my timer and it sat for well over an hour. I ended up with some pretty thick stuff. Still yogurt, but it kind of stuck to the roof of my mouth when I would eat it. If you leave it too long, you will no longer have Greek yogurt, but you'll have yogurt cheese. Really. Yogurt cheese. Still edible. Add some salt, garlic, sugar cinnamon, whatever, and spread it on your toast. But for this tutorial, we're going for Greek yogurt.
After you get it out of the fridge, pour off the rest of the liquid whey and then spoon out the Greek yogurt into a container. I use a yogurt container I kept from the days of old. :)
If you like to flavor your your yogurt as you scoop it out, that's cool. We all like it with a little bit of a sweetness and then we can add whatever we want on top of that. So I add 2 packets of Truvia natural sweetener. It's the perfect amount. Not too sweet, just a little flavor. I use my little hand mixer with just one of the attachments to whip it up and get the sweetener thoroughly mixed in.
Then that's it! Homemade Greek yogurt. Good for 10-14 days. Mine doesn't last any longer than 5 days. I usually get my milk for an average $2-$3 per gallon. So at the most, my homemade version ends up costing me about $1.50 for a 32 oz container. Not bad. I haven't had a failed attempt yet (knock on wood) and the kids think it's pretty cool to see how the whole process works. I honestly thinks it's so much better than the store bought stuff. It's definitely creamier and definitely not as sour. My biggest issue with the store bought stuff was the sour/bitter taste, and some brands are really thick. Not creamy, just thick. Thick and sour. I really had to doctor it up to make it my own. Even then, it was still bitter. Maybe I'm a yogurt snob. :| I don't care. I love the homemade version!
Crock-Pot Method: OK, so if the oven method is not an option for you, then you can still use the crock-pot. Everybody has a crock pot, right? You just have to make sure you do it on a day where you know you're gonna be home most of the day. Total time is 10-12 hours. So plan to start early so that it's done before bedtime. This is not a method that allows you to leave it overnight. Here we go: (no pictures, but it's pretty simple)
You will only be using your Crock-pot up until it comes time to strain the yogurt.
- You start off by pouring 2 quarts of milk into your Crock-pot. Turn it on high heat, cover and leave it for 1-2 hours. You want the milk to heat up to at least 180 degress. I would check the temperature after about an hour and a half.
- Now you have to let it cool. Turn off the Crock-pot and let it sit for about 2 hours. It needs to cool down to below 120 degrees.
- Once it has cooled, now you will add your starter, the 2 Tablespoons of "live culture" yogurt. Whisk and whisk until it's thoroughly mixed in and melted down.
- (Now the babysitting REALLY starts) Put a folded towel over the lid of your Crock-pot. This will help keep the heat in. Turn your Crock-pot on low for 10-15 minutes. Then turn it off. After 2-3 hours, put it on low again for 10-15 minutes. Turn it off. Repeat this process twice more. Your timer comes in pretty handy here.
- After about 9 hours of babysitting the Crock-pot you should have yogurt. Now you can go back to the instructions above and start where you see the **. Done!
Here is a daily treat I absolutely love. I get the bag of mixed berries from Sam's or Costco, and instead of granola I use Honey Bunches of Oats cereal to top it off with some crunch. I actually get Aldi's version of the cereal. It's cheaper and just as good. You know, anywhere I can save a little more money, I do it. Anyway! Layer it in a glass and I have a guilt-free snack!
Happy yogurt making!