My family has been making yogurt at home for generations, and homemade yogurt is the thing I miss most when we are traveling. When my parents moved to the US in 1991, my dad came first and my mom followed with 3-year-old me and my 5 month old sister. They had to pack their life into a few suitcases, leaving everything familiar behind. This was well before the internet and decades before smart phones or Skype. One of the most valuable things my mom was able to bring with her was a small container of yogurt so that she could continue the tradition of making yogurt at home. The culture that she brought in 1991 lives on to this day, and every time we would go on vacation she would allot yogurt into little containers and hide them in the back of the fridge and freezer so at least one would still be good when we returned home. She has shared her yogurt starter with friends and family, and it lives all over the country and world. If my mom made yogurt 3 times a week for the last 24 years, we are talking about over 3,700 generations! Those are some crazy heirloom cultures!
Clearly, my family takes yogurt seriously. However, you don’t need a special yogurt culture to start making yogurt. A lot of people think of making yogurt as a super scientific process requiring exact temperatures, water baths, and expensive equipment, and they end up writing it off as being too much trouble. Even this post by the kitchn, which is by far the simplest one I’ve seen, seems overly complicated to me. I’ve been making yogurt for the last 6 years, and it is MUCH simpler than most people think. There are really only four steps.
Having an awesome heirloom culture is amazing, but if you don’t have a mom who is evangelical about her yogurt, a quick trip to an Indian store can get you a culture that is just as good.
I love making yogurt in individual size portions; it’s so easy to grab as I’m running out the door. I typically make about 3 cups of milk into yogurt at a time, but you can work with as small an amount as you would like. You can use ANY type of milk. I use 1% organic milk and it makes yogurt that is remarkably firm and thick; I can hold my container upside down and the yogurt doesn’t move. If you use whole fat milk, your yogurt will taste richer, but I have not found that it affects the thickness of the yogurt.
1/2 tablespoon of cultured yogurt
–HEAT: Scald two cups of milk in the microwave (the timing will vary based on the amount of milk, and your microwave). 2 cups of milk take about about 8-10 minutes in my microwave. Heat the milk until you have lots of bubbles at the top, which indicates that it has reached the appropriate temperature. You need to heat it in order to alter the proteins present in the milk; I have also heard that this makes the yogurt thicker. Sometimes the milk can boil over, so I suggest filling the container no more than about 3/4 of the way full.
–COOL: Let the milk cool until you can comfortably dip a finger into it. It should feel warm but not too hot…think hot bathwater temperature. At this point I remove the skin (the fat that collections on top) from the milk, as I dislike the texture it adds, but I know other people who like the skin their yogurt.
–Culture: Add 1/2 tablespoon of yogurt (this is your culture) to the warm milk and whisk it. If you are making a lot more or less yogurt you may want to add more or less respectively. I would add at least one teaspoon.
-Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into the containers you want to make the yogurt in.
–INCUBATE: Leave the yogurt for 6-8 hours without disturbing it. I have an insulated casserole dish (something like this) but you can also use a large stockpot. I used to add an inch or so of hot water in the stockpot and then add my yogurt container, cover it and keep it in the oven (while the oven is turned off). The point of the stockpot is keep the yogurt mixture warm. Keeping it in the oven can help do this too, especially if your oven has a pilot light. If you live in a particularly cold place it may help to place a dishtowel over the stockpot to give it a bit more insulation
Some troubleshooting tips if your yogurt doesn’t set:
-Often, it just needs more time. Put about a cup of hot (but not boiling) water in the stockpot/casserole and let it sit for another 8 hours. Warming up the environment and giving it some more time will usually do the trick. Make sure it’s not in a drafty spot, and try to keep it as cosy as possible.
-Be sure the milk is not too hot or too cold when you add the culture. If it’s too hot you will kill the bacteria in the culture, if it’s too cold it would be warm enough for them bacteria to grow.
-Make sure you completely stir the culture into the milk. I like to whisk it to break up any yogurt chunks and evenly distribute the culture into the milk.
-Some yogurt does not have enough active bacteria to culture another generation. I strongly suggest buying yogurt from an Indian store instead of a regular grocery store. Indian yogurt tends to contain much more active bacteria which makes it easier to use as a culture. If you don’t have luck with cultures from regular yogurt, you may find it worthwhile to buy an heirloom culture. These cultures will last for generations, while some grocery store cultures will work for a couple generations and then the bacteria weaken. If you are in LA, hit me up; I’m always happy to share my yogurt!
I know it can sound confusing, but once you try homemade yogurt its almost impossible to go back!